A dear friend, surrounded by her family and loved ones, said goodbye to her beloved mom last week. As I stood graveside listening to the heart felt speeches, I felt like I was standing in a painting with all the beautiful fall colors daubed around us. But my heart skipped a beat as my friend shoveled the first clods of earth on top of her mother’s coffin. I’ve never experienced this tradition. At first I was shocked by the thudding finality of this gesture. You are actively putting distance between yourself and the person you love. I don’t know that I could have buried Laura like this. It might have overwhelmed me. But what felt heavy at first, quickly transformed as the family and friends picked up shovels and we all helped fill in the grave. As the momentum grew, it seemed like an act of great love, of everyone taking part in this final send off.
Driving home afterwards, my friend mentioned an odd coincidence the night her mother passed. Her mom had a rare and aggressive neurological disorder that progressively robbed her of her ability to speak, eat and breath. It was hard to catch up with the ever changing reality. So only last week my friend and her sister had their first conversation about what to do when their mother passed. They hung up the phone and almost immediately the news arrived that their mother was gone. ‘It was as if she heard us,’ my friend said. She wasn’t anywhere near and couldn’t have heard in the normal way. But I wonder if her consciousness (which is connected, especially on the verge of death, to the greater universal consciousness) intuited that they were ready to let her go. Dr Peter Fenwick (who I met at the Art of Dying Conference earlier this year) writes in his excellent book ‘The Art of Dying’: ‘Quite often the dying person seems to need permission to go’. He also says; ‘The dying instinctively know when they are nearing their end.’ Perhaps my friend and her sister because of their deep connection to their mom sensed her readiness to go and that it was time to have the hardest conversation. My friend obviously has a deep soul bond with her parents which allows her to intuit important events. Years earlier, she woke uncharacteristically early, sensing something big had just happened. She went outside and looked at the beautiful mist blanketing the trees. And then the phone rang. Her father had died.