With a tearful embrace and our sobs of grief echoing throughout the arrival terminal, I fully realized the profound nature of our visit. Thirty minutes later we were at my mothers bedside.. her frail body illuminated by a single bulb above her head. The room was so quiet, the air still in anticipation of some miraculous event we were yet to witness.
– Barbara J Holzapfel –
Barbara’s professional background is in advertising and marketing. In 1996 she left her career as Director of Operations at an international advertising agency based out of Vancouver, B.C. due to illness. Having always enjoyed drawing she began painting a few years after leaving work, purely for personal enjoyment and wellness.
You can also find Barbara’s project on Facebook
When I received the call from my sister, Vicki, that my mother was dying, I was living in Mexico with my husband, Kim. We had just returned from Canada, spending two months helping my niece and her young family cope from the sudden death of my sister, her mother, Anne. It was my absence from Anne’s bedside when she died, and my disconnect from my father’s passing decades before, that filled me with determination to be with my mom during her transition from this lifetime. Vicki assured me that mom wouldn’t know I was there, so perhaps it made more sense for me to stay in Mexico and observe her remembrance from a distance. I can only describe my desire to go and be with my mother, as an inescapable, life and death, need. Kim and I packed a bag and rushed to the airport, praying that we would be there in time to comfort her in any way possible.
It was midnight at the Vancouver International Airport when we trudged out of customs to find Vicki and her dear husband, Conny, awaiting our arrival. With a tearful embrace and our sobs of grief echoing throughout the arrival terminal, I fully realized the profound nature of our visit. Thirty minutes later we were at my mothers bedside.. her frail body illuminated by a single bulb above her head. The room was so quiet, the air still in anticipation of some miraculous event we were yet to witness.
Kim and I slept on the floor on either side of her hospital bed for two nights; the hours between were spent holding her hands, stroking her hair, lightly touching her forehead. It was impossible for me to leave her side. I whispered to her who she was to me. I desperately wanted her to understand, to know deep down inside her soul, that she was important. She was perfect. She had done her absolute best and lived a good life. The feelings of grief her loved ones were experiencing had everything to do with who she had been to the world, and most especially, to those whom she was closest. We all understood and accepted that it was her turn to move on.
During the first 12 hours mom’s eyes were closed and she gave no indication that she was aware of what was happening in the room or who was present. The coming and going of the staff, and family members, left no expression on her external self. She was obviously preoccupied. It was the afternoon of the second day of our vigil and I was left alone with mom that she opened her eyes. I was flooded with desperation as I shot my head out the door of her room to see if I could catch the others to let them know that something had shifted. As the elevator doors closed on the rest of my family, I realized, with regret for them, that I alone may be her witness.
Her inability to visually focus on me, or respond to my touch or voice, told me that she was still busy doing other ‘inside’ work. The gift of her gaze, as disconnected as it was to my physical reality, touched me profoundly. I dreamt into what, if anything, could be occupying her thoughts.. what, if anything could she be seeing. I continued to caress her body, speak of her greatness and express my endless love. But mostly I gave her my wholehearted permission to carry on with her journey away from me, and all whom she knew and loved.
It wasn’t until the next morning that my mother took her last breath. There was a gathering of family surrounding her bed. As we watched mom exhale, and felt the moment stretch on with no inhale, I experienced her light of love illuminate the room. I believe an aspect of my mothers released spirit of love and compassion entered my physical body that day, and will abide with me until I too make that final journey, at which time I hope to have people with whom I’ve shared my life provide a home for a spark of my own spirit.
My own intimate experiences with death, as well as my subsequent research on the topic, leaves me astonished at the lack of knowledge or preparation available to our society regarding death and dying. Both the general public and medical community, the very people to whom we turn for guidance at the most vulnerable time in life, are grossly under informed on the subject of death and dying.
Spending time with an individual or family during the sacred process of death is the most incredible experience and honour of my life. My mighty dream for ‘The Passing Diaries‘, is to invite and participate in the transformation of how our society responds to death, the ever present curtain call every being on planet earth will inevitably face.