Thanks to my friend Bill, I had the opportunity to meet with a very smart woman, very engaging as well, who helped me greatly to think more about this idea and concept. For example, there is a big difference between the word ‘journey’ and the word ‘search.’ I also had the chance to look back at what I wrote when my mother passed away and posted on Intent.com. I think being so close and so deeply involved in her passing prompted me to look even closer at the distance that existed when my father passed away. So here is what I wrote the day she died.
I was blessed with a wonderful mother and three amazing aunts. They had quite a reputation in their day, the four Cannon sisters. The oldest, Aunt Neila, is perhaps best known within the family for the Thanksgiving dinner she held at her house years ago. When we arrived at her home mid-afternoon and asked if there was anything we could do, she calmly replied.
“Well, we need a turkey.”
Dinner was finally served at two in the morning when all adults still there were, in my aunt’s words, ‘totally and completely bombed. We really didn’t even need the turkey after all. ‘
When my mother looked a little better last Friday, my 89-year-old Aunt Neila and her much younger husband, my 88 year-old Uncle Mac, took off for the Bellagio in Vegas. She did call in frequently to check in on my mother of course.
Next came my godmother, my beautiful Aunt Shirley. A former model who married the dashing Naval aviator who ended up a two-star admiral, my Uncle Frank. My Aunt Shirley drove Jaguars, knew everyone, broke some hearts along the way and made her mark by raising orangutans in Indonesia. Her home in Borneo was full of the orangutan orphans she found which she cared for. Eventually they made it to zoos in Perth and Singapore. They got there by flying first class I might add.
She and my uncle were with my father when he died in Singapore in 1984. My mother was visiting them in Hawaii when my Uncle Frank died. My family and I are lucky like that. My Aunt Shirley was the first to go, taken by cancer two years ago.
My mother was next in the family.
Then there is my Aunt Carolyn, the astrologer in the family who has predicted and continues to predict our family’s destiny with perfect accuracy and a wonderful humor. As my mother lay in her twilight state, it was my Aunt who noted:
“Well her skin looks great and she was trying to lose weight. I think she’s been using Elizabeth Arden.”
All of our collective homes are full of the pictures of the four Cannon sisters. In high school, college, at weddings. In Europe, in Singapore, in Hawaii, around the world, always the four of them. One of the pictures was by my mother’s bedstand.
As it should be, there never was a picture of the three of them – the photographs ended when Aunt Shirley left. I know there will never be a picture of the two remaining sisters. It doesn’t have to be mentioned, it just will be so.
Last night after yoga, I drove back to the hospice and it was a perfect sunset. I felt my mother slipping away as I drove through the Valley of the Sun in the dimming light, the western sky a bright pink, a few scattered clouds. Palm trees outlined by the western light. A calm sadness. I slept the night on the floor of her room, moving her legs back into bed, waking at every change in breathing.
Today, she is restless as she is getting ready to go. My children told her they loved her on speaker phone and she raised her hands up to the sky. She is no longer eating and any ability to recognize us is fading if not gone.
My two Aunts sit with me and tell me stories. My Aunt Carolyn wondered what we would do if she gets better and we’ve gotten rid of all her furniture. Aunt Neila furrows her brow, ponders the possibility and says:
“Well, we just tell her ‘whoops.”
After having one foot in this world, and one foot somewhere else all these last few days, my mother decided it was time to go on. You learn to listen to the breath, it tells the story that she can’t.
I knew the end was coming because I felt my Aunt Shirley show up. I could see her, smell her, the room was full of her, and her smile — she had come to help my mother home.
I was there alone in the room, when her breath started to go. I pulled down the medal bars on he bed so I can half climb in the bed and hold her, tell her I love her, hold her tight as her last breath drawn, released loudly and then she was gone.
So now all I can do to try and comprehend that now two sisters are here and two are there. As I sit here alone, I can hear my Aunt Shirley and my mother laughing in the distance. They walk away from us. And like my mother’s breath faded and was gone, so goes their laughter.
Everyone came to say good-bye and I walked out with my two Aunts. On the way out the door, Aunt Carolyn turns to Aunt Neila.
“If you even think about dying, I’ll kill you.”
The two of them laugh and with tears in our eyes we walk out the door together.
And everything is okay.
Patsy Cannon Boyce, November 9, 1933 – August 10, 2011