Death

My mother died four days ago, and will be buried the day after tomorrow. She lived a full life, marked by joys and sorrows. She did good work, and was known and loved. I was able to be with her at the end, with my siblings, holding her hand, and listening. She was at peace, which was all that I wanted for her.

You probably do not know who she was or who I am. It does not matter. Death is the same for everyone. Life does not go on forever, and we are folded back into the earth from which we strangely arose not many years ago. Words and deeds, achievements and monuments: their meaning vanishes for the dying, and for those living who have accepted death and made their peace with it. There is nothing to fear and nothing to lament in death itself. It is the reverse side of life, and something we knew was there all along.

My mother declined gradually over many years, due to an unusual degenerative disease that, unfortunately for us, was not diagnosed until a few months ago. I had misunderstood the meaning of her withdrawal from life and from me, fearing and believing that she was angry or depressed or ashamed or in some other mental anguish. It came as a relief to know that she was simply falling down in her body. It was not her heart that had failed or turned sour. It is regrettable to me that I had this delusion about her condition and her behavior. It drove me into miserable parts of myself. But I take it as a lesson about how little we understand in others, even those we think we know best.

In her last hours, I said to her, “you’re doing so well, Mom!” to which she replied with an eye full of life, “I’m at the beginning.” She was probably expressing faith in her future life with God. Or she was aware that her declining brain had quite literally reduced itself to happy and untroubled memories of her earliest childhood (which was a blessing for us). But I know that my mom lived most intimately in her meditations with the story of creation, the act of creation, and the beauty of life on this planet in all of its forms. I think she could have been saying that she was “at the beginning” of creation, in the sense of this saying from the Gospel attributed to the apostle Thomas, the so-called “doubter,” whose name my mother gave me:

The disciples said to Jesus, “tell us how our end will be.”

Jesus said, “have you discovered the beginning, then, so that you are seeking the end? For where the beginning is the end will be. Blessed is one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.”

Gospel of Thomas, 18

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