Tuesday, 9 October 2018


Another post about the epic trip was posted on The Death Dialogues blog .

This blog was shut to private for a while. Information I'd shared was used in a very malicious manner and I felt very upset and vulnerable.

I've come out the other side of that but do not know how often I will be posting here. Please follow Death Dialogues on Instagram where the links to the project are on the profile page. There's a FB link and link to the blog. 

We are having the debut of The Death Dialogues project in Whangarei on 25 of November.

I'm currently in India. Alone. Receiving a couple weeks of Ayurvedic treatment.

All best to you.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Willie Nelson: on death

I'm sitting here listening to 85 year old Willie Nelson's latest album Last Man Standing.

Willie Nelson has been a golden (guitar) string connecting me to my US southwestern roots and ancestors and my mama. I can recall as a wee one playing him singing "Crazy Arms" on repeat while I wailed along with him at the top of my lungs.

During my mother's stay with us in New Zealand, until her death last year, my husband would put on the Pandora honky tonk station of Merle or Willie or Johnny or George or the like. Walking by her room and watching her rock in that rocker, as she looked out on paradise, while some of the ole boys would be serenading her was a sight to behold. I'm glad I caught a glimmer of that on a little video clip:

We knew Willie was smart, but what is glaring at me on this last album is our pigtailed, reefer smoking icon's emotional intelligence blowing off the scale. 

It isn't as if he has been shy of the topic of death on previous albums, but maybe it's just where this has landed in my (and his) life trajectory-- I sit here pre-mourning him as I listen to his beautifully eloquent words on this new album.

For me it feels like Willie tiptoes into the world of us having to accept that we might outlive him; that we might have to wake up to the news of his demise one day and figure out how our culture will quite survive that loss. And yes, I know I'm not speaking for all of us, but I harken to believe I may be speaking for the majority of us.

The first song I experienced from this album was seeing the video for "Something You Get Through."

While watching this beautiful song being sung by the man himself I could feel he was telling us-- I'm not immortal. Let this song help you; whether it's for when my time comes or for your own personal loss.

Our family has lost too many loves this past year and this song landed right in the middle of my heart where the pockets of grief still reside. (((thank you Willie)))

How true are the words: it's not something you get over; but it's something you get through.
 As his below video of the song he wrote in the throes of his grief after Merle Haggard's death shows: Willie does death with his heart and eyes wide open. Bless him.

And we are all better for that fact. He Won't Ever Be Gone could be the song we write about Willie as well. 

The video of his eight year old recording of Pearl Jam's Just Breathe (with his son) is the note we shall leave this conversation on as we send Willie love and thanks for his contribution to our culture and his attempts at helping us look at the full spectrum of our lives-- beginning to the very end.

One of the lines in the title track of Last Man Standing says: "it's getting hard to watch my pals check out, it cuts like a worn out knife."

We feel you Willie. And we feel the tender place where that wound would hit us should your beautiful spirit leave this planet before our own. 

Stay around if you can. But if the ole timers are strumming you home, we will understand.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Part 3: will the circle be unbroken– a mother's final labour

Part 3 of 3

This time when I return to New Zealand, I return to the second chapter of loss for the year. 

A beautiful reprieve initially happens as my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter accompany me home on a previously planned journey for them-- how we were somehow, after Max's death, able to end up on the same flight, in the same row, is another miracle. Their tickets had been purchased months before.

Synchronicity such as that, during those times and after, always brings the feeling of a knowing wink and nod being sent my direction from the beyond. 

And I receive it with an exhale; a sense of connection and relief.

During this time together in, New Zealand, there's a beautiful uplift in us all. We watch my three year old granddaughter frolic and interact with all of the animals and play in the sea. 

My daughter's birthday is celebrated by us witnessing our horse giving birth in our front yard. Having gotten the family's approval before we left, we name him Maxwell. 

Max had frequently called me Rebecca, in that certain way, to which I'd always answer, yes, Maxwell? Neither of our names but a connection of humor, linking us to our past.

Mom is buoyed by their visit. But three weeks later, after their departure, we are left with an emptier feeling house and a huge gap in our hearts.

Returning a couple weeks after Max's death we are taken straight  to a high place on the property where Mom, my husband & son held a memorial for Max. The lilies that were pinned to a pole had rebloomed after once dying off. No water, dry wind prevailing. Mom wanted photos there with me and my daughter and granddaughter holding Max's funeral card
Mom repeats on the regular that a mother should never outlive her child-- a mantra I have heard throughout her life.

I'm having to hide myself away more than I like because I just can't let her see my raw grief. And she's taken to rehashing long buried troubling accounts from our past as she does her end of life to work, trudging in a frequently agonizing manner, through how she feels she wronged her children. 

This was a box I'd never wanted to open with her again. I certainly wasn't prepared for it- we'd spent so much time over the last four decades processing the insanity and pain, feeling that she and I understood each other and moved past that. We always called each other our best friends. 

Although she seems hungry to process, all I can do is listen, heart tearing apart inside, and repeat the feedback that she did the best she could at the time.

As she waded through the file folder of stored memories she would occasionally chirp, "Ask me now if you have any questions about my past. That's one regret I have with my parents, that I didn't ask all the information I'd want later."

Being a child pre-technology and the last one left in the home for a good seven years we'd spent many an hour at the kitchen table with me interrogating her about every corner of her childhood and life pre-Becky, so I had a fair bit of historical information stored. 

I videoed a segment of her talking about her first love that had gone off to war and when he returned, she had given birth to my oldest brother and her previous love, Frank, held her baby. That part was the common part of the story but I wanted to dig a bit deeper and did so. 

We eventually found his obituary, he'd died not long ago and as I told her a shadow of regret hung over her face as she stared into space, I'm sure, again, pondering the what if . . .  To which her response was always- well, I wouldn't have you kids, would I? As if that was the consolation prize for not following her heart and putting herself through hell. Frank had been a tender soul and she wondered what a life with tenderness might have felt like.

Tragic really, she so deserved tender.

She's so fragile and any time we start to talk about Max we both tend to break down. 

I'm feeling very protective of her and very aware of her fragility.There's also a self-protection that kicks in at times with those conversations of troubling family dynamics and I do my best to be present for her, gently, one day at a time- when not mired in my own grief or issues that arise from her wondering and need space for that.

Mom begins a very mindful decline and it becomes apparent that it has nothing to do with an underlying blood condition, myodysplasia syndrome, that she receives blood for monthly. Her blood levels hold their own, but she slowly deteriorates. 

She gets a bug in April that has her thinking she is leaving the planet and shares that if she has to feel like this she wants Max to hold the door open for her and pull her through. 

I cancel a silent mindfulness retreat I'm scheduled to go off to for self-care  it's the most unwell I've seen her since her arrival. She never quite recovers from that bug.

In June or July she again experiences a virus and this time is weak enough that we feel it best to bring in a walker and a beside commode for night time. Her appetite is waning and she is sleeping more and more,  sometimes going back to bed shortly after arising and having breakfast.

A life-long walker, her walks up and down our lengthy driveway have turned into pushing her wheeled walker in laps around the dining table and down the hall if she feels up to that. 
a few weeks before her crossing having just showered & had a massage & haircut. she always had to have the lipstick on if the camera came out
We eventually question whether her grief has turned to depression, wondering if it's that one small missing puzzle piece of her decline. 

We don't want to be guilty of putting everything in the "almost 95" column if, in fact, depressive symptoms could be partly responsible for her decline. 

Mom wholeheartedly agrees with her doctor to try a low dose antidepressant but after six weeks there is no change except that her condition further wanes. She stops that med. 

There are times that she announces that she is ready to get on the train to "go home." A couple of times she has me tape good-byes for the family.

It's a guessing game when one is almost 95 what is age related, illness related, grief related, end of life related. In hindsight? She was continually vacillating from January to October whether she wanted to keep her feet on the planet or whether she wanted to join Max.
shortly before her crossing over with my son who adores her and husband who cared for her so gracefully: she loved and appreciated them so

There comes a time for the discussion, Mom, you need to decide if you want to try to rehab towards some sort of improvement and second wind or if you want to be allowed to gracefully wind down. We don't want to bully you to walk and move and eat more, but if you want to improve, that is definitely a piece of the puzzle. Or you can choose for this to be the phase where you do what you desire as you feel like it. We totally respect whatever your wish is for this phase of your life. 

She pauses briefly- I just don't have the energy– let me just relax.

Finally, in October, I reluctantly went to the rescheduled silent mindfulness retreat that I'd had planned and missed earlier. She was in that space where she could live for months the way she was or there could be a rapid turn. 

My husband and she both insisted I go for my own self-care. They promised I would be contacted if she took a turn. I FaceTimed with Max's wife and my daughter for their opinions too, based on how mom seemed when they chatted with her, and with everyone's encouragement I tried to enter a different head-space and go.

My entire time at the retreat I basked in the silence. It had so been a situation of "there are no words" and finally I was in a space where that was what was expected: no words.  

When I'd gone to get mom supplies at the medical store, just in case things turned quickly while I was gone so my husband could have necessities-- bed covers and the like (that largely remain in unopened packages to this day), I met this very sweet woman working there and shared my dilemma of mom's condition and my impending retreat. She too encouraged me to attend the retreat, having just walked her best friend home the previous week. She said, every day ask your angels to gather her angels and surround her and aide her in this transition when it is the right time.

Not eloquent in angel-speak, I did find that my retreat found me centred around the preparation of walking my mother home and admittedly I was so dreading the task. I'm sure that for most people who knew of the experience we'd had with Max's illness and death, they didn't think twice about my ability to handle my mother's end of life in New Zealand, but the anticipatory anxiety  tortured me.

I did not want to see my precious mama suffer. 

Walking Max home had been an immense privilege but it also so very heart wrenching; it was hard beautiful work that my heart had yet to heal from. 

The thing is, we do not know what the end is going to look like for anyone and it is so important to stay in the moment and not let our minds go to the guessing; I worked hard at that but would, at times, become lost in the please don't let her suffer space.

I found myself sneaking out of my cabin at night and looking up at the immense expanse of starlight, opening to billions of galaxies and mystery, silently calling to Max and his army of whomever– angels, family, fellow travellers–please please assemble the teams and help me do this the best way possible. Help me meet mom at a place of grace and respect and do this piece right. 

I didn't hear from home so was hoping all was well. As I drove away I would continually check for a place I could get cellular service on my phone I pulled over and spoke to my husband asking how Mom was. 

Worse he replied. Weak. Not well. She's waiting for you. 

Why didn't you call for me???? 

She wasn't there yet and she didn't want me to, she's waiting for you. 

I arrive home and walk into her room and she is sitting on the edge of her bed, Look at you sitting there. You look great

She looks at me through anguished eyes. This is it. I'm dying now. 

She informed me that she could not have another night like the previous one where she had dreamed of being in hell all night, I wasn't actually in hell, but I was seeing it. Why in the world would God give me that dream? This woman had spent her life as a devout Christian that her church communities held on a pedestal because of her walk with God.

I convinced her that, if anything, He was showing her what she would miss, That's what I thought. That makes me feel better. 

Yet she still decidedly declared that this was the beginning of her dying. 

Therein marks the beginning of a 27 hour labour to her reaching the other side. During her dying process she used terminology I'd never heard from her– "crossing over" and "other side." She was totally plugged in so I reckon it is the Truth and I use that terminology more and more myself. 

As she sat on the edge of the bed and looked off reciting good-byes to family members, I asked her if she wanted me to video tape what she was saying. We made a very eloquent good-bye video where she lists for over three minutes the loved ones she is addressing and then very beautifully gives a description of where she is at and says her good-bye; the video ends with her looking straight into the camera and blowing three kisses, waving and with her southern drawl, bye-bye.

From there, with her and I together like labour coach and birthing mother, she narrates the entire process, just like a mother in labour for her first born might do.

She asks for the meds her doctor had promised which my husband has to hunt down late on a Friday. She's nauseated and the antiemetic goes far in relieving her discomfort.

After a low dose of morphine she asks, how long does it take, I thought it would have happened by now. 

Bless her, I realize she thought those meds the doctor would supply her with would end her life. 

Oh mama, the meds were just to ease your comfort.

She musters a little grin and exhales, it worked, I feel so much more comfortable now. I feel at peace. 

That was such beautiful feedback to hear after she'd clearly been feeling achey, nauseated and uncomfortable.

Still, she'd chirp out lamentations about the length of her dying process.

Why in the world, when you are this close, can you not just cross over? Why does it have to take so long? 

Mom does 95 years of life feel like it has flown by? NO it feels like it has dragged and dragged and dragged. I couldn't help but giggle in surprise and she slightly smirks.

There was clearly something in her thinking or hoping that if she willed her crossing over hard enough, it would be done.

She hadn't eaten much in the last few days. She still heartily accepted water from me but didn't want anything to eat. She had adult pants on but wasn't soiling them or needing to go to the toilet. 

We talk about other people she'd known who had seen relatives when it was their time to cross over, she wonders if she will. We express our joy that we had been open with each other and neither felt like we had any unfinished business; we felt at peace with our relationship. 

I apologise, again, if she had found me emotionally unavailable at times during my journey with Max. She laments, again, about putting her children through the childhood she had and I continue to reassure her that she had done the absolute best she could in her circumstances. That she was so very good at loving.

Later, otherwise silent, she yells out my daughter's name, Rachel! Tell them all that I'm sorry. 

Based on the continuing theme of her lamenting that part of life during her last months, I knew she was wanting Rachel to relay that apology to my brothers and me. 

Halfway into the journey, her lucidity faded and she began calling an occasional, Mama . . . . 

The first time I asked her if she saw her mama, my grandma, if she was there to help her cross over. She answered yes.

At one point she called Mama, attempting to get up and out of bed, throwing one leg over the side. I said, "Mama said you could rest," and she flung herself back with a palpable sense of relief. 

She loved it when I rubbed her hair, her back, lightly traced her arm a cold compress traced gently on her face as she did for me as a child. I would crawl in bed with her for hours to rub on her. She made it clear early in the journey that she appreciated that closeness and touch so I made sure that she felt it until the end.

Her minister came about six hours before she died and sang to her and prayed with her as she lay on her side. I know she heard her. 

Up until close to the end I could get a subtle response that told me she could hear me. So I praised her loving and her mothering and her doing the best possible job she could do at living. 

I reminded her that Jesus and Max and her family were waiting for her. 

I said only good things and sent her only loving feelings. I wanted her to feel only positive energy as she left this earth-plane. 

There was a time I felt a shift. I called my husband (a retired MD) and my son in to say their good-byes. They showered her with love. My husband whispered before he left the room, I think it will still be a while.

I turned her on her back to position her comfortably so when she passed she would be in that position, making it easier to care for her. There was a pillow under her knees and each arm. 

In recent months she would say, This bed just feels like heaven, I just don't want to come out of it." I wanted her to feel that heaven.

Then I felt her pulse. It was thready. I tried her blood pressure. It wasn't registering. 

I called my husband in and we sat before her, each holding a hand. 

Her breaths were very far apart and there was an exhale and the most gloriously relaxed and beautiful full face smile came over her (mind you that is far and away from the expression she had been holding). 

My husband called my son. That smiled stayed long enough for me to contemplate getting a photo for my family and I redirected myself and told myself to be in the moment, even though now I wish I had a record of that smile to share with family; I'll never forget it. It remains my antidote to wrenching grief when it arises. 

There was a look of recognition in that smile and on her phase- like, there you all are and isn't this beautiful; I did it, I'm here.

Then the strangest thing happened that I'd never seen before in all the deaths I've witnessed. She took a drastic inhale and at that time her chin jutted straight up towards the ceiling, her mouth shot open and her tongue was very decidedly curled with the tip touching her upper palette, mouth remaining open. That was position held and then there was a final exhale with relaxed facial muscles and we knew the crossing over had completed.

Now here's the magic of that final breath– a month or so prior I had gone to our local Death Cafe and there had been a man there who said he'd spent years working closely with Buddhist monks who did much work surrounding death. He said, they say when the tongue curls up and goes to the roof of the mouth, that's when the spirit leaves the body. 

How wild is that? I'd never heard of that or seen it before. Ever. My husband had never heard of or witnessed it. And, boom, then it's exactly what my mother exhibits shortly thereafter at her time of death. 

Make no mistake, my husband and I both saw her gorgeous smile as a victorious arrival. If I had to put words to the look on her face it would be, "There you are!!!! I knew I'd get to see you. How could I doubt this. I've arrived. This is amazing. I'm here. Rest easy and know I'm victorious."

The response was so beautiful even my husband's initial response was, "Give Max a hug for us!" We both knew in our hears Max had welcomed her.

I was rallying as if she'd just finished her first marathon or birthed that baby, "Well done mom. Look you've done it. You are there. I'm so proud of you. You worked so hard. Give everyone our love."

It was an indescribable dying process really.

Throughout the labouring process I was astounded at how many of mom's mannerisms mimicked Max's during the dying process. The way she postured with her hands behind her head, the grooming around her face and hair, even scratching her nose and drawing a bit of blood in the process. 

These movements were all so similar to what I observed with Max. I recalled how amazed I had been that even while so close to death he was still attending to smoothing his hair out or rubbing an ear or his nose. 

As I sunk into that I then realised that so much of the entire dying process had echoed Max's, but on fast forward. His six days that I observed and sat with him were condensed into 27 hours and it was because of that experience that I was fully aware of when mom was shifting into the great goodbye. 

Mind you, I've sat with other dying people before and every experience is very different so in hindsight I wondered if Max had helped orchestrate a transition that would at least feel recently familiar to me to ease the process. 

Like Max, we kept mom with us for three days never leaving her side. She looked gorgeous. Without make up her face had filled with color immediately after death rather than looking the pallor we usually associate with death. It was amazing. Of course I had her in her curlers the first night and immediately put her cherished lipstick on her. 

We had a very sweet service for her, just as she'd requested, as she lay on her bed surrounded by flowers and a plaque "You are My Sunshine" that was her love anthem to us all. 

holding her favourite flowers from our garden. red was her favourite colour
At one point before her service a dear friend was sitting with her while I got ready and urgently called me into the room, "Becky look at this." All around her room there were small little rainbows dancing on the walls. Yes, there was a crystal hanging from her stained glass "guardian angel" on the full length window, but we'd never seen this phenomenon before. 

The one time she'd seen a rainbow from the crystal she had excitedly told me about it because it was under the collage of photos of Max and she was convinced it was him; it was in the shape of a cross and she had always seen rainbows as a hello from Max since his death so I know I would have heard about it if she'd seen this previously.

I have no doubt this was mom's way of saying hello and thank you. 

Like Max, she and I had promised to stay in touch. "I hope I can figure out how" were her last words on the subject during her dying process but it had been a frequently revisited promise since my father's death in 1983. 

Therein with mom as well, I have a list "yay long" of little signs I feel strongly that she has sent. I feel her and smell her frequently.

Mom was picked up on the third afternoon in an American Cadillac hearse that we followed to the crematorium as we played "You are My Sunshine" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" on the drive. 

Mind you there are absolutely heart wrenching bits in these stories too. 

I can still get bowled over looking at photos of Max during the trying times. 

And the wailing as I picked lavender fronds to tuck in with my mother for her cremation– that action brought me to my knees. 

The visceral sensation that she was the child and I was the mother as she called out "mama?" and the reverence of realising in the bitter end we all reach for the beloved mother. 

To walk another home is not the work of the weak but the work of committed women(humans).

Work that has been done for time immemorial– just as the labouring of coming into this world was tended to by the same women.

This is work my mother had groomed me for my entire life, telling me the stories of births and deaths within the homes, normalizing them and questioning why our culture had collectively walked away from these most meaningful acts of love and connection.

Looking back, it was my father's death 35 years earlier that taught our family to love even bigger. Since the day he died our family became more expressive with our love, about death and dying and aware that life will end, but our love will live on. 

To that end, my dad's death gifted us with the ability to love a bit braver and a bit stronger, during the joys and the difficult hours. A troubled man, my father gave more to his family in death than he had in life.

Take this, but a skeleton of my experience, with the knowing that time had to pass to get to a place where I would not have to write down absolutely every detail because each one is so very significant and a piece of my loves that I feared losing. 

At the time of this writing, I've had time to live with these experiences and remember and honour and I am okay with the sin of omission for this purpose. 

What death has taught me:

The connection continues. 

The learning continues.

The love continues. 

A rainbow over Max's family in our front garden during their recent visit. A double. The photo doesn't do it justice; the biggest and brightest we've ever seen. We look at each other knowingly, "Thanks Max. Thanks Mom."

my gorgeous mama 
Thank you for sharing these sacred journeys with me. 

You can follow the project The Death Dialogues by clicking on these coloured words. 

Join me as we hear others' stories.

I saw this yesterday for the first time-- it so resonates when thinking of mom's smile just before her spirit left her body.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Part 2: walking him home: finding sanctuary in the storm

Max in New Zealand: May 2015
Part 2.

What I haven't mentioned yet is that this Max I describe? He was that Max to so many because that was the way he walked in the world-- generous beyond measure, intuitively knowing when he was needed, poetic in his supportive conversations, indescribable in his warmth and love and helpfulness really.  

All that knew him were gutted about this journey he was taking;our immediate family was no exception.

After three weeks I returned home only to go back in less than a month, after Max had awakened one day unable to move one side of his body and struggling to communicate verbally. 

By the time I arrived he was in a hospital bed in the middle of the sitting room. I arrived at midnight. His wife was sleeping in the room with him and I said I'd take the couch in the adjacent room to support them both. 

He roused at about 2 am and I asked his wife if it was cool for me to talk to him. He knew me. He lit up and giggled. He tried to talk but his words weren't coming right or orderly but, at times, I knew what he wanted to say and he could acknowledge if I was right.  

His respirations were only a few per minute. I wasn't sure how much longer he had based on that. I took his pulse on his weak arm. He grabbed my wrist with his strong arm and looked me directly in the eye with a smirk and ordered me, "Relax." 

That would be the last clear word uttered and the final directive from my precious big brother.

We embraced each other tightly. I whispered– Max, you've done such an amazing job. You've gifted us with so much. We understand if you need to go

We sobbed, holding each other like forever was right there in our grasp. He nodded and then I could tell he was trying to say his kids' names. I said, you are hanging on for (your kids) and he nodded emphatically yes

I told him what a great dad he was and how strong they were and how they would miss him greatly but they would always have his love and I promised that we'd all support his family in any way we could. 

I wanted him to relax in the understanding that there would be so many people at the ready to help his family in the way he had helped theirs. 

He seemed to relax a bit. And over and over again, I thanked him and told him what an amazing force he'd been in my life. 

And for that piece of time, in the middle of the night, alone, in the in-between, it felt as if our divine connection was consecrated; the knowing without words held us, like the identical twins who feel each other deeply. 

Once again I said, "Let's promise that whoever goes first will communicate with the other and give each other signs." This time he couldn't give his usual response of a giggle and "of course!" 

This time we knew unequivocally who the odds were saying would go first and he nodded in affirmation.

My daughter had asked me while on her way to meet us for this last gathering, what do I say to him? 

My suggestion was to say everything to him that you might wish you hadn't said if he was gone. Thank him, love him. 

To watch my older kids sit at his side and detail what he had done for them and meant to them in their lives was a miracle unfolding. Just to feel and share the love was an honour. 

When my daughter first came to him he met her with a warm, knowing embrace that had everyone in the room sobbing along with the two of them. 

The next week didn't go slow enough, yet there was also a wanting to release him from the constrictions his earthly body was imposing on him. 

His wife and I were getting up throughout the nights with him. He required full on nursing and planning for repositioning and such and it was, again, a gift to see that nursing training and experience is a bit like riding a bicycle and I was so happy that I could help. 

Someone was at his side at all times. 

This man experienced a gathering of love and a vigil sitting that was heart-wrenching and beautiful to behold.  

A mere six days after I landed, dear Max bid us farewell at daybreak with a full moon still in the sky, on Friday the 13th of January, with loved ones surrounding him. 

It was clear our relationship had forever changed, but I knew it would never end.

Having lived in New Zealand and aware of the Maori practice of the three day tangi and just recently having watched a lovely movie, Zen & the Art of Dying, and knowing that, even in the US, it was becoming more acceptable to take care of loved ones' bodies at home (as my mother had always told us was the way when she was a child) I tiptoed in that direction after he died. 

I'd already planted the seed with his wife that we wouldn't have to call to have his body taken away immediately and that time can be some of the most precious.

Having experienced it many times with nursing, I felt very comfortable suggesting that we tend to his body and dress him. 

His wife and kids went upstairs and picked out his classic uniform of jeans and his trademark denim shirt; that was Max. 

We gently bathed him with frankincense and lavender in warm water. My older brother said at first he was shocked at the concept but ended up feeling that this care-taking was a deeply moving and loving time, especially when his sweet wife insisted on being part of the process. 

With every step we took, and the natural feeling of it all, it became clear that we would love to keep him at home with us longer.

I called a funeral home that the hospice social worker had suggested might be flexible and was blessed by a very warm reception, we haven't done this before but we know this trend is happening and we support you 100%. 

The funeral director went on to give me tips on how to keep his body as long as possible: cool room, strategically placed ice. (you can keep him until the funeral if you like-- just give us an hour notice and we can get him any time of the day or night, it's your call). It was extremely helpful to not feel pressured by the funeral industry.

What ensued was the most beautiful three days of heart-wrenching, yet full of laughter and loving, time that our family had ever experienced together. 

Max was in the sitting room and french doors separated it from the family room and a door could be closed from the entry hallway of the house. One of us stayed with him at all times. 

We had peppermint oil infusing-- I felt it important to have a beautiful cleansing smell there for those that might have misgivings about a body remaining home for an extended period. 

We kissed Max and held his hand. Notes were written and left in his pockets. He was adored and loved. 

His wife and my nieces swear they saw a smile on his face. 

I was so happy to know in my heart that this was exactly what he would have wanted but since the terrain wasn't common, even lucid, he may not have been able to ask for it. 

The first evening it was clear that we didn't want bright lights on and since candles had yet to be unpacked from their move, we needed to get some. 

My daughter and I headed out on the snow-packed roads to Target. Mind you, I had yet to be out of the house, let alone drive on the right side of the road in snow again; on this trip and we were a bit like Lucy and Ethel out on a mission. 

My daughter wanted to hear exactly what had transpired in the last 24 hours leading to Max's death and in actuality it was probably very therapeutic for me to have the chance to talk that out. 

We walk into the store and we search and search and for the life of us cannot find a candle or an employee. Again, think Lucy and Ethel. 

I stop and look up and say, "Ok Max, I'm sure this is the first of many requests but could you please help us find the candles?" 

We both nervously chuckle over my audaciousness. 

My eyes move down from the ceiling and directly ahead of us, about four aisles away, is a candle display on the end of an aisle. 

We get there and every candle is in a variety of very cool holders that have "2ECOND LIFE" printed largely on it. 
Thank you Max.
We almost drop to our knees. And that is the first experience in a list "yay long" (as my mother would say) of "hellos" that I have been keeping since Max's crossing over.
Back in the room there is so much pain and so much beauty over the next few days, it is difficult to describe. 

Some people can't be in the room with him much at all. Some people find it hard to be away from him. 

Aromas of food waft in from those busy in the kitchen. Laughter dances from the mostly younger in the group going through photos for photo boards. 

The minister comes and we discuss the funeral service. My oldest brother and sister-in-law go off to the funeral home to choose a casket. 

Max's wife frequently checks in with their younger kids about if they are ready for dad to go yet and the answer is always no. I begin to wonder if we will ever want him to leave. Maybe we can't part with this earthly image of him.

Then miraculously, on the third day, his wife mentions to me and then the kids-- I think it's time. We had agreed we'd have him depart in the dark for a bit of sanctity. Everyone agrees, yes, it can happen now.  

We gather together around him until they arrive. We sing by candle light. We love him communally in his family home for the last time. We cry. We laugh. We sing "You are my Sunshine" for his mama. 

Eventually they come for Max's body. 

Everything that I thought would be horribly traumatic is not. Them placing him on their stretcher. Taking him through all the people in the living room and kitchen area. 

I wait for the wails, for the holding on to the stretcher. It doesn't happen. 

My brother, Max's wife and I follow the stretcher outside. My oldest brother, nine years Max's senior,and as my mom would describe he helped raise him, he potty trained him, he follows the van down the road a bit. 

I feel his yearning. His disbelief. His feeling that a part of him has just been taken and there is the searing knowledge that we will always have this missing piece. 

The expanse of that love is beautiful. The tragedy of the losing hurts so very much.

And then we go back in and people are actually talking normally and there is laughter. 

His wife goes and gets Max's favourite whiskey she'd had to hide because with his memory issues she was concerned that he might not remember if he drank. She poured a toast, for the first time, for their almost 21 year old son. A drink for Max. And the night went on peacefully which was a great testimony to the timing of it all. 

As I told my sister-in-law during the vigil, "This right here? This is equal to six months of intensive therapy. This is covering ground you could never cover in an office with a stranger."

We have a beautiful service for Max. A bald eagle gives his wife and my son and myself a nod as we drive to the celebration of life-- even circling back for a second pass. 

We tell the minister about the eagle upon our arrival. 

The reverend smiles, "Sorry, that was a hello from Max. We don't see bald eagles around here." 

That was the beginning of my sister-in-law and others seeing more bald eagles and being guided by hawks when lost and I, too, saw more bald eagles on my next trip to North America having never seen them previously.

There had been the mantra of "thank you Max" when he was rehabbing and would follow instructions. Now we'd find cause to recite "thank you Max" for his love and guidance from the beyond.

                Anna Fermin singing "Forever Young"

Click HERE for part 3, the final entry of this series.