Life is always giving us directions, guiding us to choices we wouldn’t typically make. Sometimes those directions come in the form of gentle nudges, and those are usually the hardest to listen to, or even notice. This is especially true if there is fear, discomfort or another form of resistance involved.
I have usually recognized, but not always listened to, those gentle nudges. Often, it has taken forceful and sometimes quite painful pushes for me to make choices that have taken me out of my status quos and comfort zones. But I got one of the most important choices of my life right this past spring.
In late April, I hopped in a rental car and embarked upon the “mom mission,” driving from Longboat Key, Florida to Long Island, New York, to see the woman who had birthed and raised me, shaped and nurtured me, challenged and loved me – and hand her an advance copy of my soon to be published novel.
She’d just been in the hospital for nine nights with pnemonia, which not everyone thought she’d make it through. I would have left sooner, but the hospital only allowed one (the same) visitor for the entire time and my locally-based sister had been on the scene very quickly. I told my mom that she didn’t have to fight, for us – I knew her body had become a very unwelcoming host – but if she did, I promised I would drive up to see her.
I had no intention of leaving Longboat Key, which I’d just rented the first place that felt like home in 3.5 years on. I was terrified to make this drive by myself. I’m someone who often takes eight hours to drive four, stopping to explore, take photos, immerse myself in nature and charge up for the next portion of the drive. But I am someone who feels the lack of oxygen when I go grocery shopping in a mask; I wasn’t about to cut off my supply with a several-hour flight.
I didn’t know where I was staying when I got to New York – I did have an invite for the week, but it was pretty far from my mom’s assisted living place. The thing that scared me most was I didn’t even know if she would even still be alive when I got to New York.
Just after crossing the Virginia state line, I received a message from a woman on Trusted Housesitters, a bartering site for travelers. She asked if I could be at her Glen Cove house on Tuesday – the very day I’d be arriving in New York. At first, I thought she must have meant the message for someone else – we hadn’t even shared a message up to that point. No, she needed to stay in CA and the woman who was at her house couldn’t stay. Of all people, she chose me, and didn’t even feel a need to talk with me first. (The remix of this story is an amazing one, but like that of my adventure from Florida to New York, it’s one for another day.)
Two days later, I saw my mom for the first time in well over a year (she’d been on lockdown most of that stretch). I sat on the floor in front of her, holding her hands, staring into her eyes and crying. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Then I “checked in” at a waterfront mansion, complete with two of the most amazing animals I’ve ever met, a botanical garden, stream, pond and inground pool. It was only a 35-minute drive from my mom’s home. I’m no stranger to miraculous manifestations, but even for me, this one was mind-blowingly amazing.
The owner, who has come to be a special friend, asked me to extend twice, due to family challenges. I originally expected to be in New York a matter of days. Several months later, I’m still here.
It hasn’t always been easy, by any stretch of the imagination, but I have never lost sight of what an immense blessing this has been, to share time with my mom, read some of the book she’d been waiting so long for to her, and share time with other family and friends I hadn’t seen in far too long. Bonds that had once been fractured healed and strenthened. Others picked up exactly as they’d left off, as if not a day had passed. It had been many years since I’d lived in New York and this summer reminded me both of why I left and why I needed to return, at least for this blessed time.
Never having owned a dog in my life, I somehow became a dog whisperer, training a young and incredibly sweet Maltese who had undergone so much trauma before my arrival. I spent day after day playing with her and her naughty but precious cat sibling, and watched the most magical place I’ve expeirienced outside of a vacation bloom through so many stages of unparalleled beauty.
As a seemingly endless array of flowers, bushes, birds and butterflies came to life, I witnessed the exact opposite happening with my mom. In a body already riddled with MS and Parkinsons, she developed more and more ailments. She was no longer able to put any weight on her feet, or do anything for herself. She could not even speak more than a few words at a time and often, and it was often hard to understand them. (On my birthday in June, she somehow gave me the gift of a conversation. I sometimes wondered if I’d dreamed that.)
Watching her suffer was emotionally torturous at times. Most of the time, I was able to see beyond her limiting and painful body, into the eseence of her true self. The portal was her eyes; I had never before realized the full extent of their beauty. We had many conversations through those eyes.
Last Monday, I read my mom a few chapters of the book. I watched her smile as I told her the latest tales about the beloved animals I’ve been caring for, who she met in person the one day we were able to get her here. I hugged her tightly. We both said I love you, as we always did.
This Monday, I’ll be saying goodbye to the body I intuitively suspected she’d be shedding while I was in New York. My mom passed peacefully into life after life on Wednesday night, in her sleep.
I found at at 1am and after a talk with my siblings and good cry, went outside to the gorgeous deck. The moment I got out here, I saw the biggest, brightest and most beautiful shooting star dancing across the sky.
There have been many signs since, letting me know she is here, and that is the one that will live on in my heart, forever, along with the love I have for her and the love she had for me.
I haven’t always taken life’s more gentle pushes to make choices that didn’t feel comfortable or easy. But I took the most important one. These months in New York have been so sacred.
I love you, Mom.
(This photo is from several years ago. It’s one of my favorites.)