“I am mostly love now.” These five words of the poet Hayden Carruth grabbed my attention. The words broke through the grief and sadness that followed the death of my parents one week apart this past September. That simple poetic thought was like sunshine burning off a thick and suffocating fog.
My parents were married just a few days shy of 65 years. In many ways the two of them became one. They long ago gave up their individual identities for that of a single couple. They were Leo and Maxine, never apart, one living for the other.
As they moved into the 10th decade of life, their goals remained quite simple. They wanted to remain in their home and to be there for each other. Although their final year of life was challenging, it yielded blessings and lessons to be learned. Through Hospice and family care, they met their modest goals.
American culture is youth-oriented. Modern society prefers not to deal with aging, sickness and death. Those things are best hidden away so one does not have to consider life’s inevitable fate. However, in my parents’ love for each other and in the care provided by family members, one could find beauty, love and an incredible spirituality in this end stage of life.
My father opted to forgo the amputation of an infected and troublesome leg. The decision yielded a poor prognosis. It marshaled my mother to his side with love, care and compassion. The situation was exacerbated when she developed congestive heart failure.
In facing terminal diagnoses, my parents displayed an ability to persevere. They had the fortitude and faith to accept the inevitable and to not fear the unknown. Despite his illness, my father maintained a strong and protective presence. He did not want to leave my mother alone. My mother became a caregiver and advocate. She was dedicated to filling my father’s days with love and compassion.
Over their last several months, there was a ceding of the self. My father gave away his pride and independence to accept the care of others. My mother poured herself into the loving and patient provision of feeding, bathing and changing of my father.
The heart failure began to rob my mother of energy. She continued to care for my father, moving slower, with each action of care becoming a moment of grace. As her physical presence diminished, her spiritual essence grew.
In the end, as those day-to-day tasks grew to be too much for her, the care of my father fell to my siblings and me. At first I was unsure and uncomfortable in this role. Perhaps in our fear or discomfort we pass up moments to provide tender acts of mercy. Ultimately, I found the simple acts of care to be a balm for the soul.
I also came to find that prayer without action does little. We often forget that we are God’s hands on earth. Too often we want to absolve ourselves of that responsibility. It is in our little actions that a bit of divine grace flows among us. Those actions allow us moments of love. Do them often enough and that is what you become.
I was with my mother for her final breath and heartbeat. She had truly given all of herself. Her physical presence had ceased and therein was a deep and painful loss. However, I have now come to realize that she is “mostly love now.” It is an immortal love, one that echoes in the hearts of her family and friends. My father’s passage a week later was quiet and peaceful. In the end, a lifelong love story played out.