I have told my mother's story here, but it bears repeating now - it is a cautionary tale for anyone who might want to keep pushing off that wonderful moment of graduation back into real life. My mother was afraid to die. No matter what I said to try to teach and comfort her, she always would say, "Well, I like it better here." No tale of the Summerland and glorious reunions with long-dead family members could tempt her to think beyond her core-deep fear.
Then, five years ago this summer I got "the call." I had to fly from Austin to Boston immediately if I wanted to see my mother alive. When I arrived, her doctor explained to me that she was in "terminal end-stage heart failure" which could end only in her death, and soon. So I sat by Mother's bed with my sister, and we talked and told stories. She was 88 years old - a good old age - and while she had been relatively well, she was physically weak and becoming confused. A great time to die, Mom - you planned this well! Only, my mother didn't die. She came out of her coma. And as she became lucid, she said to me, "I saw my parents, you know."
This perked my ears! "Oh? Tell me about it."
My grandparents had been dead for fifty years. Nevertheless, my mother said that they had come into her hospital room, and her father sat down in the chair beside her bed and talked with her and said it was time to go now. To hear my mother tell it, she told him that she wasn't ready yet. She refused to go with them. So eventually her mother said, "Then you'd better take your medicine!" and they walked back out again.
This was amazing to me. In decades of doing afterlife research, I had never heard or read that it was even possible to refuse to proceed with death once your visitors arrived! But was that actually what happened here? It turned out that yes, indeed that was. About six weeks later, my mother was in rehab. I went in to visit her one morning, and she said in a self-satisfied way, "They're going to let me stay longer."
"Really? How do you know that?"
"The man told me."
My mother said that the previous evening a tall, glowing man had walked into her room and said, "We've decided that since you want to stay we're going to let you stay a little longer."
I was flabbergasted. She had no idea who that was, but when very advanced beings appear to us on earth this is just the way that they generally look: very tall and thin and glowing. For years, as my mother's body decayed, I felt guilty that her horrible reprieve had been for my benefit - so I would know that we could refuse to leave, and could see what happens when we make that choice - but now I am not so sure that her foolish choice was rare. The nursing home in which my mother finally graduated four hours ago contains other people so old and feeble that I wonder now whether her choice might not be common.
Please don't make my mother's choice! Each of us plans two or three exit points into our lifeplan that our higher consciousness can choose to take once we have learned all that we can in this lifetime. Had my mother taken her last planned exit, she could have died at a good old age after a brief period of declining health, but with most of her body and brain still functioning. At the age of 88 she had lived a long life to the full, and she could now exit neatly. But because she was afraid to die, she clung to a life that suddenly had no end-point other than the literal moment when her 93-year-old body could no longer sustain life. It was merciful that her brain withered as her body did, since by the time she was 90 she seemed not to have much awareness of her body's decaying condition - she was saying until the last weeks of her life that she wanted her car back because this place was boring. In a wheelchair, in a diaper, unable to stay awake for long or even to feed herself, she insisted that of course she could walk if she wanted to - what on earth was I talking about? For those who loved the strong, accomplished, witty and wonderful person that she had always been, it was horrible to watch her die by inches. Years before it finally happened, my sister and I were telling ourselves that it couldn't get much worse - of course she would go soon.
When I arrived in Boston ten days ago for a normal week of seeing clients, I found her much worse than I had left her in June - but that was normal by now. I would generally forget between visits how bad off she was, so I was always shocked at my first visit to her bedside. So then I would read psalms and poetry and read from The Fun of Dying, and my mother would always mumble, "I'm not ready to die yet." What was new this time was that her mumble was barely audible and unintelligible, and she was in pain. They had been managing that wonderfully, so I was horrified. I stopped at the desk, and the nurse there told me that her kidneys were starting to fail. So - long story short - we called in Hospice, they put her on morphine, and I canceled what client appointments I could. Within days I was grateful for those meetings with close and supportive friends who took me away from her bedside for a little while, because once she was on morphine she was no longer with us even the minimal amount that had been her most recent normal. By Wednesday she no longer knew who I was. By Friday I had recited her favorite poem and psalm so many times that I was doing it even in my sleep. I thought about delaying my Sunday morning departure, but my sister talked me out of staying. What was the point, when she didn't know who I was? After I left, my sister and her daughter spent that Sunday afternoon with my mother, and that image comforts me now. A beautiful young attorney in the healthy bloom of early pregnancy - this will be my mother's sixth great-grandchild - holding the dying hand of a woman born fifty years before Women's Lib but who was nevertheless a legal secretary who rose to run the law department of a big insurance company. So the cycle of life goes on.