My mother died at Nazareth Nursing Home in Buffalo, NY, in the early evening of May 26th, 2006.
From Monday night when I got to Buffalo until that afternoon, I sat with my Mom. I read to her from the paper, from the Artvoice, The Garden of Eden and The Alchemist. On Friday, after the 3-11 shift change, I left the room so the nurses could get my Mom settled in bed. On my way back inside, a CNA appeared to tell me I needed to get upstairs and call the rest of my family.
Mom’s breathing became shallower and her face and hands started to turn blue. The minister from her church had been called but hadn’t arrived, so my sister asked the nurses station to call on the chaplain.
I’d met Sister Bernard several times before. She came and said a prayer with us when I arrived in Buffalo, which seemed like it would be my Mom's last night on Earth. I remember her voice being sweet with more than a hint of a brogue, even after 30 plus years in the States. She walked to the foot of the bed and took my hand and my sister’s. Betsy held my brother’s hand while he held my Mom’s right hand and I held her left. What I’m saying in a convoluted way, is we held hands in a circle.
Sister Bernard began a prayer that I still cannot recall other than the fire and brimstone filled words that passed her lips. “Agonizing…sinners punished …fiery hell. She wasn’t saying Mom was going there, which is why I couldn’t understand why she spent so much time telling my Mom what she would be spared instead of stressing what awaited her. She was very sweet and meant well, make no mistake, but it reminded why I am glad I was really raised a Protestant rather than a Catholic. The Catholics just seem to dwell a lot on the negative stuff. The stuff that makes people behave and follow (blindly). If it weren't for Mom's insistence on the Protestant Church, I may have never found my way to Wicca or some of the other philosophies and theologies I’ve incorporated along the way.
In the last minutes my mother breathed, time was an agonizingly slow space where I unconsciously held my breath to the point I thought my chest would cave in under its own weight. Her breathing stopped for what seemed like 2 minutes and I thought it was over. Then suddenly she gasped and began breathing again. This happened at least two more times when my brother finally broke the tension. “She’s doing this on purpose.” he said with a grin. Betsy and I both laughed through our tear stained faces and dripping noses. We told her we’d watch over and beat on each other always and she could let go.
Then it was over. I’d been lying in bed with her when she died and I waited a while before getting up, not wanting to let go. I went outside for a cigarette with my brother and Nicole. Bruce McKay, the pastor of my mother’s church came up the stairs to the entrance and it struck me this is exactly the way we saw one another four days before. I’d just arrived from NY and I was having a cigarette with my brother and Nikki when his car pulled up.
“I’m so glad you’re here”, I told him. “Sister Bernard came and said a prayer with us and there was a lot of talk of hell, the devil and sinners. My mother believed in a compassionate and forgiving God, not this cranky, vindictive God.
“Please come in and say a prayer with Momma so we can banish angry Jesus!”
Bruce laughed and hugged me and we all went inside and prayed one last time with my mom. I don’t remember what was said specifically but I do know it was about releasing her pain, the love that we shared and of course, butterflies.
Angry Jesus couldn’t have made butterflies.