What is dying, Nina?

Cool sunrise over a fake lagoon in Chandler, AZ, oasis in the desert. A November day here will turn hot and we will go jump in the community pool. I have brought my teacup and journal to a little veranda to write and think about my mother who lies dying in the nursing home that has tended her this past year. I am in Arizona. She is in British Columbia.

My reverie is sweetly shifted by the arrival of my six-year old granddaughter. She is watching me closely this week as I am tracking with my sister & brother who sit at our mother’s side. In the vacation rental house where we are all staying during a reunion and family Thanksgiving, there is a flickering candle altar with photos that honor my mother and also her Uncle Brian who died three years ago. In this same three-year period she has also lost her great-grandfather and her other grandmother, her father’s mom.

altar2

She is twirling my hair, sitting on my lap. “What is dying, Nina?” she asks. “People get dead and then they’re gone.” I take a breath, she’s trusting me to give her something she can understand.ns

“People have two parts that make us who we are: the soul, and the body. I recognize you because I know how you look, and sound, and feel. And I recognize you because who you are shines out from inside you. When you are in your mommy’s womb, the body and the soul come together and you are born in one piece that is both physical and spiritual.

“Then you live your life—one beautiful piece of body and soul. Dying is when those two parts separate again. The body goes back to the earth, and the soul goes back to spirit.”

“Is that heaven?”

“Yes, heaven is one name for where the spirit goes.”

“Why is your mama dying? Is she hurt? sick?”

“She’s dying because she’s so old her body is tired and her soul needs to be free again. I am happy that she is going to be free, and I cry when I remember all the things we’ve shared and learned from each other.”

We look across the lagoon, and there is the metaphor made visible. “Look at the palm trees, Sasha… see how they are reflected in the water?” She nods. There is the tree that we see growing on the ground, and there is the tree that is reflected upside down in the water. The standing tree is like the body, the reflected tree is like the soul.”

Body & soul.

Body & soul.

“Oh… okay. Can I draw the picture in your journal?”

She takes a pen and begins to draw palm trees and us on the veranda. The day moves on. My mother still breathes. We wait in vigil, both near and far.

PS: The afternoon of this posting, November 27, 2016, my mother Connie died peacefully with my brother and sister present. Now she knows the “big secret”of what is dying. Hallelujah.

33 replies
  1. Marie
    Marie says:

    Dear Christina
    I imagine Sasha in the decades to come passing on this wisdom to her children and grandchildren. So beautiful!
    The ripples go on.
    Love
    Marie

    Reply
  2. Sandra Marinella
    Sandra Marinella says:

    Christina, Such a wonderful gift to have time with you and a hug from Ann. I keep a candle lit for you, your mom, and your family–and I feel the power of your words. I will share them. Love–Sandi

    Reply
  3. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    So beautiful. Such a perfect way to explain this…burned into my memory now. Sending you love and strength in this time of great transitions near and far.

    Reply
  4. Beth Boeck
    Beth Boeck says:

    Christina, that was the most beautiful, moving explanation of dying I have ever heard or read. It’s like my spirit read it before my eyes did and recognized it and said ” well of course, that’s it!” I’ve read and written and talked a lot about death since my husband died a little over two years ago. My faith has strengthened but my ties to my religion (Catholic) have become weaker and I was just telling my mom and dad how I feel our spirit returns to the universe when we die to be reunited with the others who left before us. Thank you for Sharing!

    Reply
  5. Helga
    Helga says:

    Christina what a wonderful story. My condolance to your for the loss of your Mother. I know this has been long in coming and now there is relief and space again that will fill with memories, reflection and sometime longing.

    We lost Wayne’s Mother, in May, his brother in August and his Father last week as well. It has been a year of letting go and filling voids.

    And the Circle of life continues as it should, season to season. Thank you for always sharing.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Ahhh Helga, Ruby TWo Moons now holds even greater shimmering and tears and laughter from you and for these family members. Thinking of you many times.

      Reply
  6. Anke von Wiecken
    Anke von Wiecken says:

    Dear Christina,
    Thank you for sharing this moment in time and, once again, the beautiful shining of your soul. Deeply touched, I send you love & light to be with you in this period.
    Anke

    Reply
  7. James Wells
    James Wells says:

    Dear Christina,

    First, deep peace of the quiet Earth to you, Ann, the whole family, and to your mother’s soul.

    Second, this is one of the most moving accounts of an intergenerational exchange around so tender a topic that I’ve encountered in a long time. Thank you.

    Love,
    James

    Reply
  8. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    Christina and Ann,
    I am sorry to hear of the physical loss of your dear Mother. My thoughts are with you both as they have been through these last 3 years. Thank you for sharing the beautiful conversation with Sasha!

    Reply
  9. Sharon Palmer
    Sharon Palmer says:

    Dear Christina,
    Your piece, “Stardust, Black Holes, & Fog,” from February 2016 was deeply moving to me, in part because your description of your mother’s adventurous spirit reminded me so much of my mother and her love of the open road. And now I learn of your mother’s death on Nov 27 and am reminded again of my mother and her death on Nov 28, 2009. The poem below spoke to me then so poignantly of those last weeks and years of my mother’s life—perhaps you too will find solace in Jane Kenyon’s words. Holding you and your family in the Light. —Sharon Palmer

    In the Nursing Home

    She is like a horse grazing
    a hill pasture that someone makes
    smaller by coming every night
    to pull the fences in and in.

    She has stopped running wide loops,
    stopped even the tight circles.
    She drops her head to feed; grass
    is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.

    Master, come with your light
    halter. Come and bring her in.

    —Jane Kenyon

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you Sharon for this true poem! I have sent it on to my mother’s friends and into the family. She is grazing now in the fields of wonder at last.

      Reply
  10. Jeanne Guy
    Jeanne Guy says:

    I love and appreciate you so much, and will hold you close today and in the days ahead, as I did last night when I heard about your mom’s dying. Sasha (and all of us who read your words) is blessed to know your love and your wisdom. Your tender and true explanation went deep into my core. Thank you for allowing us to be on this journey with you. My love to you and yours.

    Reply
  11. Marcia
    Marcia says:

    Dear Christina,
    I hold you in the light and hope for peace and comfort for you in the loss of your mother. Thank you for sharing this tender exchange with your granddaughter. It is very poignant. Love to you and Ann.

    Reply
  12. Anne Peek
    Anne Peek says:

    Sending love to you and your family Christina. I think that no matter how old she is, no matter how expected the death, losing one’s mother is big.

    Reply
  13. Robert Guy
    Robert Guy says:

    Dearest Christina,
    The circle of life spoken with such reverence. I thank all the spirits for the life given and the life returned. It’s been five years since you graced us when my mother was dying. Please know my love and sympathy are with you now.
    With all that is love,
    Robert

    Reply
  14. Cynthia
    Cynthia says:

    First, one long, grateful exhale . . .

    Then a tentative touch into the empty Connie-shaped space, like the tongue’s first exploration into the gap of a missing baby tooth . . .

    And then the deeper, longer work . . . courageously rooting around in the belly to pull the feelings and memories, one at a time, all the way up through the place where they become clothed in words and meaning.

    It would be so much easier not to be a writer and a philosopher . . . but to be less would be to dishonor the lives of both your mother and yourself.

    Holding you through this next week’s work, when you must model strength in vulnerability.

    Deep blessings and grateful love,
    Cynthia

    Reply
  15. Christina W.
    Christina W. says:

    What an incredible story. Sasha is lucky to have such amazing grandparents.

    Love to you and your family at this time–

    Christina (the Younger :))

    Reply
  16. Jeanne
    Jeanne says:

    Christina – ahhh. Powerful on all accounts. Thank you deeply for this great sharing and powerful teaching. My thoughts are with you as the passing of ones Mom is big for woman no matter the relationship or the age. Big hug to you and have lit a candle in your Mom’s honor for a safe and wonderful passage to spirit.

    Reply
  17. Leslie Beck
    Leslie Beck says:

    What a beautiful description of the unknown and unknowable. Although her body is indeed gone, her memory lives on in you and your siblings, their children and grandchildren. Enjoy, honor and cherish those memories – with each repeat the stories are burnished like gold.

    You’re in my thoughts and prayers,

    Leslie

    Reply
  18. Glenn Hovemann
    Glenn Hovemann says:

    Thank you for sharing so beautifully, Christina, especially how sensitively you shared with Sasha. I might suggest that as Sasha and we all mature further in our knowing, we will discover that the standing tree is the soul, and the reflected tree is the body. Many blessings during this time of tenderness. Love, Glenn

    Reply
  19. Ann Darling
    Ann Darling says:

    Thank goodness there are folks like you among us to light the the way Christina. I appreciate you a whole lot.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  20. Quanita
    Quanita says:

    I love you. Thank you for eldering us all in the intentional way that you do. I have a candle lit for you and your family.

    Q

    Reply

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