A Breath in; A Breath Out

Your eyes have the look of some different place; You’ve got one foot in heaven and one still in this land; So we breathe it in deep and we let it out slow; We’re holding you up while you’re letting us go — Carrie Newcomer

This is a blog about women helping women.

Soon will be the fifth anniversary of my mom’s death. As I approach it, I can’t help but notice that she is everywhere – in my thoughts, in the hummingbirds that are making their way back from the south, in my aging hands when I look down on them, and more recently as a participant in the passing of the mother of my dear friend, Christina.

My mom was alone when she died. I hate that idea – and yet it is how it happened. In her sleep – or at least that is what they told us. But I wondered often what it was like for her. Did it hurt? Was she scared? Was there someone from the other side who was there to help her? All of these questions haunted me.

I shared these thoughts with my sister-in-law and her daughter. My niece has been given what sometimes seems to be a gift and at others a royal pain. For her, the veil between this life and the next is very thin and sometimes nonexistent.

Very early in the morning of the day my mother died, my niece heard the voice of her deceased grandmother tell her that my mom had died. At the funeral she saw her standing with her hand on my dad’s shoulder. Just knowing this was a comfort, but I still wondered and worried.

Not long after I mentioned my concerns, my niece was walking in the Ann Arbor Arboretum and heard the voice of my mom. The message for me was: “It was simply a breath in and a breath out.” It was a tremendous relief and comfort to hear those words.

I told that story to friends at dinner not long ago. My friend, Christina, and her mom were at the table. Less than a week later, Christina’s mom was hospitalized with acute pneumonia, which did not respond to treatment. When it became obvious that she was not going to survive, Christina used those words – a breath in, a breath out – to help her mom as she passed away. It was a profound experience for all of us – to see something passed from my mom to my niece to me to Christina and finally to her mom. Women helping women.

I am sure that there are days that my niece wishes she didn’t have this gift, but in this case, I am profoundly grateful that she does. As the anniversary of my mom’s death draws near, I am so glad that I know that it was simply a breath in and a breath out.

I am also profoundly grateful for the women in my life.

I have watched as we lost parents, grandparents, friends, children, and spouses and all of these transitions have been made easier by the women who surround us. I saw it again with my friend, Christina – women from her yoga community, from her mom’s church, and from this little community of Buena Vista came together to hold hands. Yes there were men too – but it was profound to watch the women do what they do best.

In the words of Carrie Newcomer,

Here’s to the women who bind the wounds tight
Here’s to the ones who sit talking half of the night
Here’s to the love and the life that they mend
And here’s to the strength in women holding hands