My beautiful 87 year old mother died on Thursday.
My mother loved tulips. Years ago she gifted me a lot of tulip bulbs and I planted them up and down our drive. Each Spring I'd share their arrival with her in one of our morning phone chats. Over the year, the deer and time meant the bulbs became less and less each spring, and last spring there weren't any blooms. But the day after she died, I came upon a single white tulip amongst the muscari. It was her. The messages are everywhere that she is with me.
It is still a shock although I am finding writing and sharing with the many who knew and loved her has helped me to get to some closer acknowledgement that she is fact...dead.
I was very lucky to have a mother who I was close too, who loved me, shared with me, was fun to be with, had all her marbles and was able to live alone right up until the end. She was my biggest ally and the biggest hole for me will be our morning phone chats, almost daily in the past years. Upon returning to the house the day after she died, I found an old voice message from her. She was calling after a wind storm, and just wanted to "See if things were OK there, I'll talk to you later." Another message from above and beyond.
She went into the hospital on Tuesday to get help for some anemia issues that were taking their toll on her energy and were affecting her breathing and her lungs. I'm so grateful I talked to her that morning. That night she had a heart attack, but was stable soon after. Her lungs and heart had clots which we didn't know about, and she was on oxygen and could not live without it at this point. We hoped to get her to a state where she could live with full time care in her home, even if it meant a day or weeks. The day after her heart attack, I was able to talk to her. She was so adamant that I 'hang tight' and not to rush down, that she was going to be fine, and she kept repeating, "Don't worry, please don't worry, I'm going to be fine." I was emotional, cried, and told her "I love you, Martyn loves you," and she said she loved us too, but went on, "I'm going to be OK, don't worry."
I told her I wasn't ready to lose her, and she said she wasn't ready to go. And she meant it.
Always the mother.
I hung up the phone and cried, but had the hope of a ten year old when they hear their mother say it is going to be OK. I wanted it to be true.
Even the shepherdess needs a mother.
There was no trauma that night, I went riding to relax and get away from the phone. Upon returning, I had a call from my brother who had a more dire outlook from the doctor. She wanted no heroics, and her choices were looking like a bleak two: take the oxygen off and die, or leave it on and die in a week maybe three. But he said, "We won't have the conversation with her yet, because there are some good signs too."
When I asked my brother if I could talk to her, she waved her hand as if to say, "Not now, later". I knew she was detaching. But then I went into my child like hope state. Even though a day earlier she seemed able to pull it out, giving me her 'sit tight" command, I decided to drive down on Saturday, the quickest I could line up farm help and vet care.
The same time I was figuring out how to leave the farm, she was dying. As one of my closest childhood friends said,
"She went out being Kelly, she didn't want you stressing about getting there and driving 13 hours and that was her final motherly gift to you."
I take great comfort in the ICU nurse telling of her last moments. She had the attack with the nurse present, and it was not violent. On pain meds, it lessened any intense pain. The nurse gave her water, helping her hold the glass. The nurse asked her,
"Are you done [with the water]?"
and my mother said, impishly, calmly, "Done, Dunn and done."
And she died, with a smile on her face.
Her last three words captured her North Dakotan humor, explaining she was done with the water, her name was Dunn, and she was done - with life. The nurse said she was clear and coherent about what was happening, and not panicked. I believe until that last moment, she tried to beat it, and wanted to beat it. But her body couldn't beat it. That last second, when she knew, she just faced it, and went.
She could have lingered, could have stroked - so many things. So I am grateful. I have no regrets. We lived our love out loud in actions.
I have never known grief to this extent, and I have had grief. And I have lost my father but it was different in many ways - hard, sad, and long to grieve, but it was different. I told someone it is like having the earth being kicked out from under your feet. The sadness comes in waves and is so debilitating I nearly go into a state of shock again. I know I will walk through this in my own way. I know her spirit is always here, but it's going to be raw and sad and hard.
When I did barn chores this morning, I recognized that everything before me was something I had re-built or fixed or made, or nurtured. Apifera is of my heart, I found her, I brought her back to life with my husband. My mother raised me well, and because of that I somehow found Apifera and this life. And she had her life which I was a part of but her time here was over, her tasks on Earth are done, and she did them well.
As I stood with the donkeys this morning, I mourned into their muddy, wet necks, telling them how I felt. I had a good weep, but then a real calm came over me, and a clear thought came into my mind, and passed quickly, but it was a clear sentence:
"Something so magnificent is going to arise from this, you don't know how or what, but it will."
Katherine Dunn / artist and writer of Apifera Farm
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