I learned to meditate while Ma was dying. If she had died suddenly. Or in another place. At a different time. I’d probably have a different story to tell.
As an enduring student of yoga, I made countless attempts over the years to learn the nebulous art of meditation. But I just didn’t get it. Stilling my mind was impossible. Sitting cross-legged for anything longer than a minute or two just about killed me. Om aside, staying focused on ‘nothing’ was a ridiculous premise at best. Stopping the endless chatter inside my mind was frustrating. All of it made me uncomfortable. Pain, pain, pain. That was my mantra.
I also tried meditating while in the corpse pose. This just put me to sleep. Within minutes I was dead to the world. A gaping mouthed drooling transcendental disaster.
Ma used to say that God works in mysterious ways. I didn’t get that either. I’ve always expected God to be more direct. Obvious. Straightforward. Shoot from the hip. Strike with a bolt of lightening. Flood the earth. And part the seas. Regardless of their color.
Who knows. Maybe Ma and I were talking about different Gods. Despite all those Sunday mornings sitting side-by-side in the ass-numbing wooden pews of Christ Lutheran Church. Hers was an enigmatic deity filled with paradoxes, parables and puzzles. And with an inexplicable and absolutely unfathomable approach to running things. Mine was simple. He/She spoke my language. Read my letters. Understood the complexities and subtle nuances of the word fuck. And why it was part of my daily vernacular.
Then Ma had a heart attack.
I thanked God for not striking her dead instantly. Which He/She most certainly could have, especially if He/She was in a particularly angry mood on the morning of Ma’s heart attack. Remember all that scary shit from the Old Testament?
Instead we got another 18 months to enjoy Ma’s presence on Earth. And what a gift that time was.
Most of the last six months of her life was spent in a hospital, on the West Coast. She came for a visit a few months after the heart attack and never left. By this time The Old Man was living, and I use this term loosely, in a dreary Senior’s home back in Northwestern Ontario. They died 5 weeks apart, and 3 thousand miles away from each other. They hooked up in heaven though. At least that’s what I believe. That notion brought me comfort then. It brings me comfort now. Then, I’ve always liked stories with happy endings.
We held vigil by Ma’s bedside.
At times there were enough of us to form a small crowd. We clustered around Ma’s frail sheet-draped declining body. Her little flock of fragile birds. Still hungry to be fed. We took turns holding her hand. We laughed. Cried. Prayed. Told stories. I’m guessing there was nothing unusual about our good-bye time with Ma. We weren’t the first family to experience this. But this was our first time. Our first rodeo.
My heart was fractured. Armor chinked. Equilibrium faltered as the earth beneath my feet shook. I was standing on a fault line with nowhere to go. With my lifelong safety net lying in a bed dying.
This was also a time of transformation.
My favorite time with Ma was when it was just the two of us. Not just because it was precious mother-daughter time, which was slipping rapidly and elusively away. But because it brought me peace. In the midst of family chaos and emotional gut-wrenching wringer days, this quiet alone time with Ma became a place to escape. A safe haven. A sanctuary. It was the sheltered harbor where I moored my heart and allowed my spirit to rest. Next to hers.
It was in this quiet place that I learned about God and his mysterious ways. It was during these soft murmuring twilight hours that I learned to meditate. Ma taught me everything I needed to know about the stuff that mattered in life. This was no different.
Hours would pass. Time had no meaning. I sat next to her bed in the clinically designed hospital chair, with the hard vinyl seat and wooden arms. The type fashioned for short visits and good posture. Neither of which applied in this situation. But it didn’t matter.
Very little was said during these visits. Words were no longer necessary.
I watched Ma sleep. The gentle rise and fall of her breath against her flannel nightgown. The stillness of her body. Her peaceful repose. It soothed me. Ma had always been able to comfort me when I was hurt. Nothing had changed in that regard.
I slipped effortlessly into rhythm with Ma’s breathing. Inhaled. Exhaled. I closed my eyes. I let the world drift away. There was no dying. There was no living. There was just being. Ma. Me. God.
And with the ease of a soaring eagle, I was meditating.