A couple of nights ago after work I took a walk at the marsh. As I sat on a bench watching the shimmer of the setting sun glinting off the ripples in the lake and feeling the warm breeze on my skin, I could feel the jangles in my body from an intense day begin to settle out. Three pelicans sat on an old log preening their feathers. The sounds of children and dogs on the paths filled the air. I just sat… resting in the present moment. No agenda. Breathing in and breathing out.
My mom did this a lot. Sometimes I’d be fussing and fretting, absorbed in something I thought was important and then look up and there she would be, sitting in bed looking out the window for long stretches of time, watching the snow come down or enjoying the antics of the birds at the feeder. These were moments of such sweet tranquility—states of unadorned stillness and simplicity—and I knew that if I paid attention, she was showing me, as someone closing in on the last days of her life, what is really, absolutely true in the big scheme of things—and that my earnest and energetic fixations and concepts weren’t actually going in the right direction.
She took childlike joy in the simplest of things. Like bathing. She would sit on a bench in the shower and moan with pleasure as the hot water cascaded over her body. I would wash her hair and scrub her back and she would say, “Wash down as far as possible.” And, when I would wash her legs and feet… “Wash up as far as possible.” Then she would grab the soap and laugh out loud. “Now I will wash possible.”
The Serbian priest came to visit her one day after a low spell when she felt “God knocking on her door”. He had me bring him a cup of olive oil. He put some precious substances in it and blew prayers over the oil to consecrate it. Then he anointed her—making the sign of the cross on her forehead, eyes, lips, ears, throat and heart, chanting in his rich, deep voice, the smell of incense filling the room. She lay there, quiet and calm, absorbing the blessings. She thanked him and said that she felt better, less afraid of what was coming.
And every night thereafter I would repeat this sacred act, right up till the moment of her last breath. It became a bedtime ritual. First the oil blessing, followed by reading the twenty-third psalm aloud which she said gave her great comfort. Then she would open her eyes; we would kiss, and finally, I would tuck her in and tip toe out the door, hoping we would have another day.