She had waited, holding it together so she could meet her new great granddaughter before she died, the latest addition to our female lineage. It was a poignant and tender visit, but after they departed, she collapsed. “I’m ready,” she declared. Tucking in, like a birthing woman does in the last stages of labor, drawing deeply upon her inner resources for strength and courage, she began the journey of letting go.
Even though her breathing was becoming erratic and her life force was diminishing, she was serene. She spoke openly of dying. “I’m at peace. Every day now I pray for God to take me.”
One day—a week later—God came. Sophie moved in and out of consciousness throughout the morning. Towards noon she suddenly opened her eyes. “I don’t think I got my coffee this morning. I need my coffee,” she murmured. A visiting friend ran to fetch a mug, but when she returned, Sophie had moved on. It was one of many passing moments as she slipped back and forth through the thin veil that separates this world from the next.
The Serbian priest came in the afternoon and anointed her again with consecrated oil, chanting the holy prayers of my mother’s childhood, offering her spiritual comfort in these last hours. She received his blessings with the grace of an angel, her face visibly relaxing as she reached to touch him with her gratitude.
I sat silently holding her hand. Then…she opened her eyes, turned her head to the side and gazed deeply into my eyes with a love so powerful it almost stopped my heart. “I love you,” she mouthed beneath her oxygen mask. “I love you, too, mom,” I said, tears streaming down my face, as she fell back unconscious.
People quietly came, sitting at her bedside to pay homage and say goodbye, taking turns reading the twenty-third Psalm aloud. And then finally…in the dark of the night…four of us remained to sit vigil. The hospital staff left us alone, respecting our privacy. We pulled the curtains around her bed, creating a sacred space, sitting in silence so as not to pull her attention away from the work of passing from this life.
Her breathing became labored, pausing for long periods, and then starting again as if indecisive. I had a pulse oxymeter on her finger so I could watch her falling pulse rate and oxygen levels. Seconds before her heart ceased to beat, I softly read a special Tibetan prayer three times as instructed by a great lama, while simultaneously the others read the twenty-third psalm in her ear. We had her covered.
Then…it all stopped. Her breath. Her heart. At that moment I circled the text three times over her head and then touched it to her crown. We continued to sit for a long time, each silently offering prayers for the peaceful passage of her soul.
It was a holy moment. The hospital staff said that they had never seen anyone die that peacefully, surrounded by such love. They were deeply touched by her death. This was so Sophie. Even with her final breath, she brought benefit to others. She would have loved that.