LauraLynn Jansen

Mary’s Breath

A life-time is not what’s between,
The moments of birth and death.
A life-time is one moment,
Between my two little breaths.
       Chade Meng
I have felt every one of my breaths in this week’s runs and bike rides. I am working on increasing my mileage and training once again. Finishing the Iron Girl Sprint Triathlon in September has inspired me to do it again but this time I will do an Olympic distance. It will be a .7 mile swim, 25 mile bike and 6.2 mile run – pretty much double to triple what I did this year. Maybe I am crazy, thinking my lungs can do more. But when get a vision in my head I have to fulfill them and doing another, longer tri is firmly planted in my scope.
Another vision I’ve been holding in my head is of a whole different realm. It is of the last breath taken my dear friend Mary. It is only in the last 48 hours that I have been able to think of her passing without being overcome by the emotion of the loss. Two weekends ago I detoured my book tour to return to the San Francisco Bay for her memorial service.
Being the witness to a last breath is indescribable. The first time I witnessed it was as a hospice volunteer in the mid-80s (just after I went through cancer). I was assigned a very poor family with a deaf daughter; I was the only volunteer with some experience in sign language. The daughter was actually the granddaughter of the woman whose hospital bed now took up the whole living room of their small house. I spent most of my hours in their home holding the woman’s skeletal-like, dark-skinned hand in mine as I watched her breathe.  When my hands were free I used them to communicate with the daughter. Our hands a subdued noise creating flashes of paleness and darkness in the silent home.
The importance of the work spurred on by a feeling of needing to be a witness to the whole cycle of dying. A cycle I had not succumbed to. Somehow I thought being with folks as a witness to their death would help me to understand the unresolved questions I held after escaping it myself.
Though I did not see Mary take her last breath. I could feel it as I sat in her desk chair sorting her bills, e-mails and reading her endless notes on stick ‘ems surrounding her computer. Her voice echoed in my head as I felt her whole life between my breaths. I wanted to slow the whole process down staying in her presence, never having to accept the notion she is truly gone.
The next day I hiked Mt. Tamalpais, a place she loved to go. I stood on one hillside looking into a vast valley as I sent words in testament to her life and passing. A big breath of wind wrapped itself around me. A vision of Mary’s motherly-like arms reaching out for me one last time to say thank you. The air held me for a moment then unraveled itself and disappeared over the hills to the ocean.  Namaste Dear Mother Mary Maui
Posted in Blog, breath, death, hospice, LauraLynn Jansen, Mary Gordon on December 13, 2011.

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