“I will never forget the moment your heart stopped and mine kept beating.” Angela Miller
When I was around the age of ten, my grandfather, on my mother’s side, passed away. It was a turning point in my life, and one that came with many unanswered questions, questions that no one, but the dead, can really answer. Like, where do we go when we die? Do we feel any pain? Is death something to be feared? Or do we just drift away, onto a blissful peaceful cloud that embraces us into something no human being could ever intellectually describe?
Grandpa’s death was different from anything I’d ever experienced at that age, and there was a reason that I became quiet and somewhat unreachable in the few months after he passed. Because I had a dream one night before we knew that my grandfather was sick, a dream as clear to me today as it was on the night that I had it. Grandpa and I were sitting outside in my dream, on the front steps of our neighbor’s house across the street. It was a sunny, absolutely glorious Minnesota summer day, with a slight refreshing breeze lifting the hair in my ponytail as Grandpa and I talked. And I remember Grandpa taking my hand and explaining to me that he was going on a trip, a very long trip, and that he wouldn’t be back. He was smiling, patient and fearless, while I was scared and worried and confused. But Grandpa patted my hand, told me that there was nothing to worry about, and that I would always be safe and never alone. And then, I woke up.
A few weeks later, Grandpa was diagnosed with lung cancer. And very soon after that, he died.
Fast forward thirty years later to the birth and death of my own child, Gabriel. With Grandpa, I didn’t see any of the details of his passing…he was there for a short time, sick and frail, yet present at our family functions, and then he was gone. I didn’t go to the hospital to say goodbye. I was “protected” from his last few days, as I imagine that they would have been hard for a young child to witness. But with Gabriel, I was “in the front seat,” so to speak, behind the driving wheel, his body coming to an end in the palms of my very own hands.
Again, the questions...where will he go when he dies? Is he in pain? Is he scared? Or does he feel only peace, and love. And…love.
Gabriel lived for forty-eight minutes, the entire time held and loved by his family. And I remember that I wasn’t afraid of him dying that night. Instead, I was afraid of him suffering. I’ve never thought of myself as a brave person, but if I’d been given the opportunity, I would have switched places with him in an instant.
Not once, but hundreds of times, have I gone back to that night, realizing in all honesty what was actually present there. Although there was grief, denial and fear, there was actually more LOVE in the room, than anything else. It was, and I know this sounds odd, one of the most peaceful experiences of my life. I could feel the peace surrounding me, I could feel the hush of the entire world. Somehow, I trusted what was happening, even though I didn’t want it to happen. It was as though God turned the volume down on the earth for a while, so that we–mother, father and brother–could say hello, and goodbye, and for that small moment in time, nothing else mattered. All of the irrelevant things we worry about on a daily basis…they drifted away, and all that was left, was peace.
When my grandfather died, I wondered for a long time if I caused it, because I dreamed it. When Gabriel died, I wondered the same thing. Did I somehow cause his death by not taking care of myself when I was pregnant? By not being excited about being pregnant when things like morning sickness set in. But then I remember his passing, and the love and peace I just spoke about, the invisible aura in the room as he left us. There was no blame in that room, there were no pointing fingers. Gabriel came, and Gabriel left. It was, quite simply, his time to go, just as it was Grandpa’s time to go when I was ten-years-old.
Although Gabriel’s time with me was brief, his impact on my life has been eye-opening, an impact that will most likely continue to unfold each day for the rest of my life. Undeniably, I am a better person because he was here. He taught me to love, even when there was no hope of him sticking around to love me back. He taught me to give, when no physical reward could ever be returned. He taught me to stop moving so much, to pause and to actually experience the world around me…the vision of clouds drifting across the blue sky, the sounds of the wind blowing the leaves outside our windows, the touch of a blanket wrapped around my chilled body, the scent of a flower just coming into bloom…because suddenly I understood how precious every single moment of life is. But most of all, he taught me to let go…
My son, Gabriel, and my other four angels who died after him, each one of them taught me to love enough, to let go.
“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” Rabindranath Tagore
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Photos on Visualhunt.com. FUMIGRAPHIK_Photographist on Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND, Spirit-Fire on Visualhunt / CC BY.