Not one of you reading this is without one. No one can make the passage to earth without a mother. Whether she be alive or dead, you will always have a mother as she is a part of you more than any other human, having given half her genes and carried your DNA to babyhood, if nothing more. And then there is our big Mama, Mama Earth, who nurtures every single one of us everyday that we are alive. And when the time comes for us to say goodbye to our biological or adopted mom, turning to Earth’s generosity and breadth of nourishment may be of great solace. It has been for me, since losing my sweet mama, March 2, of this year, 2022. My father caught the picture above, of our last hug.
Part of me doesn’t want to write about this at all, because it brings up too much pain. The other part of me knows that if i can tap into my grief, let the tears flow again and again, then I will be of much more service to the word because I won’t pin it up, numbing myself to the realities of this earthly cycle of life and death.
So I write.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. She did the standard treatments and it went into remission until 2018, when she was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer that had moved to her lungs and bones. She began Ibrance, a pill specifically formulated to target HER2 Negative breast cancer. She responded well to it and lived a somewhat normal life up until the end, which came fast. The day before she died, the hospice nurse (who btw was named Nancy Morgan Hart which blew me away as my mom’s name is Nancy, my name is Morgaine and my husband’s name is Hart) said cancer is often like that- you go along relatively fine and then suddenly you fall off a cliff. That was like what happened to mom.
I was in the Everglades, camping with Nadia’s school and without phone reception. When I got out of the national park, I had a slew of messages from my dad, brother, aunt— mom was not doing well and I should come. Once home, I made the three hour drive to my folks and found mom sitting on the sofa, on oxygen, weak and uncomfortable, but still able to engage and direct. That was Sunday afternoon. She died Wednesday.
I had told her from the get go of her diagnosis that when things got hard, please call me and I would be there. I couldn’t imagine a more honorable responsibility than caring for mom in her last stages of life. Once I arrived, I realized that she had totally taken that to heart, and though it was never spoken aloud, she had chosen me to be her death doula. My dad and her sister, Sara, were there supporting her already and she was awaiting a hospital bed to arrive as she couldn’t breathe if lying down and thus had been on the reclining sofa for a few days. She was not ready to admit she was dying, although all of us around her knew it. She had such a zest for life, always the first one up in the morning and the last one to go to sleep, fully engaging with family, friends and her church community, never missing a beat. She did not want to let go.
Before I left home to tend my dying mom, my 8-year-old daughter, Nadia, pulled me aside and shyly asked, “Is cancer contagious?”
My mom was as spirited as they come- her enthusiasm for life was what was contagious and people were magnetized to her because she made you feel Alive! She left her career as a social worker after her third child was born, to be a full-time mom, and then, like pulling rabbits out of a hat, she became a full-on grandma of 10, and managed the home affairs and larger family gatherings in such a way that you didn’t know she was doing much but now that she is gone, you realize just How much she was doing— how much she tended and kept running so smoothly that it seemed to happen naturally!
My mother was an earth angel.
Because she had cancer, and we all knew that it was terminal, I had time to prepare myself for her passing. In 2009, my partner, Frank Cook, died suddenly, and it was traumatic. But through his death, I learned how to live life after you have lost someone you love deeply, after you have lost someone whom you cannot imagine your life without. His death grew me. So when my mom died, I already had a skin to deal with it. Frank gave me numerous gifts when he was alive, and through his death, he continues to bless my life.
The house my parents live in was the old farmhouse my paternal great-grandparents lived in and where I had been coming to since a babe. It is the longest continual house of my life. All other homes of my childhood have come and gone. My parents moved into the house when my great grandmother passed, in 1991. I was close with her, Josie Bell, whom we called MahMah, and was present near her death. My mom chose to have the hospital bed placed in the same room that MahMah died- so returning to this room to court death again was, well, I guess ironic would be one word for it.
But ironic is the word for what eventually killed my mom. Her treatment. It was her heart that gave out, overtaxed by radiation and years of chemo and all kinds of other meds. But who knows if she would have lived this long after her diagnosis if she didn’t do any of that treatment.
At some point, Mom had written some requests for what to do should she become unconscious. We were able to meet them all.
The hospital bed arrived Monday. I have a super sensitive sense of smell, and that damn hospital bed smelled like an ashtray and it gagged me to be so close to it, hour after hour. I brought mom’s oil diffuser into the room and filled it with Thieves Essential Oil and tried to get that smell out, but to no avail.
Family filled the house- all of her children, their spouses, grandchildren, all of her siblings and some of their children and grandchildren. My mom always loved a full house and lots of action. But my dad was feeling so overwhelmed by all the commotion. Everybody wanted a chance to say goodbye to Nancy.
Sunday, when I arrived, she could still operate her phone and converse and help us lift her into the wheelchair to get to the toilet. And she was still drinking and eating, though very little. Monday she ate some potato soup, brushed her teeth and asked for a sponge bath and was still talking some. But by Monday afternoon, she could no longer operate her phone which is a big deal, as she always had her phone by her side and was so tuned into it. She couldn’t help us lift her, and she was drooling nonstop. She was unable to drink or eat anymore. She drooled constantly up until she died, so keeping her chin and neck dry was a constant part of her care. I asked hospice for some oral swabsticks to keep her mouth moist and clean, but they didn’t have any. So I used a washcloth (they finally brought her some late Tuesday).
Makyziah, my oldest daughter, arrived and was a support to me while I supported mom. Support needs support, you know? Aunt Sara was magnificent. Can’t imagine not having her there to hold this space together. And dad was great too. Really, everyone was just so loving and attentive and caring, I cannot fully express my awe and gratitude for how we walked her home collectively.
I took twenty-minute outside breaks each day I was there, and would admire the Magnolia X soulangeana, her Oriental Magnolia, who was in full bloom. Mom always told me about the tree- “Oh, its blooms are so pretty this year- I hope the frost doesn’t come and kill them!” or, “The Magnolia buds froze before they ever opened this year.” But this year, it was blooming outrageously! And it got to bloom fully before another cold snap came, two weeks after her death. I took a photo and showed mom but I don’t know if she really could take it in at that point. You don’t really know what a dying person is absorbing, so best to just assume they hear and understand everything, and treat them with the utmost respect.
Tending to a dying person is exhausting. It reminded me so much of labor. In fact, sometimes throughout mom’s dying process, I couldn’t remember what was what. Birth and Death hold such similar vibrations. The outcome is obvious but the process often exhausting, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why can’t we just forward to the end result? Why all this extreme in-between time?” But the soul will take its time. One scene is entering earth, the other is leaving.
Mom slept from Monday evening to Tuesday evening. She was uncomfortable and groaned and moaned a lot and we tried our best to help her stay as comfortable as possible with medicine and rearranging her in her bed, and massaging her, and reading her Bible to her, and praying and putting her hands on her dogs, and other comforts, but she did not awaken. A 24-hour nap. We didn’t think she was going to ever awaken.
Then dad started singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and his voice kept increasing and increasing and mom shot up and said, “Ralph, lower your voice!” Aunt Sara said he could have raised the dead with that singing and that is kind of like what he did! I never knew dad had a singing voice like that—It was beautiful!
A few minutes later she spoke again and asked, “Am I dying?”
I answered, “Yes, mom, you are dying.”
She said, “Oh I didn’t know I was dying! I didn’t think it would be so soon. Has the word gotten out?”
We told her, yes, everyone was here to say their goodbyes and she said “Well, I have 24 hours.”
Then fell back unconscious.
She lived for one more day.
I will never forget the look on my nephew’s face when he came into the room right after that, and how surprised he seemed to see my mom. Here was the rock of our family, completely helpless and with very little life left.
Wednesday morning, I had the opportunity to sing her favorite hymnals to her. (I made certain to sing in a low voice;-)) Then Dad got alone time with her. Tears were all over the place. The house felt solemn and grave.
Dad and I were sitting together with her and she said, “Mama? Mama?”
It felt like she was seeing her mother. Those were the last words she ever spoke.
I thought about how our mamas are the first ones there when we come into the world, and how they may very well be the first ones there for us when we leave it, too. I can’t even write this without tearing up and getting chills and knowing the beloved sacredness of motherhood that no-one will ever rightly be able to put into words.
For some reason, my mom smelled like flowers to me, the whole way through this dying process. Fresh. Mysterious. Pure.
Mom’s feet began to mottle. Her breathing slowed. Her color kept turning more deathly. Her two dogs still wanted to be as close to her as we would let them. My two brothers and I sat next to her, and then it happened. She left. Her last breath on this earth. And the dogs knew it immediately. They were spooked and didn’t want to come near her anymore. What is it they saw, you cannot help but wonder?
I fell upon her and wept and wept. The tenderness is still there inside me as I write. I brought in the bath tea that I had made earlier that day, from lavender and rose from my garden, and bathed her from head to toe. I marveled that it was not until her death that I ever saw mom naked. I had never seen her breasts. I never breastfed. Now she only had one breast. Her soft and supple body looked so much like my own. My daughters have seen me naked a thousand times. I felt so sad that it wasn’t until now that I saw my mom nude. Somehow, this seemed very unnatural.
Then I went outside and fell on my Earth Mother and wept. I gave my grief over to Earth. It was a warm, sunny, beautiful day. She held me strongly, compassionately.
Dad called hospice and they called the undertaker. Two large men in suits arrived, and watching them take her body away was priceless. They did it seamlessly and you know handling a dead body cannot be easy. Who knows how many times they have done this.
And then she was gone forever. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
My parent’s zip code is 29848. For over twenty years, every time I wrote to them, which was often, when I would write the last two digits of their zip code, 48, a voice would warn me that would be my age when my mom died. And it came to pass.
Nancy Ann Ray Scurry, I will love you forever. March 16, 1947- March 2, 2022, born and died under a Pisces Sun. Died on a Pisces New Moon. She had a Capricorn Moon, as do I.
I made a shadowbox of some things that connect me to her,
a healing balm to tend my grief.
Mom, I promise you, as long as I am alive, You will live on through me.