I’m coming up to the one year anniversary since Michael, my dear friend, husband, and partner in New Dimensions for 40 years, passed and I’m pondering that great mystery beyond this physical reality.
Some years ago Michael’s Mother Dee arranged her life so that Michael could be there for her great transition. She made a Herculean effort to move from San Francisco to Ukiah to be close to Michael when her health was failing. I remember the move entailed a myriad of obstacles and details, but she was fiercely determined and insisted that we assist her in conquering every barrier.
She was placed in a nursing home in Ukiah where Michael and I could visit her often. Her right foot had been amputated just like, years later, was Michael’s. Her hands were covered with eczema so she was not able to use them without a great deal of pain. Needing some sweetness in her life, she would often ask Michael for a piece of candy. I witnessed his intense concentration as he unwrapped the cellophane with his hands, which reminded me of paws. He was such a bear of a man. Then he would lovingly place the sweetness on her tongue. At one point, just as we were turning to leave, she said, “I want to go home.” We immediately concluded she meant she wanted to leave the nursing home and come to our house. At the time, Michael and I were often traveling. Feeling extremely guilty, we tried to explain to her that there would be no one there to give her the full-time care she needed. She shook her head in frustration, dismissing our objections and once more said, “I want to go home.” She gave us a look of total exasperation as we walked out the door.
Feeling shaken, guilty, and concerned we decided to distract ourselves with a movie. Driving Miss Daisy was playing at the local theater. One of the last scenes in the movie has Morgan Freeman, playing the role of her chauffeur, visiting Miss Daisy, played by Jessica Tandy, in a nursing home. He’s lovingly feeding her a piece of cake. She smiles at him as she tastes the sweetness and both Michael and I are crying by the time the credits roll and we know that instead of distracting ourselves we were tossed right back into our dilemma and the guilt we felt about his mother and her request to come home.
Within 24 hours, Dee was stricken with a stroke and was transferred to a hospital. We went to see her making sure she was comfortable. A couple of days later Michael made the trip by himself. When he got back from that visit he reported that as he was leaving she said, “Thank you for everything.” He mumbled, “You’re welcome.” Then he walked to the end of the bed and she said it again, “Thank you for everything.” He again nodded, “You’re welcome.” When he got to the door, for the third time just like in a fairytale in which important things come in threes, she said, “Thank you for everything.” That night she suffered another stroke, this one leaving her with severe brain damage and in a coma. There is some mystery as to how the body communicates to the unconscious about the approach of death. These turned out to be the last words she spoke to her only son.
The very next morning Michael and I rushed to the hospital right after we got the call about this turn of events. It was clear she would not be recovering from this one, and with the doctor’s help we pulled any life support she was under, which wasn’t much. We sat with her as her breathing became more and more sporadic and finally stopped all together. It was amazingly peaceful. The hospital allowed us to stay as long and we wanted, and we sat with her throughout the afternoon.
We drove home in separate cars and as I pulled into the driveway Michael was standing next to his car looking radiant. I was both amazed and curious when he said, “I heard from Mom.” Apparently he was wondering if he did the right thing by taking her off life-support. At the very moment he had that thought, a sticker that had been put on the windshield more than a year before peeled off and fell on the dashboard. It read: “Grateful Dead: Back Stage Pass.” This communication was unmistakable in its clarity. Yes, Michael did do the right thing. His mother’s message could not have been more clear. And we realized when she said she wanted to go home, she was talking about a greater home than our dwelling in Ukiah. Life/Death. The mystery continues.
Justine Willis Toms