Letter From Susannah – October 2013
Dear Movement Medicine community, I want to thank you for all the support, understanding and love that I have received in my journey with my mother’s journey. She died on the 11th July after over 3 years journey with cancer.
I left the Long Dance early to go and be with her in the hospice where she was being cared for, as the end was approaching rapidly. Thank you to everyone there who supported me to go with such good heart, knowing that I left the Long Dance in such good hands and hearts.
Those last days in the hospice with her were infinitely precious and I was aware of all of us being supported by love from many of you. Thank you. And a big thank you from my whole family to all those who contributed a gift to the hospice for my birthday. There are some words I spoke at my mother’s funeral, together with some extracts from my diary, about my experience at the end of this article.
As we approach this year’s Initiation I’m aware of how much of a human initiation I am going through now catalysed by the death of my mother. My own sense of this journey of life from birth to death, which is reflected in the microcosm of the workshop Initiation, is already being affected by this change in my place in my own lineage. At the same time, I’m aware of how the work with death over the years in Initiation supported me and gave me more ground for the journey with my mother, which has been dancing within me for the last years.
So I look forward to seeing many of you over the autumn and sharing the preciousness of being human, being in a body, being able to share the nectar of the dance and life itself,
With my love,
Here is a picture of Susannah’s mum Elizabeth Darlington
Some excerpts from my diary:
So the Long Dance begins (Monday early afternoon) and we set sail into the mystery of how these days and nights unfurl and deepen into the ceremonial heart. We knew, going into this Long Dance, that my mother’s death journey and the Long Dance 2014 were converging in an unpredictable way, and that I might have to leave. Everyone knew, and I’d made sure all my roles were covered. On the Wednesday morning after two nights and days of ceremony, after listening to some exquisite early morning poetry about the “strength of your fragile heart” and Kristin leading us in the Tara Mantra, Mark comes to tell me that there is a phone call from my father. Oh god. My mother is having breaks in her breathing (apnea) and it seems she may well be on her way. It’s time to go. We gather everyone together and I say my tearful farewells to the Long Dancers and to Ya’Acov. Many tears all round. I pack, and Volker takes us to Bristol station. We get the next train up north with a minute to spare, and sit at a table with a sweet young man who works with trees in Ireland and who is not afraid of our emotion. We read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Ya’Acov’s Mum, Angella, picks us up at the station and takes us to the hospice.
As I greet Mum she opens her eyes and gives me her radiant smile. Her eyes, and the light and clarity of the space behind them are so, so clear and beautiful. That’s all I can say: ”You’re so beautiful!” I’m so pleased I am here, and that there is nothing to do now but be here, and be with Mum and Dad and Reuben.
Dad tells me that a few hours before, she had asked; “Am I dying? Is that what is actually happening now?” and he’d said, “Yes, I think, from what they are all saying, you are”. She said, “Oh, thank god. I am so ready”.
I felt that she was almost longing to go, like someone getting to a door they really want to go through, but can’t quite work out yet how to fit themselves through. As she said, “you don’t get a chance to practice dying”.
Over the next 10 days, Mum went on a slow journey in waves through what I called the labour of dying. Even though it was, in the main, very gentle and peaceful, she was working.
I’m aware of her labour, both on the level of the psyche, sorting out the letting go’s and responsibilities, and on the level of breathing, the fight for the breath. And I know that Mum was never frightened of labour, and I felt I needed to support her to do this work, this labour of dying, even when it was not comfortable for her or for us. I am grateful that the hospice always asked her whether she wanted pain relief, and always respected her choice, which was to have nothing except her anti nausea drug until very close to the end…..
We had a good laugh this morning together when she said that she thought we needed her more than she needed us and I agreed, and promised to try not to fuss over her too much, which she was so tender with me about, stroking my cheek.
Elizabeth had a sprightly morning yesterday, in which she ate ice cream with gusto and was very articulate about many things. Sharon Darlington (my brother’s wife) was here with us and gave me some reading specs she’d got for me. Somehow she’d got the design exactly right. Mum said “Ah! The specs have been re-united with their owner” and I explained that these were new ones Sharon had chosen for me. Then, after a bit of silence, Mum said simply, as if she was identifying a species of plant: “Intuitive empathy between sisters in law”.
Later that day, she entered a very different state, and seemed to be going. The nurses felt it was unlikely she would still be alive in the morning. At some point she said very clearly to Dad and me: “I want to let go” and then after a while: “Its so lovely”. This time, she came back from the brink. Mum says in the morning, “I think all this care and attention is much too early” by which I take it to mean that she does not think she is dying yet. I’m aware that we’re all having to calibrate and re-calibrate our sense of timing, which (for me) keeps lurching one way and then the other. I’m aware that Mum, though she is saying she is ready to go, is on some levels, and not in others. This whole dying dance feels to me, on the one hand very slow and gentle, and, on the other hand, ludicrously fast. I’m not surprised it’s hard for Mum to fully realise it too, just how close to death she was last night.
Ya’Acov arrives. He got home from the Long Dance, unpacked, slept, dealt with things that had to be done, re-packed and made it up here by evening. Wow. I feel so held. As we surrender deeper into this hospice dance, and I feel his love and total, strong unwavering kindness and support for me, Mum and Dad and all of my family, my heart opens to him on a whole new level. I, and my family are safe with this man.
Monday 7 July
So here we are, still here in this blessed hospice, which, for now, has become our world.
Ya’Acov, Reuben, Dad and myself are being a good team being with Mum, taking turns to sit with her, to go for a walk, holding each other, and cooking our weird and wonderful diet, which Dad is enjoying too.
Still no morphine. Just slowly, very slowly in the process of dying, up and down in waves… Still very here, and aware of us and herself. Occasional words. This morning she asked for tea and drank a small cup of the fair trade earl grey she has loved for so long. Occasional bouts of apnea (stopping breathing for a few seconds) and we think she is going, and then back to deep, calm rest. For the first time this morning she asked for some pain relief, as long as it was not morphine, and, a bit later, as she was still occasionally clearly uncomfortable for a few moments at a time, I asked if she wanted some more. A clear small shake of the head. “Thanks for being so clear what you want”, a clear small nod of the head. Her beautiful smile is getting subtler, she’s traveling. I love her so much, and I’m so glad to be able to attend to her with some of the tenderness she’s always had for me.
These last hand holdings, holding her beautiful elegant, warm hands in which you can still see and feel the strength. So precious.
Dad is being magnificent, and his love for her is so beautiful to witness.
I’m feeling such a strange mixture of joy and grief, sacred beauty of this journey and the feeling of heartbreaking loss, almost like two different parts of me depending on who take turns at the driving seat.
It’s so beautiful to witness Dad’s love for her. In one of her more talkative moments I said: “You married a good man” and she said “yes I did!” and then I said “and he married a good woman” and she said “Yes, it was a good marriage”. Which it was.
Dad and I went for a walk yesterday, and were able to laugh as well as cry.
This afternoon Mum is getting weaker, has not wanted any water for quite some time, and we all feel the time is drawing nigh.
At some point I say “I love you” and I hear her say muffled but clear, “and I love you”. Those are her precious last words to me.
Last night, as we went into our good night silence with her, we played her a tender song which a friend (Kate Lawrence) of ours wrote and recorded for her, called “Rest Finally Rest” which fits totally, and seems to help Mum settle and drop into a deeper peace.
Reuben has said goodbye and gone to continue his next steps. It’s been so beautiful that he’s been here, and that Mum could sense her line continuing in such strength and heart. Before he left we sang a song together for her called “Letting Go”. The first verse of this song had come to me decades before, fully formed, and I’d never known who or what it was for. Sitting by her bedside it came back to me, and I remembered that the reference to wild geese rising with the snow was inspired by a book that Mum had loved as a child called “Geese Fly South” which she’d passed onto me and which I also had been deeply touched by.
One of the lines in it is about the “seeds you’ve sown” and another says how “your love goes on through us all”. Reuben and I had not sung together as a duo since adolescence banished the childhood joy of singing together, so this was quite a moment. Hearing his rich baritone join my voice singing this love song for his grandmother and a blessing for her journey, I trust that on some level Mum heard and received this resonance of her line continuing in strength and beauty.
Elizabeth died at about 11am on Friday 11th July, the following day. We’d been out for some rest and recuperation, and Dad had been with her during the morning. At this moment
I was tootling about in a clothes shop while Y bought something he needed, and I met an Indonesian family. The Mum was looking at clothes, and the Dad held the baby. I smiled at the beautiful dark haired baby in his father’s arms, and the baby looked at me intently, following me with his eyes as I moved around. I offered him my hand, and slowly he took a finger and we held hands and eye contact. Very still and quiet deep energy in the middle of the babylon of a busy shopping mall. The Papa happy, trusting and curious. Then I said goodbye, and wished the baby a good life. Just after that I had the call from the hospice, “Your Mum has just died”. Shock. I felt myself go white. Amazing how you can be so prepared and yet so unprepared. I call Y and we make haste back to the hospice, praying as we go. Dad quietly weeping by her side. Amazing how still a dead body is. After all those apnea moments (breathing stops and then starting again) it’s hard to believe that her breathing has finally ended.
We sit in meditation together, deep peace in the room, and a sense that Mum’s spirit essence was so ready to leave that she was well on her way, and we were just adding energy and love to her journey. The space of light I saw which was welcoming her was radiant and, round the edge many happy, triumphant angels blowing trumpets of honour and respect and celebration. This is the kind of stuff Mum would probably dismiss as a placatory illusion to avoid the pain of death and loss, and who knows. It’s a strong sense for me and, as far as I know so far, we certainly don’t know. I only know that Mum was ready to let go, and she did, in her own way, in her own timing, surrounded by love. And that the energy she left behind was of deep peace.
Later, after Mum’s body had been still and quiet for quite a time, and we all felt she had properly left. I was asked if I wanted to help the nurses wash and cream her body, and after a little unsureness, I decided to do so. What a privilege to feel her body for the last time, and to thank this body which has given me my life, and tended to me and to others in so many ways, and to cradle her head whilst they turned her. Her body was still warm underneath, where it lay against the bed. Extra-ordinary to feel the warmth of this life, and the warmth leaving. And the reverence and tenderness of the nurses, totally beautiful. As we washed her Mum’s face relaxed, almost into a smile. In her very skinny body there was still the fine muscled, fine skinned body I know and remember. Holding and washing her hands was so beautiful, still those strong, clear relaxed hands.
A week later:
On the way up north to the funeral, we’d been able to stop in Stroud for a couple of nights, and were able to celebrate Dawn Morgan’s 50th birthday with her. Dawn had created a big ball for the forest, to raise money for the trees (Pachamama Alliance for the rainforest, and tree planting in the UK) and loads of people had turned out to celebrate Dawn and to dance. Dawn had asked us both to DJ, and as Y took his turn on the decks, I was asking myself, is this really right for me to do right now, to DJ for this rocking party? I knew Ya’Acov would have been happy to go on if I’d needed him to, and I knew that Dawn would have totally supported me to do what I needed. I knew I did not want to compartmentalise myself, to have the me which was with the death of my mother separate from the part of me DJ-ing. So I tuned in, and decided to DJ; for Dawn, for life, for my mother, and to consciously tune into my mother’s spirit. As soon as I did, I felt a humming vibration of support all around me, and then, I felt this:
I felt how the energy of my mother’s love for life and the world has now expanded into connection with the spirit of universal love. And that, through her love for me, the energy of universal love could now flow free from the universal level, through her, to me, through me and through me and the music I was playing spread out over all the dancers and everything. It was the most exquisite feeling of being guided, supported and, at the same time, totally free. At the end, I led a prayer for the trees which came through me so easy like the wind through the leaves. I share this because it makes sense of how multi-leveled this moment is for me. I feel the blessing of my mother’s spirit/presence and it is so beautiful. At the same time, I’m with my grief not to have her in this world anymore to share life with. Such sadness and at the same time, such gratitude.
Susannah’s funeral tribute to Elizabeth.
When I was 5, and we were living in Kenya, I woke in the night with the terrible realisation that one day my parents were going to die. In great anguish, I got up and padded down to find Mum and Dad. We had a tradition for such moments. I would have a cuddle and Mum would cut me up an apple (peeled, cored and carefully cut into 8ths) and I’d have a glass of milk, and we’d talk about whatever was bothering me. I have never forgotten what they said in response to my terrible realisation. They said: “Well, it is true, we will die, as everyone does, but almost certainly it won’t be for a very, very long time”. I could live with that then, and now we are at that point, a very, very long time later, and I feel both prepared and yet unprepared to learn how to live with Mum’s death. Part of that learning how to live with it is paying tribute to the person she was for me.
So, I want to pay tribute to my Mother, Elizabeth Darlington who was such an unusual person. She wasn’t mainstream, and she wasn’t alternative, she was simply herself, with her own adventurous ethical orientation that she lived by, together with Dad – Richard. I am so pleased that they found each other, and could live with the support, love and comradeship of another practical idealist, and that they found you, this church, which has given them a real sense of home, community and belonging. Thank you. And whilst I am doing ‘thank-you’s’ a huge thank you to Dr Kershaw’s hospice whose level of care for Elizabeth and all of us in her last 12 days was exquisitely sensitive, kind and caring. We will always be profoundly grateful.
One of the most heartbreakingly beautiful things I have ever witnessed was the quality of love expressed in so many ways by my father for my mother during her last days. As Dad said, their relationship had its stormy crisis which had the teenage me wishing they would split up so that the conflict could end, which resolved itself when they went, led by Elizabeth, into group therapy. I remember singing as I worked on the goat farm where I spent most of my free time, and the people there asking me why I was so happy, and me saying: “my parents have fallen in love again!” Witnessing Dad’s abiding quality of being in love with Mum over the last days in the hospice, I want to acknowledge them both for all that they did to tend the garden of their relationship and for sticking with it when the going got tough, when, as Mum told me later, they only managed to stay the course because they were people of their word, and they had given their word.
The Kabbalists (the mystical wing of Judaism) say that the light of the soul is like a plaited candle. One of the three candles in the plait represents the mind, one the heart and one the body. When all 3, mind, heart and body, are balanced and awake, they say the light of the soul can shine. I think this sums up Elizabeth’s unusual set of attributes all of which came into play in her commitment to “be the change you want to see in the world.”
In some ways Mum’s mind is reflected in Dad’s history of her. This was someone who took double Maths and Physics at A level, and then went on to study Theology and the History of Philosophy of Science at University. This was a big, articulate mind. Interested in the big questions. Willing to be fiercely logical and realistic, curious and self-questioning; a deep intelligence, able to think things through in detail, abstractly and metaphorically through image, story and symbol. I’ve treasured having a Mum with whom I could share my own ponderings about the nature of existence and our humanity right from being a little girl up to last month.
And then her heart. I’m sure many of you will share precious memories of moments of deep empathy, feeling received and understood, and that she was able to be with you in whatever you were going through. Mum held her love for the world in a very private way I think, but I’m sure we all felt it, and saw it in her long term commitment to re-cycling, renewable energy, Fair Trade, the Inter-Faith forum, support for victims of torture, her professional life and in all those one to one moments of care. I remember going home from University once, feeling wretched with a terrible cold, and lying down on the sofa with my head in Mum’s lap, a towel to catch the drips, and Mum stroking my hair, in the particular way I like (she always said there are two kinds of children, those who like their hair stroked forwards, and those that like it stroked back – I like it backwards!). Of course, I thought this level of tenderness from one’s Mum was normal, as it was what I had always received, until, after years of accompanying others on their healing journeys, I’ve come to realise it as the precious gift it is.
And her physicality. I remember Mum driving a tractor on my Uncle and Aunt’s farm in Wales, strong, radiant and full of joy as she guided the tedding machine through the hay. I remember Mum striding across mountains, putting up tents, cooking amazing meals on those primus stoves. I remember someone who was, besides everything else, a craftswoman. Making our beautiful clothes, often the envy of my friends, knitting, wrapping up presents without sellotape in her special way with those elegant long fingers doing some kind of personally invented magical origami, and what a cook! And a Mum who trusted us and trusted life enough to let us, very young, swim with our arm bands out beyond the breakers of the Indian ocean to bob up and down in the swell, and who let us race round naked in the monsoon rain in the garden (it was called a ‘skip-a-bath’) before coming in to get dry by the fire.
Following the Kabbalist’s thrice plaited candle metaphor, Mum’s soul shone from her own unusual integration of a strong mind, a strong body and a strong heart.
Thinking about her during those last days at the hospice, and since her death, I’ve realised even more than ever before, how she held a big vision for the healing of the world, and was, at the same time, so patient and present in all the small, practical steps of love and commitment made manifest in her life.
Lest you think I am making her out to be angel I want to mention that, like all of us, of course she had her challenges. Mum was very contained, and giving and receiving love and appreciation directly with other adults (never a problem with children) could be a delicate matter for her. She was a shy person, and sometimes did not know how to express all the love in her. In the last years, and with the help of the cancer, and all the love that came towards her, this habit melted, and she was able to receive and give much more directly and freely.
My last words to her were about how I am so proud to carry on her lineage; I stand tall as her daughter, in my own version of commitment to the world, to all our fellow beings and to future generations.
I want to share two of her last gifts as I received them. One of them was a few months ago, when I asked her what wisdom she had extracted from her years of living that she would like to pass onto future generations. She asked for a little while to ponder on that, and a few weeks later, on my next visit, told me:
“Well, firstly, the body, mind, heart and soul are not separate at all…. They are one thing… and secondly, the story we tell ourselves about the nature of existence and who we are as human beings makes a huge difference to our sense of identity, possibility and experience.” Yeah Mum!!!
Maybe her last gift to the world was her radiant, shining smile which she shared with all of us till very close to the end. Those of us who had the privilege of being beamed at like that, by someone so consciously and willingly approaching the mystery of death, will, I’m sure, carry it with us as a blessing always.
Last but not least, I want to explain why I am wearing yellow. I was part of a conversation with Dad and Barbara Christopher, in which we were helping Dad get clear about what he wanted to say about the dress code on the funeral invite. As you know, he settled on the words “Dress as you feel to celebrate Elizabeth’s life”. As soon as this became clear, I thought “Oh No! That means I have to wear yellow!” which I had never worn in my life and seems unusual for a funeral. Why? Because whenever I think of Mum, I think of daffodils, even though her birthday is in the time of the snowdrops. And it seems in keeping to wear something unusual in honour of a lady who had few concerns about convention. The daffodil masquerades as something ordinary, but look, really look into one, and you are swept into a blaze of glory, the radiant sun, the warm majestic brilliance of life itself. That’s what was reflected in those last smiles of Mum’s and that’s why I had to wear yellow.
I will always be so grateful that Elizabeth was my Mum. Thank you for everything dearest Mama, and bon voyage in the mystery……
Susannah Darling Khan