On September 20, 2014, three days before her 95th birthday, my mother transitioned out of her body while she was sleeping. It was not totally unexpected. Her health was steadily declining. Although she was not in pain, she was always tired, couldn’t move without help, needed supplemental oxygen, and couldn’t remember things minutes after they happened. Still, how can you ever really prepare for a mother’s passing?
Right at the time of her death, I had a dream about my mother, after not dreaming about her in years. In the dream, my mother was walking across a street behind Joyce and me. Although she hadn’t walked by herself in more than a year, in the dream it seemed very ordinary. That is, until we came to a curb and had to step up. Then it occurred to me that my mom might need help. I turned around and, sure enough, she couldn’t get her foot up on the curb. I went back to her, took both of her hands, and pulled her up with noticeable ease. I remember so clearly the radiance of her smile. And that was the total dream, all about transition … across the street, up the curb, into the world of spirit … and smiling radiantly! And yes, me somehow helping with her transition.
The Last Visit and Last Request
About three weeks before her passing, I visited her in New York. It was an important visit. Although the timing was poor for me, I felt strongly guided to go. She had been in heart and kidney failure for several months, and I knew I might not get another chance to see her. During the visit, I spoke with my mom about death. In past visits, when I brought up life after death, she would shrug it off with a comment like, “I don’t believe in any of that.” This time, however, she said, “I don’t know what to believe, but I hope I’ll be pleasantly surprised.” I asked her, “Mom, assuming you will be pleasantly surprised, would you please look after all of us from the other side, helping and blessing us with your prayers and love?” She smiled, “Of course I will!”
The night before I left, I sat on the side of her bed. She opened her eyes and smiled warmly at me. I felt so enveloped in the love of her smile. There was a long silence while we gazed lovingly at one another. I knew I would never again see her in this beautiful but worn out form. The few words we spoke didn’t seem as important as the silent love that passed between a mother and son. She looked so peaceful, so ready for her next great journey. I said goodbye. We kissed and hugged.
Experiencing Being Loved as a Child
I was always closer to my mother than to my father. I even looked like her. Even so, as with every parent and child, there was much I needed to work out in our relationship. Now that her body is gone, I’m so glad for every confrontation, every risk I took with her, no matter how difficult it was. About ten years ago, at a visit when she still lived in San Diego, I asked if I could lay my head on her lap and have her hold me like she did when I was small. It was part of my work of accepting the little boy within me who still needed love. She said yes, even though I could see she was a little nervous. While I lay with my head on her lap, she lovingly stroked my head and spoke wonderful loving words for perhaps one minute. Then she drifted into random thoughts and words that had nothing to do with what we were doing. Instead of trying to control the exercise, I let her ramble, but I concentrated on feeling the love coming through her hands. I let myself feel just like a little boy lying in my mommy’s lap, absorbing the safety of her loving hands.
Then I asked her if we could switch places. She suddenly looked scared and said, “No, I don’t want to do that.” I sat up and said, “Mom, it’s only fair that we each have the experience of being loved as a child.” She finally relented and cautiously laid her head on my lap. She almost immediately started crying. I imagined several reasons for her tears, but was surprised to hear her say, “It was so painful to be an only child … to be loved by each of my parents but to never see the two of them love one another…” Although she was crying, it was a precious healing moment, one that I would never forget. My mother let herself feel her feelings as a small child, and let me cradle her in safety.
The Connection Remains
It’s now been nine days since her passing. Most of the time, I feel happy for her freedom from a very limited body. I speak to her as often as I can, knowing she hears me much better than before. I ask to remember my dreams, where I’m sure I visit her in that higher dimension of consciousness, but so far I haven’t been able to retain these memories. And I allow myself those sad moments of missing her, of feeling like a small child losing my mommy. Those moments are sprinkled throughout each day. I’ll never again speak with her on the phone, hear her frequent laughter, or be hugged by her physical arms. It’s the typical roller coaster ride of grief.
This past weekend, Joyce and I led one of our couple’s retreats at our home. On Sunday morning, we played “Grow Old Along With Me,” sung by Eva Cassidy. As I sat looking into Joyce’s compassionate eyes, I felt held by an invisible presence and my eyes welled up with tears. It took but a moment to realize that my mom was right there holding and blessing me with boundless love. I understood that I needed to completely let go of taking care of her. She no longer needed that. From now on, she would be once again taking care of me, so much more than she did those many years ago.
A Mother’s Final Gift: How One Woman’s Courageous Dying Transformed Her Family
by Joyce and Barry Vissell.
The story of one courageous woman Louise Viola Swanson Wollenberg and of her tremendous love of life and family, and her faith and resolve. But it is also the story of her equally courageous family who, in the process of rising to the occasion and carrying out Louise s long-held final wishes, not only overcame so many stigmas about the process of death but, at the same time, rediscovered what it means to celebrate life itself.
About the Author(s)
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA. They are widely regarded as among the world's top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.
Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell: Jul 21-26, 2019 — Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR; Sep 24-30, 2019 — Assisi Retreat, Italy; and Jun 7-14, 2020 — Shared Heart Alaska Cruise For further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org.
Two Recent Books (2018) by the Vissells:
To Really Love a Woman
by Barry and Joyce Vissell.
How does a woman really need to be loved? How can her partner help to bring out her deepest passion, her sensuality, her creativity, her dreams, her joy, and at the same time allow her to feel safe, accepted and appreciated? This book gives tools to the readers to more deeply honor their partners. Although these writings refer mostly to heterosexual women and men, there is a wealth of information for LGBTQ. Our focus, after all, is how to deeply love another person, whether it be a man or a woman.
To Really Love a Man
by Joyce and Barry Vissell.
How does a man really need to be loved? How can his partner help to bring out his sensitivity, his emotions, his strength, his fire, and at the same time allow him to feel respected, secure, and acknowledged? This book gives tools to the readers to more deeply honor their partners. Although these writings refer mostly to heterosexual women and men, there is a wealth of information for LGBTQ. Our focus, after all, is how to deeply love another person, whether it be a man or a woman.