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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Life Well Lived!


By Beth


“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no "brief candle" for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

George Bernard Shaw



This is a story about the power of scent, my mother and her final hours in this world. Several weeks ago I walked into my parents home to discover that my 86 year old mother had suffered a massive right brain stroke. My 89 year old father was in the hospital at the time, having just endured gall bladder surgery. When I saw my mother I knew. When the paramedics took her from the home that she’d built lovingly with my father over 60 years ago I sobbed, brokenhearted with the sureness of knowing that she would never return. There is a smell to death.....it is surely the fragrance of the flesh becoming earth.

The next day I found myself in a still and deeply saddened state, confused about what actions to take next. Then I read Flora’s deeply moving post about Houbigant’s Demi- Jour.
I was suddenly flooded with feelings, remembering my mother and all of her influences on me. She loved pansies and violets and when I was a little girl I played in her jewelry box where she kept the little bottle of “Attar of Violets” that had been her mothers. It is still the perfume that I define all fragrance by. I would greedily open the little bottle and take a deep breath, loving every moment, feeling very grown up. With her passing I have become the keeper of that jewelry box and the bottle of violet perfume is still there. It is still beautiful but the fragrance is fleeting. it is at least 100 years old, but just as thrilling, forever a mysterious elixir! My mother also adored lovely lavender perfumes, her first real job was as the Yardley English Lavender girl for the May Company, a beautiful old Cleveland department store. Her other favorite was Shalimar and she wore it abundantly with her opera length pearls and silk.

That same day Chaya replied to my comments and my experience of caring for my mother was completely altered because of her kindness. She reminded me that my mother was still alive and that I had a chance to help her heal, regardless of the outcome. We had six wonderful days with my mother before she died that Friday. Although she never regained consciousness, I decided that day that that if she was going to die that she would have the best dying ever.

For the next six days, my sister and I filled her room with her favorites things. My husband brought her a Bose sound system with which to listen to her beloved Cleveland Orchestra and her favorite National Public Radio! I anointed her upper lip with Sali Oguri’s gorgeous “Persephone” and it filled the room with the most delightful fragrance of deep rich chocolate and pomegranates.

We continued this all week, even spraying the curtains in the room and her blankets with her current favorite, l’occitane’s “Vanilla”. Her friend’s brought beautiful flowers for the room and I bathed her everyday with French Lavender and roses.
I put on her makeup, fixed her hair and gave her at least 3 massages a day with fragrant oils , gorgeous creams and spent hours doing reiki, soul retrieval and energy work with her. Everyone participated in the celebration!

My sister brought her favorite French blanket and 4711 cologne, my nephew brought her favorite cd’s and my son Alex was steadfast by her side. My brother in law meditated often in her room, filling the space with a continuous peace.

We served cookies , M & M’s and drinks in her room for the enjoyment of all of her grandchildren, nurses and friends. I learned so much about how to live through her dying. I learned that even though my mother was deeply comatose, every time I touched her body she responded with utter relaxation. Every time I perfumed her with something wonderful she would take a deep breath and sigh. I learned that the best way to have her well taken care of was to care deeply for the people who were caring for her. Her nurses came into the room often to talk and relax. Even though it was obvious that she would not recover, they never stopped treating her well. I realized early on that the suctioning and comfort care my mother was receiving was frightening to the younger nurses and they commented that everything that we did allowed them know my mother better and that they were transformed by the experience of caring for her in such pleasantly fragrant surroundings. In all honesty, I really enjoyed myself and I don’t ever think about those 6 days without smiling. Friends and family came to see her and in the intimacy of that space were able to say goodbye without fear. It was an extraordinary process, one which I will never forget.

During that week my mother got phone call after phone call and we held the phone to her ear so that everyone could talk to her, knowing that although she wasn’t conscious she somehow heard every word. When her doctors determined the following Friday that there was nothing further to be done, they discharged her and she was taken into hospice in the nursing home where my 89 year old father was currently recovering after his surgery. She had barely been there for 45 minutes when the nurses came to get me because she was dying. I was with her when she took her last breaths and was able to kiss her and tell her what an incredible mother she’d been. It was then I was able to say “I love you Mother, Thank you so much. It was such an honor”.

My sister had been in mom’s garden during that time , picking flowers to bring to what we knew would be her last room. We covered her body from head to toe with the fragrant blooms, yarrow and roses, daisies and comfrey and her favorites, the lovely stargazer lilies that she planted and tended with such loving care. We placed her small cloth dog in her arms and covered her with a beautiful French blanket that we’d placed on her in the hospital and two cards from dear friends. I called the funeral director and told him to pick her up but not to remove any of it. My mom was cremated the other day in nothing but a cardboard box with everything that we’d sent. No Funeral, no embalming , no grotesque maquillage. Nothing but her and her flowers because that was the way she wanted it.

Chaya and Flora’s words helped me to remember during my deepest grief that the most important thing was to honor the essence of her. My mom was a Cleveland society maven with a very public face and the community outpouring of sorrow for her passing is enormous and sometimes too intense to bear. We held an enormous party at a beautiful manor house which we filled with gorgeous flowers, fine wines, bagpipers and beautiful foods. Over 500 people showed up with cards and beautiful words of tribute, but what I know is that we were able to grant her deepest, most intimate final desire and she went peacefully into the fire like the Viking queen she truly was. We scattered her ashes on Labor Day along the beautiful River Road amidst the sunshine, flowers and the birdsong that she loved. I placed her Barack Obama button in the hollow of the old willow tree that grows by that bend in the river. I know her...she’ll be needing it.

The night that she died I curled up against my husband, hungry for his warmth and desperately missing my mothers laughter. Suddenly there was a break in the energy, the night less still. I felt a cool softness caress my face and I woke with my nostrils drenched with the scent of her vanilla. I have smelled it since in the oddest places and times, always before a thought of her. It has become a touchstone for me, my mother surrounding me with the native wisdom that we are far vaster creatures than we understand. Of all things that she has shared with me, it has been her most generous gift.


Godspeed........
Barbara Lowenstern Schreibman 1921- 2008

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42 Comments:

Blogger Flora said...

Dear Beth,

Words cannot express how moved I am by your words of love and the description of how you celebrated her last days. How very fortunate she was to have you, and you to have her as your mother. The idea that I could have made even a litle bit of a difference in your experience is so humbling. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes, for your mother and mine as well. That was just about the best send-off anyone could ask for.

(And my mother would have been an "Obama girl" too if she were still with us.)

12:47 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God Bless you and your family.

12:50 AM EDT  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Flora,

You made a huge difference in my life, one that I won't ever forget. I so appreciated your words....they moved me into action and at that moment I was paralyzed. Thank you for your tears and thank you the very most for simply being you.

I have no doubts that your mom and mine are out running the election:)

Love,
Beth

12:57 AM EDT  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Anonymous,

Thank you for your warm blessings........I am grateful and I will pass them on.

Hugs,
Beth

12:59 AM EDT  
Blogger Bryan said...

Dear Beth,
Thank you for sharing such a beautiful experience. I can only say that you honored her the way a family should. I am very touched and I pray I go the same way. I think that says a lot.
Bryan

1:01 AM EDT  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Bryan,
Thank you for your sweetness. I can only hope that I did her justice. She was a real piece of work, feisty, magnificent, utterly fabulous. She never stopped working for what she believed in.It is a pleasure to share my story with you . I would never have had the experience without each and every one here.
And yes, when your time comes I am sure that you will have someone special with you to love you and hold your hand.

Love,
Beth

1:09 AM EDT  
Blogger knidonovan said...

Your actions are heart-wrenchingly beautiful and inspiring. To some who lost without being able to say goodbye, your story gives another chance in another way.. Your words replace the loneliness and celebrate truths where darkness and unanswered questions just lay wondering.

You have most certainly done your mother justice.

3:01 AM EDT  
Anonymous Cait said...

Dear Beth,
I read this with such pleasure and appreciation for your ability to live those moments of your mom's dying and her rich life to the fullest. I went through something similar with my own mom, originally of Lorain, Ohio, when she died five years ago. A sweet new year to you and thank you for what you have written.
Cait (of the once active legerdenez)

3:53 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is areason I've read this blog every morning for years and this is one of them. An incredibly moving tribute for one extraordinary life. Thank you so very much for sharing.
Kayliana

7:10 AM EDT  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

I've been thinking of you, and here you are...

[I was just thinking of Donna, and just sent her a note..sheesh]

You and your sister gave yourselves, your mother, and everyone you touched- a great gift.
It will continue to be a comfort to you !

What a magnificent lady ....

Be blessed, sweetheart.
May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life, for a sweet, healing New Year.

7:36 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth,

I feel very humbled by your post: you and your extended family are clearly a credit to your mother, and it is very moving to learn of what you did to celebrate and sanctify your mother's life during her final days.

I wish you well and thank you again for your openness in sharing your very personal experience.

Yours, respectfully, Anna in Edinburgh

7:40 AM EDT  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Knidonovan,

Thank you so much for your kind words. I am glad that my story held comfort for you and I truly appreciate you sharing yourself as you did. I learned that no matter what we "think" , that we are never alone. The vastness of the experience shattered all of my concepts of what I knew to be possible and I am grateful for it.

Thank you for being part of it.

Beth

9:19 AM EDT  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Cait,

Thank you so much! My experience was joyful, I relished the time that I had with her that week.So much that was undone came together in that short time, so much healing happened for everyone. It was as if she had planned it that way, knowing my mother I am sure that she had. I could tell that she loved the party and when it was over she flew into the mystery!

A fellow Ohioan ? Hello! And thank you for the New Years wishes and your happy words!

Beth

9:26 AM EDT  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Kayliana,

I am humbled, touched and inspired. Thank you so much for the sheer kindness of your words. I am delighted and truly honored to be a part of your mornings. Thank you so much for letting me know that my story touched you.
That really means alot to me.

Beth

9:29 AM EDT  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Darling Chaya,
Without you and Flora I'm not sure that I would have gotten there. I will be grateful forever for the help that you both gave me, the inspiration to act instead of dwell. Because of you I was able to grab the moment and live it, instead of it letting it twist me around helplessly like a tree trapped inside of a microburst.
Happy New Year to you too...your generous soul has made such a huge difference in my life this year.

Thank you... Thank you... Thank you
and much love,

Beth

9:35 AM EDT  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Anna in Edinburgh,

A lovely soul in one of my favorite places of all, you lucky girl!

Actually the first time that I ever experienced a glimpse of the "shadow world" was standing with my father in your lovely castle when I was very young. I'll never forget it.

Thank you for your warm wishes, and for sharing my thoughts. I appreciate that so much. It was a celebration, actually thats what we advertised in the newspaper, "A celebration of Barbara's life!" .
It was sacred and utterly rowdy at the same time:) and I'm glad that I could share it with you!

Please say hello to that castle for me when you next see it. And if you wouldn't mind, please whisper to Scotland that I'll be back soon. It is a place where my heart will always live.

Big Hugs,
Beth

9:44 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Dearest Beth, how fitting and wonderful to read this tribute to your mother and the joy that can come from accepting on change on this day of the new year. I will try to remember the way you eased your mother's death (and your own heart, and the hearts of others) if and when the time comes for me to do the same. Blessings to you and yours and a sweet new year. Thank you so much for sharing this.

11:05 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for being so generous as to share with us this loving and intense moment. Essential essence, may you always be blessed with such lovely souls by your side, and the capacity of expressing yourself with such emotions and elegance. Merci beaucoup, et mes pensées les plus tendres vous accompagnent, aliki

11:38 AM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...

Beth-

That's beautiful..

11:46 AM EDT  
Anonymous dleep said...

That was a very moving and beautiful tribute. Blessings and comfort to you and your family.

11:59 AM EDT  
Blogger Janet said...

What an absolutely beautiful post and a perfect way to celebrate your Mom's life. She must've been quite a woman!

2:01 PM EDT  
Anonymous Denise said...

What a wonderful tribute to your mother. Thank you for sharing it with us.

2:18 PM EDT  
Blogger TrippleJN said...

This is so beautifully written and I thank you for sharing. In my life, I've never experienced anyone's death as such a celebration and time of love, nor do I know anyone who's done anything like this. Your story is truly remarkable and an inspiration.

Jenny

2:46 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh wow,

That is one of the most beautiful and touching things I've ever read. Thank you so much for sharing your love for your Mom.

Tina

3:11 PM EDT  
Anonymous sybil said...

What wonderful gifts you and your family (mother included) have given to so many people--thank you.

3:46 PM EDT  
Blogger Xiko Perfumista said...

OMG!!!! I am crying... my heart aches me so much. It's such a beautiful relationship with your mother...
Thanks for placing some sensibility to my day.
God bless you all!!!!

4:06 PM EDT  
Anonymous Janet said...

Thank you for sharing your mother with us. She sounds like she was an incredible woman. And she was so blessed to have such a loving family.

4:12 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth,
I don't cry easily, rarely ever cry really, but half way through you had me choked up. What a love between the two of you, what a daughter you are, and what a mother she must have been. How lucky she was to have her last hours be as beautiful as they were. And I totally believe that you smell her, I smell my mother too. It even comforts my children, as they'll be saying: Grandma is with us tonight. I know you'll cherish this memory.
Love,
Sabina

5:01 PM EDT  
Anonymous LianH said...

That was extremely touching and emotional to read, but indeed it sounds like the most human way to deal with something so devestating. Thank you for sharing this.

5:25 PM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

Read your post this morning, but wasn't able to comment then. It's been on my mind all day. Have been totally choking up over it. Such an incredibly beautiful tribute to an amazing woman. Thank you so much for sharing.

5:39 PM EDT  
Anonymous Rappleyea said...

I've "lurked" and enjoyed your wonderful blog for a couple of months now, but I had to come out of hiding to comment on how incredibly moving this post was. You have so eloquently and beautifully described what is not an ending but a transition in your mother's life, which as you know, continues. So in that you've done a great service for many of your readers.

Blessings and healing to you and your family.

6:34 PM EDT  
Blogger lady jicky said...

When my time comes I shall be one lucky Mum if my daughter is as loving and thoughtful as you and your family members were.
I was so moved.

8:51 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

To everyone!

i am always so sad when I get home too late to respond individually to everyones thoughts.I read them all over and over, I treasure every one. Right now, I usually go to the nursing home where my dad is to tuck him in which makes for some late evenings. He's doing pretty well , all things considered, but it's keeping me pretty busy!

Please know that you all mean so much to me. My mother was a special woman, strong and very committed, the George Bernard Shaw quote fit her to a tee. Mom was all about family. She was so happy when I started to write here, she knew that all of you had become another part of her family and she loved that. Please know that all of your words of sharing, love and support mean so much to me. I could not ever have envisioned such a perfect community of friends. Even though most of us will never meet face to face, who you are comes ringing through to me through your words.
I learned many moons ago when I began my journey through cyberspace (chatting on MIRC..now you know how old I am!) that the friends that i made online were as dear to me and as true as any that I'd ever known. Thank you , all of you for the beautiful beings that you are. I only write as well as I do because all of you inspire it.

All my love,

Beth

10:08 PM EDT  
Anonymous Sali said...

Dear Beth,

I'm just now getting to this post and wanted to express how deeply sorry I am for your loss, but also how immensely moved I am to have read your tribute. I am in tears as I write, and truly feel a bit shocked and in awe at once. I am sure your mother felt blessed to have you beside her in her last moments, to have the daughter she loved right there. When I leave this place, I would want it no other way. I'm moved on so many levels by your words, and I also feel honored that my humble fragrance took part in these most important, sacred, profound moments of your lives through such a loving, tender gesture. The image of you annointing your mother is unforgettable, as are all the other things you did for her to let your love be known without a shadow of a doubt while she was alive - something I hope I can do well enough for my mother while I have the chance - and I will take this story of the celebration of your mother's life with me, within my heart for as long as I live. I know I will never forget. Thank you for sharing, and please know you will be in my prayers.

6:34 AM EDT  
Blogger Jarvis said...

Dear Beth:

Thank you for sharing your experience in such a poignant and poetic way. It takes such courage to be present -- truly present -- for the death of a loved one, and I am in awe of how you were able to bear witness to your mother's passing, and to surround her with such love and tenderness. Wishing peace and blessings to you and your family.

11:08 PM EDT  
Blogger Tammy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:07 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish to wholeheartedly thank you for sharing your experience. Bless you and your beautiful family. I am a nurse, and today you have served to remind me of what an honor it is to be included in the experiences I have shared along the way with my patients and their families during their most painful, challenging,vulnerable and life altering moments. Lately, at times I have been overwhelmed by the amount of sorrow and grief I witness on a day to day basis, being unable to change things. So much heartbreak, so many tears, and so many patients who exit this world alone, bereft of the special kind of love you and your family clearly had for your mother. Your experience serves to remind me that I am not there to 'change' anything, but rather, to do what I can to provide comfort to another to make a positive difference..no matter how small. Your story has served to embrace those fortunate enough to have been led here to read it. Thank you once again for including us.

10:57 AM EDT  
Blogger Scott said...

My wife and I are, at this moment, going through the early stages of dealing with her breast cancer. As a practicing Buddhist, it's easy to give lip service to trying to be in the moment, keep our mortality in mind and appreciate what we have NOW. I greatly appreciate you sharing this amazing experience of yours.

4:29 PM EDT  
Anonymous Tara said...

I am overwhelmed with emotion reading the beautiful story of your mother's life and passing. Thank you for sharing it with us. I am not at all surprised to learn of the part Chaya played in the story of your mother's final days... even though I have not met her in person, her goodness and clarity shine through every word she writes.

B'sefer chayim beracha v'shalom u'farnasah tovah, nizacher v'nikatev lefanecha anachnu v'chol am'cha beit Yisrael, l'chaim tovim u'l'shalom.

May your mother's memory be a blessing, and may you be sealed for a good and sweet year.

Tara

6:01 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

B.,

You sure know how to "Stir the Senses". Your writing is like comfort food and this piece is the Macaroni & Cheese of life. Good Goddess I miss your Mom.

Returning The Love,

B2.

6:42 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth,

How lovely of you to respond, and I'm delighted that you have happy memories of Edinburgh Castle associated with your father: I hope that you and yours continue to conjure up good memories to treasure for a long time to come.

The castle awaits ... take care and be good to yourself.

Wishing you all the best, always,
Anna in Edinburgh

6:50 PM EDT  
Blogger Yellowcat said...

We use the word 'lovely' so easily, and so often, hardly thinking of its connotations. Your moving account of the beauty and, yes, joy that surrounded your mother in her passing was as true a definition of the word 'lovely' as I can imagine. It left a sweetness in my heart unmatched by any perfume in the world. Thank you for sharing such a transformative experience with us.

11:03 PM EDT  

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