Matters of Life and Death


Mid May in Vermont is as close to heaven as I can imagine.  Everywhere you look there are tiny spring green leaves and the palest pink apple blossoms.  Hills and fields open to the Green Mountains, finally turning shades of blue and green after what is almost always in Vermont, a long, hard winter.  

The world feels new and so do we.  We are refreshed and amazed that this time of year has come again.  Sneakers and sandals replace boots, the air is soft and light.  We hear a symphony of bird song starting at 5 a.m. as the eastern sky turns pink. 

This spring, just as all of this beauty was arriving, Ashley's dear mother, Mary Cadwell was in the process of floating out of this life.  Alive and well, present and beautiful, at 95 and a half years old, she decided to make her own exit plan and she did.  Six weeks ago, she stopped eating.  For four weeks she got dressed with the help of a care giver friend of the family and sat at her desk to write letters, talk to family and read.  Sometimes, she went outside on the porch with one of her six sons to greet the sun and the day.  The fifth week, she was too weak to get out of bed but she was still present, curious and interested in hearing about anything any of us wanted to share with her.  


We were all...her big, loving family of sons, spouses, grand-children, great-grand-children, in awe of her grace, her courage, her gratitude and her resolve.  Of course, we respected her wishes.  And so it goes.  Mary died a week ago today.  Now, in some miraculous way, she is a part of this spring that is all around us.  She is in everything...the blue sky, the shifting clouds, the new growth on the maples, the scent of her lilac bushes planted in our yard.  A cousin sent us this piece below by Buddhist monk, Thich Naht Hanh.  It is comforting and it is true if we can allow ourselves to embrace the mystery of birth and death.  


The day my mother died I wrote in my journal, "A serious misfortune of my life has arrived." I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night, in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut in my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk to her as if she had never died. When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me.

I opened the door and went outside. The entire hillside was bathed in moonlight. It was a hill covered with tea plants, and my hut was set behind the temple halfway up. Walking slowly in the moonlight through the rows of tea plants, I noticed my mother was still with me. She was the moonlight caressing me as she had done so often, very tender, very sweet... wonderful! Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine but a living continuation of my mother and my father and my grandparents and great-grandparents. Of all my ancestors. Those feet that I saw as "my" feet were actually "our" feet. Together my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil.

From that moment on, the idea that I had lost my mother no longer existed. All I had to do was look at the palm of my hand, feel the breeze on my face or the earth under my feet to remember that my mother is always with me, available at any time.

God speed Mary Cadwell.    

In the name of the Bee-

And of the Butterfly-

And of the Breeze- Amen!

Emily Dickinson

Mary Cadwell in 1983 with our sons, Alden, age 3, and Chris, a few months old. 

Mary Cadwell in 1983 with our sons, Alden, age 3, and Chris, a few months old.