September 4, 2022

What I said at her service

The photo shows mère and me in Hawaii, August 2010.

My mom, Dorothy Stenstedt, died on May 19, 2022, and we had her Celebration of Life on August 14—first a church service, then a party. Here’s what I said at the service.

My mom was the centerpiece on the dining room table, overflowing with fresh-cut flowers from the garden. She was the firepit in the center of the campsite, with campers gathering around her as often as they could for warmth and light and stories and laughter. 

At the end, she was ready to leave this world, and when the doctor said the word “hospice,” she was the only one of us who seemed to accept it right away. It was time for her last life experience, and she got right to it, saying goodbyes and thank-you’s and letting us know about a few final worries that she had, tying up all the loose ends she could manage. 

A few days before she died, we were working out our routine with her caregivers and the hospital bed and all that in her apartment, and she said “Okay, what’s next tonight?” I said “There’s nothing else you have to do,” and she looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Well, I’m TRYING to DIE.” 

Dying was her final task, and she lived into that task with all the gusto and love she could manage, as she had lived into every other event in her life. She fully inhabited her 91 years, and she was peaceful about letting it go when it was time. Dorothy showed us how to give living all you’ve got, and at the end, she showed us how to die with acceptance and gratitude.

I recently had a dream about my mom, where she and I are next to each other on a train. I get up and walk down the aisle, and while I’m away from her, suddenly she’s in a different train, one that’s next to this one, on a parallel track.

When I wrote down this dream after I had it, the last sentence I wrote was I’m not sure how I’ll find her again.

But in the dream, she’s not actually that far away, and we’re heading in the same direction. She’s still traveling alongside me, though I can’t see her. 

The anxious feeling I had in the dream that made me write “I’m not sure how I’ll find her again”  reminded me of a poem that I sent to a friend after her mom died, and I’d like to read it, a bit abridged. 

"Puzzle," by Sidney Cooksley

All things find their road. The bee its hive,
The bat its cavern, every lark its nest;
All things that walk or crawl or swim or dive
Clear for the right road when it's time to rest….

All things must find their road. The mouse its mead,
The ant its hillock, every seed its loam;
No matter where the vagrant highways lead,
The heart cannot forget its way back home.Why then must my senses fret and stir
With fear I've lost the road that leads to her?

And here is the church’s video of her service, show tunes and all. It doesn’t actually start until minute 20….