Tomorrow will be one year to the day since we lost her. June 10, 2009. Karling Evelyn Shaver Wheelock Kolter died peacefully, surrounded by family that all loved her.
Now they all miss her, too.
As I sit here and hail back to the events of that day, I thought I’d post the notification letter I sent out a week later so you could hail back as well.
This is in memory of Mom.
June 17, 2009
To all those who’ve been holding my mother and all of us in your loving attention:
Our entire family was deeply touched at the outpouring of love and support that came in response to my last email…I can’t tell you how much it’s helped. The stories so many of you shared about the way in which Karling touched your lives were profoundly moving. We knew, of course, how much she had influenced our own lives. We suspected she had influenced a great many more but we honestly didn’t realize just how many or how much. Thank you for the education.
For those of you who have not yet heard, Karling died a week ago yesterday of colon cancer. It seemed sudden to us all, primarily because her symptoms didn’t seem severe enough to indicate an illness that serious until a few weeks before the end. She actually died a serene, peaceful death in a beautiful hospice facility in Las Vegas surrounded by gardens and fountains, a central courtyard garden and an aviary full of the birds she so dearly loved. It was soothing to be in a place of peace and calm, surrounded by people who view dying as a profoundly valuable time of life. The entire family made it to her bedside in the end—her husband Jim of course, all ten kids with their various spouses, her brother, sister, and a dear nephew, a smattering of grandchildren and great grandchildren and a few close friends. We were a boisterous, emotional bunch but the hospice staff welcomed that, too.
She was largely unconscious for the last four days, resting for the most part in a state of deepening silence–we think she was probably just waiting for the last of us to arrive from the far flung parts of the world where some of us reside. There was a strange thing happening to her body, too, as she lay there. At first we thought that perhaps it was just our imagination but every day she began to look younger and younger–her wrinkles and age spots simply disappearing. Her skin grew increasingly soft, supple, and clear, taking on a translucent quality that appeared almost radiant, and at the very last her face looked more like that of a young girl in her twenties than the seventy two year old woman she actually was. It was really quite extraordinary and made us sometimes laugh out loud and wonder. During this time she also seemed to be making the rounds. It’s amazing how many of us either felt her around us, dreamed about her talking to us, or actually heard her laughter or voice at different times. (These kinds of experiences continued to a lesser degree in the days immediately following her death, which has really helped as we try to navigate the transition into a world without her arms, her voice, her smile, and all the other myriad, everyday gifts of physical presence.)
Through an extraordinary set of seemingly random and disconnected events, most of us wound up assembling in her room minutes before she was to take her last breath. Various family members read scripture passages or said prayers from a variety of spiritual traditions, which seemed absolutely perfect. She had helped to foster a deep love of spiritual life in each one of us, always embracing Grace in whatever form it happened to present itself—it seemed right that it presented itself in multiple forms at the end. For myself, I had a kind of vision as she seemed to be leaving her body that both surprised and comforted me. It was as though I could see her–feel her–filling up the room, filling up the facility, getting bigger and bigger as she spread out over the city, over the country, finally blanketing the entire world like a gauzy layer of blue and rose tinged atmosphere. The expansion made me think of descriptions I’d read of supernovas and I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that her physical body had managed to last as long as it did–trying to contain something that huge for all these years.
She died a good death–just as she lived a good life–and I’m deeply grateful for the final lessons and insights she gave us even in her passing. She was always, always a great teacher.
UC Santa Cruz, 1989, Bachelor of Arts
And now, for some of us, the winding journey of bereavement and adjustment begins. For myself I find that it’s constantly changing. Sometimes I remember and ache, sometimes I remember and laugh, and sometimes I forget for a little while and enjoy a brief respite, dreaming that the world is still the way it always was. I realize this passage is going to take time and some parts will just hurt, but it feels like it will all still be okay. This is my first time with a significant loss and I still have much to learn. But I suspect that as pain goes, the kind that comes from loving without limit through the wounding of great loss is probably about as good as it gets. Certainly, my mother is the one who taught me the courage and wisdom of loving that much. Strangely enough, I wouldn’t trade this sweet, sweet ache of loving her for all the gaiety and happiness in the world.
Lastly, I’d like to thank you all for loving her, holding her in your hearts, and valuing her through her final passage. And thank you, too for surrounding us all with your kind thoughts and gentle concern. I can’t begin to describe how the waves of prayer and support and beautiful, loving attention coming from all over the world really, physically helped and sustained us in our final efforts to care for her during her transition. We all felt it. It was like being spun in a cocoon of light and grace and strength with her at its core.
Jai Guru Dev
Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho, 2006
copyright 2010 Dia Osborn