The Circle of Life
By Charlie Badenhop
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Shortly after being diagnosed with late stage brain cancer, my mom began to lose her ability to communicate in words. She went from saying "I'm thirsty, please give me a glass of water." to eventually only being able to say, "Water!" Her ability to understand what was being said held up well, but the brain power necessary for her to craft a verbal response lessened day by day.
I wasn't about to let the decline in my mom's verbal skills, hinder our ability to "talk". I created and taught her a simple series of hand signals, and most importantly a "secret" winking system, so we could continue to communicate just as we always had. This was particularly important when my mom wanted to say something private to me when others were in the room.
A wink of the right eye by either one of us, meant everything was fine.
A wink of her left eye meant my mom didn't care for what was happening, or that she was in pain. Once, when a friend brought her some homemade food she didn't particularly care for, she blinked her left eye at me twice, and then winked once with her right eye as she turned and smiled at her friend.
I deeply enjoyed how clever and playful my mom was being, and I was reminded of when I followed a similar learning path with my daughter.
When I first began to teach my daughter Marina to wink, it was the same pattern you notice with most children. The first thing she did was blink both eyes and then look at me a bit confused. She knew she hadn't accomplished a wink, but she had no idea what went wrong. I winked at her again, and she gave me back another double blink. At this point I felt like I could literally see the wheels turning inside her head, and I was fascinated to engage my daughter in such elemental learning.
As you might have already discovered for yourself, in many ways aging is the mirror opposite of growing up. When growing up, we develop and hone new skills. As we age, some of what we've learned fades away, and we wind up being more childlike once again.
As my mom's condition continued to decline, she lost her ability to wink with one eye and could only manage a two eyed blink. In most instances I could still understand the meaning of her communication, based on whether or not she was smiling.
In the last hours of my mom's life, keeping her eyes open was more than she could manage. She laid in bed with her eyes closed as she gave every ounce of remaining energy to simply breathing.
Holding my mom's head in my hands I told her over and over again that God was waiting for her. As I kept up a steady breathing rhythm to help support her own breathing, I said, "Now is the time... Now is the time... This is the perfect moment... I can hear God calling your name... He's calling you to come back home."
At the very end, my mom's laboured breathing calmed down a bit and she opened her eyes and blinked twice. At that moment I clearly knew she was giving me a "Yes" signal. Letting me know she was OK, and ready to leave. Upon closing her eyes she took one last breath and gently released herself into the ocean of life.
For me, her passing felt very similar to the wonderful energy that filled the room when my daughter Marina was born. I felt very blessed to be so fully immersed in the circle of life.