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by Rita Robinson

As my mother lay there, comatose, my brothers, my sisters-in-law, my nieces and nephews, my daughter, my aunt, her children—my mother’s family started to arrive.

A Catholic priest was summoned to perform the last rites.

My oldest brother, who, for some unrevealed reason, hadn’t talked to me for years, was standing next to me. I was sitting on the end of my mother’s bed, weeping. He put his arm around me, resting his hand solidly on my left shoulder. For a moment, I thought it was my father’s hand touching me. I felt a deep sense of support and love coming through both estranged men.

During all of this, my mother never moved. Neither did Brandy, an apricot poodle that was her constant shadow. For hours, that dog never got up, never changed position. He slept as deeply as she slept, his nose gently resting on the place where she gave birth to us all.

Someone took a group photo. It caught me pursing my lips and I looked just like a skull, my cheekbones hollow,  my eyes sunken. How odd, I thought, and, yet, not odd. It was a day of the dead, after all. A friend of mine, a psychic, came over later that night and sat off to the side in the dining room where it was dark. I noticed he was writing.

“I’m having a conversation with your mother,” he said, pleasantly. I saw a page full of notes. “I asked her if she’s ready to go. She said yes. She’s already left her body. She’s sitting up in the corner there, watching it all. I asked her when she’ll be leaving. She said between midnight and 5 a.m.”

After everyone departed, I lay down on the couch behind her. And I listened to her breathe.

It wasn’t the “death chortle” they talk about, the gravely, rocky breathing from lungs filling up with water. My mother had a definite pattern of four concise breaths rising in urgency. Starting low, the pitch would build in four breaths, like a musical scale. The last breath, the highest pitch, cascaded all the way down and the sequence would start over again…for hours.

This pattern repeated itself evenly all night long. The sidewalk lights filtered shifting images through the sheers on her open bay window. I would get up now and then to change a cool washcloth on her forehead. She was sweating profusely, like she was running a marathon.

“Mom, where are you running to…or from? You can finally slow down now.”

But she didn’t. The pattern never changed.

And then it stopped. I stiffened.

I looked at the camelback clock on top of the TV. I got up and walked over to her side. She was still sweating. I touched her rosy cheek. “You just left us, didn’t you?” It was 4:55 a.m. Never doubt a good psychic. (continued in Part 3, Radiance March-April 2018)

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