methow grist 2011-2014 archive


Creating a Container for Mom
A detailed account of death and caring

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My mother Nancyʼs health was failing. She was living at Careage of Whidbey, a nursing home on Whidbey Island. I began to look for help and education. I wanted to know what was required to transport her body to my home for a vigil. I was directed to Lucinda Herring at ‘A Sacred Moment Funeral Home’ in Everett, and spoke with her on January 19, 2011. She quoted a price, and since the Neptune Society was already set up to do the cremation, she said she would have to ask to see what kind of discount could be arranged. She did say she was very willing to help in any way necessary to support me in doing a home vigil.

Lucinda had begun to forge the container for Mom’s passing.

I spent the day with Mom and on the phone, one person leading me to the next. In an amazing sequence of events, by 4:50 p.m. I was standing in the vital statistics office of Island County and Chief Deputy Registrar Barbara Cope, (20 minutes after she was supposed to have gone home for the day), handed me a transportation document that would be required to be able to transport Momʼs body to our house when she had died. (In Washington State, you can be your own funeral director). I made sure the nursing staff had a copy in Momʼs chart.

A very helpful man named John Harrison at Neptune Society explained how cremations worked and provided helpful hints like making sure any papers or information are placed in the chart, so there is continuity between shifts, etc. I left Careage at 5 p.m.and attended a class.  Following a hunch, I returned to Mom at 10:30 pm that night. Her breathing had changed. It seemed like she was very weak, but I had no way of knowing how long she would live. Her breathing became increasingly labored, ragged, and she took her last breath while I was holding her hand at 11:15 p.m. Forty-five minutes after I had returned.

I waited a few minutes, saying goodbye, then notified the floor nurse. She summoned another nurse and they both verified her transition. The Caregivers were notified, and I helped them as they washed and prepared her body, and was privileged to see the love and caring they bestowed. I had misplaced Lucindaʼs number, so I got my computer and got the number for A Sacred Moment off the website. As soon as I reached the answering service, my cell phone died. I used a borrowed cell phone to reach the service and Lucinda returned my call at 12:30 AM. I mentioned to her that I was waffling on doing a home vigil. Although I had the total and complete support of my wife Raven, my brother and my two sons were all creeped out by the idea, and it was influencing my resolve. (It would take 24 hours for all three to independently realize that what I was doing was of value and support me in it, which was a big relief).

Lucinda was listening very closely, and she asked me why I wanted to do this. I told her I was following a need to give Mom some time to fully leave her body. I didn't have any religious practice or traditions to follow, and was basically operating on instinct. Lucinda was listening and speaking in a way that I trusted. She said that on her part, since I had already gotten the transportation document, (unheard of in her experience), “that” was a green light for her, and that sometimes a person clears the way when they die.

When she said she had no hesitation, she strengthened my resolve. We talked about the logistics and Lucinda was very helpful with the basic details. Get some plywood to put Mom on, some plastic to wrap her in, etc.--just basic bottom line necessities. Lucinda said she would talk to Char, (her boss), and give me a call at 8 a.m. the next morning. I drove home wracking my brain to picture how I was going to pull all this off. When I got home, I told Raven that Mom had passed. She said she had felt Dadʼs presence, and had suspected that Mom was making her transition. We went to bed, and I kept working on how to move Mom. After some time, I suddenly got it, “duct tape”! I would put Mom on the plywood, put the plastic over her and duct-tape her to the plywood. That resolved, I went to sleep.

I awoke a few hours later, about 7:30 a.m., disoriented, foggy and totally unprepared for the day. I called my friend Detmar, explained that Mom had transitioned in the night, and that I needed a big favor. He didnʼt hesitate, said to pick him up on the way. His help was crucial for my confidence. Lucinda called me at 8 a.m. as agreed. She still didnʼt have all the pricing details worked out, but she assured me that it would be fair. We agreed that I would pick up Mom since Lucinda was in Redmond and she needed to find someone to cover the office in Everett before she could leave. I called Careage, and the staff (respectfully but firmly), told me I needed to move Mom by 10 a.m., or they would have to call a funeral home to come and get her. That was not a lot of time. 

I emptied my van of tools, ripped a sheet of plywood in half and threw it in the van, then headed for Detmarʼs house. I hadnʼt gotten Lucindaʼs cell number. Thankfully, Lucinda left me a voice mail on my cell, as well as calling the house, so I had her number after all. I called her from Detmarʼs house, and she said she had found coverage,and could be at our house by 11 am with the dry ice. I proceeded to Careage with Detmar. When we got there we were met by staff with tears in their eyes, and since I had already provided them with the transportation document, we could all focus on being human, and getting Mom in my van.

This was something new for the staff members. To their credit, they didnʼt bat an eye when I brought in the plywood and plastic. We wrapped Mom in two layers of plastic (Washington State law requires this). Then we secured Mom to the plywood with the previously-mentioned duct tape. (I bet Garrison Keillor hasnʼt come up with that idea yet). I have since learned I could have bought a cardboard container designed to carry Mom, from a funeral home, for about one hundred dollars. It would have been worth it.

Three nurses who had lovingly cared for Mom helped Detmar and I take her out to the van. She was heavy! After more tears, hugs, and heartfelt condolences, we got underway. We thought about stopping to get dry ice at a store on the way, thought about the parking lot, looked at each other, shook our heads and said ‘Nah’. We got Mom got to our house ok. We managed to navigate her into our living room. We set up a table to place Mom on, and it wasnʼt long before Lucinda arrived. She said the local grocery store was out of dry ice: a delivery truck had broken down. I called the fish market manager at the store, and he challenged me when I asked if they were going to have some soon.

Since Lucinda had already been to the store looking for a large quantity of dry ice, he became suspicious and asked what I wanted it for. I told him I wasnʼt making drugs, that my parent had passed away and was in my living room, and I needed it to preserve them. He actually called me back to tell me they werenʼt going to have anymore that day. (Thanks Ray)! So we made some calls and sent Detmar to Oak Harbor, 40 miles away. We transferred Mom to the table. Lucinda set the foundation for this ritual when she said “Nancy doesnʼt look comfortable, she needs something soft to rest on”. We put a pillow under her head, and found a quilt to cover her with. Making Mom comfortable really helped set the tone.

Lucinda was so supportive just by her presence, let alone her knowledge and suggestions. While we waited for the dry ice, we started positioning Mom and preparing the room. Raven had already cleaned the room while we were gone, and had the presence of mind to suggest we put curtains over the two doorways into the room, creating a definite sense of separation from the rest of the house. That really became important in making the feeling of a sacred space. When Detmar returned with the dry ice Lucinda showed us where and how to place it. We then made the finishing touches to Mom.

I will now introduce what Iʼve come to call the C-F or Creep Factor. I was aware of it while transporting and getting Mom into the living room. I had been fairly busy up to then, but just before Lucinda got there, I must admit that my C-F meter was pegged. I was totally overwhelmed with concerns about caring for Momʼs body, and way out of my experience and comfort zone. When Lucinda got there she immediately put me at ease with her easy manner and confidence. I began to really pay attention to my C-F, and realized what a valuable service Lucinda was providing by creating and holding the container.

Without fail, every time I got scared, overwhelmed, etc, she would put me at ease. It is something she is just “naturally” good at. By being willing and able to handle all the details, and using her intuitive abilities, and respect for the process we were in, I was able to participate as fully as possible with the knowledge I would get the support to handle what ever came up. Lucinda, having made some suggestions for decorations and ceremony, said all was good until tomorrow, and that she would return in the morning. We began the vigil by lighting a candle. I also found it meaningful to smudge the room with sage. (If you smudge, put a plate or something under the sage bundle as you move around the room, large embers tend to fall off. Donʼt ask me why I know this.) Raven made lunch, and she, I and Detmar had a nice meal. I noticed that I had begun to sink into a very reassuring and calm certainty that, having created a mindful and sacred space, I could relax in the knowledge that whatever needed to happen would happen in this vigil time and that I didnʼt need to worry about anything. Itʼs hard to put in words, how deeply meaningful and reassuring the sense was that “there is a power at work here”. I felt I could completely trust it to guide the people and events that would follow.

Christa, Detmarʼs lovely wife, brought us all dinner, and we had a wonderful time talking about Mom, and her life. After they left, Raven and I spent some time with Mom and went to bed. It had been an eventful day. The next morning, Friday, when I got up and greeted Mom, it was clear looking at Momʼs face that her life energy was leaving her body. Raven also noticed it and mentioned it to me. Lucinda called and said she was going to come over in the early afternoon and bring Linda Linsey, who would be available to help us the next day if we needed it, as Lucinda was giving a workshop on green burials and home vigils at Bastyr College on Saturday. Raven and I went up to Careage intending to remove Momʼs belongings from her room and were very pleasantly surprised to find that the staff had already placed all of Momʼs belongings in nicely labeled boxes! What a blessing!

We took the boxes that would fit in the car making sure to include those things of special meaning to decorate her vigil space. We then bought dry ice in Oak Harbor and made our way home. After lunch, Lucinda and Linda arrived. Itʼs hard to express how important, how absolutely vital Lucindaʼs role (in holding the container) was in helping us with packing the dry ice around Mom, and addressing my many fears and concerns. Lindaʼs support was also very much appreciated, since she had pioneered the way with Lucindaʼs help by doing a home vigil with her own mother several years earlier on the island. Lucinda recommended how and where to place the blocks of dry ice. We had to be careful handling the dry ice and Lucinda made sure to provide gloves and to guide in the placement. The ice raised Mom up and we needed to adjust and reposition her.

It was amazingly nurturing to make her comfortable. We placed flowers we had bought around and on her body. We then talked for quite a while, and Linda shared how her vigil had allowed some healing with her sister who had been able to attend. Lucinda put my mind to rest, explaining that the ice was going to keep Mom cold, I was really wanting everything to be perfect for my brother and sisterʼs arrival on Saturday evening. Lucinda said that Linda would be available for questions and support for Saturday, and said that she would be back around 8 p.m. the next evening after the workshop. She reassured me Mom would be fine until she got back, and advised where to place additional small blocks of ice we had saved when adding new ones. Raven and I began to place pictures and Momʼs belongings around the room. That really felt good. Detmar and Christa brought us dinner, and we had a wonderful meal.

We then spent the evening in ceremony, singing songs, and reading poetry. Raven and Christa belong to the Threshold Choir. Their purpose is to sing to those who are making their transition: their songs were beautiful and meaningful. What a beautiful time celebrating Momʼs life, and passage. I had previously asked Mom about what she would like included in her memorial, so It was comforting to include these in our ritual. After Detmar and Christa left, and Raven went to bed, I stayed up with Mom and did some more ritual work, inviting our ancestors into the room, and continued saying goodbye to Mom.

When I greeted Mom Saturday morning, her life energy was much fainter. It was satisfying to witness this and acknowledge the value of letting Mom have this time to fully depart in a place of honor. Raven had obligations, so I was able to spend a lot of time with Mom alone. I found that I really wanted to make a clear distinction between the room Mom was in and the rest of the house. It really felt right to have that boundary. I made some signs that said: “Sacred Space, Please Enter Mindfully, and put them on the outside of the curtains. I also made a poster with some favorite sayings of Momʼs and placed it on the outside of one of the curtains. I found these actions really helped to deepen the sense of respect for the process we were in.

My friend Bernd called in the early afternoon, and inquired if his wife Nancy, and their children, Beatrice (four years old), and Brighton(four months old), could come and pay their respects. He also added that he wanted to take the opportunity to introduce Beatrice to death, and that he “got” what I was doing, having participated in a similar vigil in Germany with his grandmother. Talk about validation! Since they had all previously visited Mom in the nursing home at my request, and Mom had so enjoyed them, I heartily agreed. They came, and brought a candle that was much appreciated. He brought a book with beautiful pictures and a story explaining to his daughter that Mom was now resting with the angels. My awareness of being in a ritual space that was providing everything necessary was totally supported in their beautiful visit.

I spent a great day with Mom, playing songs she liked on the stereo (Lucinda had also loaned me a cd with music on it that was perfect). Raven made us dinner when she got home, and we had a nice meal. We made final preparations for my brother Felix, and my sister Gloriaʼs arrival. Lucinda called during the afternoon and assured me she would be there by 8 p.m. Felix and Glo were coming from northern California and were due around 9 p.m.. Lucinda arrived right on schedule with more dry ice. Mom was still pretty cold, so we made the necessary adjustments, and though Lucinda was pretty tired from a full day of leading a workshop, she was still very present and emotionally available (continually holding the container). We made Mom comfortable and she looked great for Felix and Gloʼs arrival, which was a huge relief.

Lucinda left, Felix and Glo arrived around 10 p.m. Raven and I made them comfortable, gave them some food and we sat around our dinning room table for quite some time reminiscing and catching up. They brought two female Irish wolfhounds that added laughter and enjoyment. We then visited Mom and I could tell that it had deep meaning for Felix and Glo. Particularly since Felix had such trouble with the idea of a vigil in the beginning. Glo, whose heritage is Filipino, explained that they have a tradition of doing similar things and singing special songs.

Once Felix was able to think of it as a wake, he was fine. He had reservations about making the trip, but thankfully, Glo had convinced him to come. We spent some time being with Mom, singing some songs, and went to bed around 2 a.m.

Sunday morning, when I got up and greeted Mom, It was clear she was fully gone. We prepared for Momʼs departure. Lucinda had already firmly held the container by pointing out that if we weren't prepared for Momʼs inevitable departure, that it could be very abrupt and disturbing. Having been given a heads up, we prepared accordingly. I had made arrangements with Neptune Society to pick up Momʼs body from our home, and so appreciated their respect for our needs. I had been able to reschedule Momʼs leaving for later on Sunday than first arranged since Felix and Glo arrived later than anticipated. We spent time saying goodbye, and Raven, bless her heart, had bought Rose petals to scatter.

Neptune showed up at the arranged time, 2 p.m.--we appreciated their respect and flexibility. We did the paperwork, they helped us move Momʼs body onto their gurney. They told us that, due to state law, Mom would have to be fully covered when leaving the house. They then allowed Felix and I to wheel Mom to their van, while Raven and Glo spread rose petals before her. What a send off! What a blessed event! Lucinda came over a few hours later to see that everything was all right, to collect the items she had loaned us, and present the bill. It was all done in such a respectful manner. We were able to share with her the details of Momʼs departure.

She also said Char Bennett (the owner of A Sacred Moment Funeral Home in Everett), had decided to deduct the price of the cremation, (My parents had already pre- purchased Neptune cremation services), and the cost of the dry ice and travel to get it. I was completely blown away by the integrity of Char and Lucinda, particularly because they’re in a industry that can pretty much charge what ever they want at a time of complete disorientation and grief. (Of course not all, but some take advantage) Lucinda continued to hold the container with integrity and fairness. I came away from the experience deeply nurtured, at peace, and with a deep desire to “pay forward” the blessings received.

Our story is one attempt to do that. Having experienced the other end of the spectrum, where Raven and I were lucky enough to be with my father when he transitioned two years ago in a hospital intensive care ward, after the staff had done everything humanly possible for him. We spent a few minutes with him after he was gone, and then a sheet was pulled up over his face. We went out in the hall and I notified Neptune Society of his passing. I had emotional complications because medical procedures had caused Dad’s death prematurely. so I was wrestling with guilt, grief, and my brotherʼs sorrow and anger over the way he died. I found it extremely hard to say goodbye to Dad and to pick up his ashes a week later. It was a completely different experience from Mom. Though there are still echos of pain reverberating, Mom’s home vigil process created tremendous healing on many levels.

I think our culture is challenged to find ways of completion, closure. We are not traditionally taught or supported to do this. There is a huge gapping hole, between death and the grave, so to speak. I think we, for our own souls, and those of our loved ones, need to find and reclaim ways to be at peace with our loved ones departure. I have found this to be a richly rewarding way personally and I am guessing that everyone else involved with it will say the same thing.

There is within it, the possibility of healing for family members, and for connecting with each other in ways that arenʼt available in ordinary times. Although we realize this is not for everyone, if we can be of support to you in your endeavor to gracefully handle a challenging time, please do not hesitate to contact us. email: Byron Odion Raven Odion

Thank you, blessings to you all!

Byron Odion, a native of Puget Sound, and his wife Raven have recently returned to the valley to be with family, and are living up Benson Creek on his son's farm with their horse, two cats and three Muscovy ducks.



Thank you, Byron That was beautiful.

Barbara Tennant