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Contemplating My Own Death

On June 11, 2021, I gave birth to my son Andrew. It was a very different experience from the prior births of my other three children because Andrew’s heart was still, his body cold and limp. He was stillborn.


During labour, I experienced an allergic reaction to hydromorphone, my heart nearly stopped, and I envisioned another realm, the other side of our conditioned reality. In this other dimension, I saw Andrew and played with him as a toddler in a magnificent field of wildflowers, surrounded by rainbows, butterflies and a multitude of colours that I had never seen before. Those brief few seconds of unconsciousness or--depending how you view it--awakened consciousness, forever changed 36 years of my earthly existence.


Photo by Andreea Austen.

As I grieved and learned to live with my loss, I reflected, wrote poetry, meditated, and found moments of beauty in the ordinary: a butterfly, a falling leaf, a ripple in the water, a hawk gliding in the sky… moments that filled me with love and connectedness that I had never experienced before.


Andrew’s life of death was a gift, MY gift to unravel as I discovered my true self. This is MY authentic journey of self-love, forgiveness and helping others walk alongside death while learning to truly live.


As Morrie Schwartz stated in the well-known Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie,

The truth is…once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.

As I ground myself and reflect on my own mortality and death, I envision dying at home, in the room I share with my husband. The home is a farmhouse, a modest bungalow with character, walls filled with endless framed photos of family vacations, memories made with my grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and pets. I drift in and out of consciousness as I smell aromas of freshly ground coffee, homemade apple pie with cinnamon baking in the oven, and banana bread. I hear the chatter of my family in the kitchen, laughing as they reminisce about moments spent together.


The crisp autumn air drifts into my room through a window that is cracked open. I hear a bird singing my farewell song. Wildflowers surround me in many vases, all of different shapes and sizes. Bouquets of braided sweet grass and lavender adorn the window sill. I feel serene, at peace, ready to see Andrew again in the majestic field of flowers, ready to go home.


I wrote the poem below to capture my ideal death, it is entitled Sweet Deathbed.


Sweet Deathbed

Euphoric stillness of the crisp autumn air

Fills my room as I gaze to the sky

Painting a canvas in my mind’s eye

Unforgettable beauty caught in this moment of time.


A robin sings with blissful joy

Welcoming the day, humming my farewell song.

Wildflowers in a red vase adorn the window

Picked by little children’s hands

A golden bunch of dried wheat from the august harvest

Not exuberant, just modest.

I inhale deeply and smell the sweet cinnamon and apple pie

The smell of fresh coffee ground

Aromas seep into the walls of my room.


I squeeze tightly and feel your tiny hand in mine.

Mother and child walking between two worlds.

Reunited in a field of tall grass under the glorious sun

I chase you as you giggle with delight

Years ago you shook your head no as I came back to life.

Today we lock eyes and I know it’s my time.


Single tear streaming down my cheek

Softly yet wisely

Sweet surrender to what’s to come

The next moment I close my eyes.


Sweet deathbed!

Built with presence and grace.

No more dreams to chase

Mind fallacies all fled

Perfect setting to my earthly farewell!


--

Andreea Austen is an HHA death doula and IPLD candidate and a volunteer with Margaret Bahen Hospice and Doane House Hospice in Newmarket. Andreea explores the human capacity to find meaning within the process of dying, death, and grief by writing legacy poems that embrace spirituality and mindfulness.


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