Her frail body was lying peacefully face-up in the middle of the large cherry wood bed, her hands folded across her chest. The lines across her face had softened. Her pale, waxy complexion was bathed in a soft glow. And I felt her living spirit had already started enveloping and calming the room. She smelled fresh in an antiseptic sort of way. I didn’t miss the chemical odor of death that clung viciously to her inside the confines of the hospital. The gentle peacefulness of the hospice covered us both like being swathed inside a warm blanket wrapped in a protective mother’s arms.
I felt her spirit casting its bittersweet sorrow across the room. The air was filled with sadness. She was holding on. And I still wasn’t fully prepared to let her go. Death was imminent.
Her chest continued rising and falling at a steady rate. I held her hand and talked to her, willing her to respond to the sound of my loving voice and my tender touch.
They said her hearing would be the last to go.
It was getting harder to smooth back her hair from the expressionless face. It physically hurt me now to caress the soft pink cheeks. I felt my enormous love for her crushing both of us.
I had to let her go.
It was then that a vision appeared and I remembered the little Eastern Star Ritual book in Mother’s personal effects. I reached inside the suitcase and grabbed the little gem and held it close to my heart for comfort.
As a child I used to peek inside the worn pages looking for secrets to be revealed but I wasn’t old enough to read. The tiny book was always hidden under precious handkerchiefs and beaded clutches inside her top dresser drawer. I watched Mother refer to this book often; as far back as I could remember.
Its tattered yellowed pages were like an old familiar friend coming back for a long overdue visit. I clutched the small, hardbound gem in my hands and rubbed my thumbs along the smooth worn cover, seeking guidance that I’d watched mama once find for so many precious years of her life.
Masonic rituals ran deeply inside our lineage, on both sides of the family. Mother had kept the secrets of the Star for 87 years, passed down by my grandparents and great grandparents from day gone by.
I thought far back to the precious years that hugged the innocence of my youth. I couldn’t forget the lonely winter nights that I’d spent without mama when she left to tend to her secret work. I was always frightened she might forget me and never come back home. I treasured the softness of the fur on her wraparound mink cape that used to brush up against my wet cheeks each time we kissed our goodbyes. I remembered the glimmer from the swish of her formals competing against the sparkling diamonds that dotted the blankets of glistening snow and the crunch of her ugly black boots that left the lone set of footprints behind, as she disappeared into the cold, dark and still nights. She used to tell me that the secrets of the Star were in the name of our Heavenly Father.
Now, I opened the book and began slowly reading the sacred text, grateful for the wisdom the five points of the Star might reveal to me in the final hours of Mother’s life.
I wept uncontrollably as I read the words carefully and gained clarity. The Eastern Star illuminated five heroines from the Bible who illustrated teachings of moral excellence from the All Seeing Eye. The good deeds that were done in secret were the embodiment of the Order’s devotion to God.
Words such as honor, truth, justice, charity, hospitality, fervency, moral obligations, fidelity, constancy, light, purity and joy danced across the pages of the little book as it illuminated the All Seeing Hand through the Order that Mama had dedicated her life to.
She had worked relentlessly within the radiant dimensions of the Star in the Spirit of love. She was a light worker in the name of truth, justice and beauty in her devotion to God and her love of people.
In the back of the book I found the funeral rites dedicated to the sisters in the Order of the Eastern Star. I began reading (out loud) the passages. The rites comforted me, as I read, re-read and prayed incessantly, hoping that as I continued to find clarity, Mother would find the peace she needed to let go.
Moments after I finished reading the last of the rites I began weeping uncontrollably, again. I palpably felt her presence in the room slowly slipping away.
I now understood that I was playing a part in an orchestrated concerto being conducted by God. He had revealed to me her purpose here on earth, and entrusted me to help conduct a part in helping her through the last leg of her journey, ascending into her eternal home.
At 12:38 she took her last breath.
I reluctantly released my mother’s hand for the last time and gently kissed her velvety cheek goodbye.