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Passages

Sue Rio
Plainfield IL USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 6, November-December 2006, pp. 261-262

Although we come into this world as unique individuals, we become who we are in large part because of our parents. A hospice nurse who cared for my mother, Esther Baranowski, said she could tell that my mom had been a strong and loving person because of what the nurse saw in us, her children. My mom taught her children to face life with heart and with a smile.

My mom knew that a baby's cries should be listened and attended to, and maybe that's why when I was a teenager, I was able to go to her after dinner when she was washing dishes and say, "Mom, can I talk to you?" I knew she always really listened. She believed babies should be held, nursed, and rocked to sleep, and maybe that's why I still trust the comfort of sleep, and fall asleep peacefully most nights. She inspired and encouraged me in my life's work as a lactation consultant and in my philosophy of raising my own children.

Being part of the birth team when my daughter was born at home, or bringing me a warm shawl to put around my shoulders and a snack as I nursed my son through the night, my mom was there for me. Even though her memory loss was profound in her last years, when I would recount to her these stories of birthing and breastfeeding, her eyes would fill with joy as her mind recalled the humbling and yet empowering experiences of mothering.

Growing up, I remember my mom driving a station wagon loaded with all of our friends to go camping or fishing. As a child, she gained my respect at a camp out one night when she unflinchingly plucked a huge daddy long legs spider off my best friend's nose without even waking her.

Just a few years ago, I was honored to make a trip with my mom to attend the La Leche League International Conference in Chicago, Illinois, USA. After one session, I found her surrounded by a group of young mothers with their babies listening intently to her wisdom, independence, and forethought about birthing and breastfeeding. I think of her as a pioneer of natural childbirth. During one of her births she told the doctor, "Get out of the way and let me have my baby!"

In fact, I think of her as a pioneer in many ways. At age 18, she was flying airplanes before most women were driving cars. In the 1940s, she attended the Illinois Institute of Technology and drafted blueprints during the war years. After that, she raised four children on her own, staying home with us until she returned to college in her 50s. At age 80, she never doubted her ability to achieve her swimmer's badge at family scout camp. She swam the length of the pier in choppy lake water and amazed the two young lifeguards who cheered her on.

In the hours, maybe days, before she passed, my mom seemed to have one foot in both the earthly and spiritual worlds. Whether it was through an incredible sunset, a dream of flying, or an acoustic guitar being lovingly played, on the night she passed she had taken the time to connect with each of us no matter where we were. Even though my mom couldn't speak with words, she continued to communicate in many ways -- wiggling her eyebrows to let us know she was hearing her son's loving words on the phone, or letting out a deep sigh of contentment as I told her we were all there to keep her safe and surrounded by love as she made her passage. I remember thinking that it felt much like the safety and love surrounding a baby making the passage into this world. Her last moments were quiet and peaceful as she breathed goodbye to this world. A few minutes later, her grandson awoke to a dream of her flying.

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