The Place Between Life and Death

She is mostly gone now, my mother. Monday evening she went into that death-sleep that dying people go into — our dear friend Karen Akin calls it cocooning — and I knew then that it was a sleep from which she was never going to wake. So now we are just waiting for her to make that last separation from her body.

It has been said that death is a lot like birth, and I’ve found this to be true of the handful of deaths I’ve been privileged to witness in my time. It’s true now, and while in her room at Hospice the grief doesn’t hit me. No, there is work to do in that room. My mom is trying to be born into a new life, and my father and I are her doulas. There is work to do. Sometimes Mom has pain, so we rub her arms, hold her hand, play music, talk to her, and repeatedly mash the call button to summon morphine. We tell stories, we laugh, and we wait. My husband is worried that at some point I’m due a huge emotional breakdown because I’m being too practical about all of this, and he is probably right. I do tend to have delayed reactions to things. So a huge emotional breakdown is probably in my future, but right now there is a task at hand, and I focus on that task: Birth Mom into a new life.

My mother always said that people tend to die as they live, which is a pretty good argument for not being an asshole if you think about it. My mom lived according to a deeply rooted belief in hospitality. She wanted people to feel comfortable, at home, loved, and valued. She wanted people to eat good food, laugh a lot, have meaningful conversations, and enjoy themselves. This past weekend her room at Hospice took on the atmosphere of a party. A number of my parent’s close friends gathered to laugh, tell stories, tease each other, share pictures, plan for the future, and enjoy themselves. My mom was all dressed up, wearing makeup, fully engaging with her friends — every inch the Peggy Stansell she’s always been. She laughed, talked, and wore a peaceful smile the entire weekend. My father and I agree that she was having fun, and dare we say it, she was happy.

Monday evening after a full day of live music she went happily to sleep and has not woken.

It is only in my parent’s house that the grief hits me. It is impossible to separate the house from her spirit, and that’s when I cry because she is not coming back.

In this place between life and death there is work to be done, there’s a life to birth out of this world. So, I got up this morning put on a bright yellow dress, clasped my mother’s butterfly necklace around my neck in anticipation of resurrection, and came back to work.


44 thoughts on “The Place Between Life and Death

  1. Neely, this must be so hard, but you all seem to be handling it with such grace. And what a wonderful weekend she had; just what she would have wanted. We wish for you comfort and peace.

  2. As a nurse I have had the privilege to be with families as their loved one leaves this world. I think it is a very spiritual time and my goal has always been to make it as comfortable as possible for all involved. Please do allow yourself to grieve and be gentle with yourself. Praying for you and your family at this difficult time.

  3. Neely, I love you. Your bravery, strength and faith through this time is a testament to your dear mother. Peace be with you during this time and always.

  4. Dear Neely,
    Peggy’s journey to death is, indeed, how she lived her life, with grace and dignity. I will always be deeply grateful for the love and hospitality she shared with me.
    You all continue to be held closely,

  5. Capturing what you are going through is like trying to grab a butterfly out of the sky. The butterfly lit on your arm, however, and you were a good steward of the gift: you shared it with us with you good words, your fine writing, your aching heart. Many, many thanks. Peace to you all…

  6. Yes, hospitality. You said it so well, Neely. I/we are thinking of you and Skip and are so glad to have seen you recently.

  7. Found your blog via a FB “share” … thanks for sharing your gifted ability to speak deep truths clearly — and blessings to you and your family in this time of both transition and grief.

    • Neely, Your mother is so proud of you right now. She is watching you lovingly and with an appreciative heart. Give Skip a huge hug for us and may God grant you both peace.

  8. What a gift your words are to all of us. Your ability to articulate the worldview your parents have helped you define is truly a testimony to her greatest passion – her family. Lots and lots of love and hugs coming via cyberspace to all of you,

  9. Thank you, Neely, for sharing this beautifully written tribute to your mom. She is indeed filled with grace and hospitality. I love you and your whole family so much. May the peace of Christ be with you all during this between time.

  10. The place between life and death grants us many gifts…closure being only one of them. The one gift above all others is love and it sounds like your family had plenty of that gift to go around! God bless you and your family during this time of transition.

  11. Such beautiful thoughts expressing the peace and love of and for your mother. She is a beautiful person and has passed that on to you.

  12. You are a profound poet, Neely. I am an old friend of your Mom and Dad’s. I have followed your Mom’s journey with prayers and hopes. Now I send my love and comfort to you, your Dad, and all who love Peggy. The Lord be with you all!. Gene Lassiter, Spartanburg

  13. Neely, This blog means more to me than you might realize. It connects me to the experience you and your Dad are having with your Mom, but it also takes me back to February when my Dad was birthed out of this world. I understand everything you are going through. Please tell your Dad I am praying for all of you.

    • And the Jones family is praying for all of you!! Please tell your sweet daddy that Valerie and Les send their love.

  14. Neely,
    Our heart is with you and family. Have so many good memories of your mother. I am missing her right now but look forward to seeing her again. Much love, Hen and Howard

  15. Neely, I work at a Hospice and what you are experiencing is what I share with our volunteers….that death is really a birth…and any of us that are blessed to experience this are surely on sacred ground. God bless you, your mother, your father, family and friends!! Joy

  16. Hi Neely,

    I have just read your blog the place between life and death and could totally relate to you, your words and experience. Your words took me back to my mothers passing and birthing (love how you say that) and it was during that time that it struck me so clearly that there is no death…only life! And my mum also said that we die as we have lived and i to got to witness this and she let go in a very very peaceful and graceful moving onto her next embodyment….it was a beautiful process….not easy for me but still i could appreciate that this was her journey and she went willingly and with a full heart. I felt i had been gifted in ways not anticipated. I knew at the deepest part of me that the only thing left is truth….the truth of love.

    Thank you for writing it and sharing. I for one, appreciate your words…your experience and your sharing.

    with a tender heart, i thank you.


  17. What a beautiful testimony to Peggy’s life!. Neely you are one very special young woman and your parents have every right to be so very proud. Your writings will be remembered by many, many folks! Thank you for including us in your journey. Much love.

  18. Oh Neely, I just read your beautiful words of your Mom’s birth. I just wish that I had been among those friends last weekend!!!! My heart grieves here in Lancaster and I feel so useless!!!!! You are a wonderful daughter and are doing what is necessary. You will have your emotional breakdown later but are doing what you have to do now. Hugs to you and your Dad!!


  19. Your words take me back to the death of my father – also from that dreaded cancer disease. It is a hard wait and when death comes you feel a release, a freedom, and an overwhelming sadness all at the same time. Jim and I are crying with you and praying for you. Love to your dad.

  20. Evelyn and I cherish the time with your Mom on Saturday. She and I (Glenn) had a good time remembering our times of doing Puppets with pencils. She was always so creative and I learned so much from her. We also appreciate the time of being there with all of the Camp Calvin family. Our special love to you, Skip, Dave and Sophia

  21. You are fortunate to have this sweet time with your Mom. It will sustain you for years to come. Knowing Pegg ywas a glimpse of how life should be lived. No matter the stress she handled it with grace and dignity. You are definitely her daughter. Thank you Neely for putting this tender time in ones life into words.

  22. Neely, I don’t really know you – not well anyway. But I am friends with the Akins and know a good deal about you and your family. This is a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it with us. You, your family, and your mom are in my prayers. Peace be with you all.

  23. Your words and your heart have me in awe. Seeing the community of faith, with old friends surrounding you makes me love this Body so much more. Thank you for the witness.

  24. Love to you and your family. Hope your dad is doing all right. Your mom was such a wonderful, caring woman. I had a good morning with my mom right before she went into that coma like state. we laughed and told old stories, while she told me about the folks she was “seeing” right in front of her – the ones who had already gone ahead and were already in God’s arms. She died several days later, peacefully. Your mom will be missed.

  25. Neely,
    Thank you for sharing your profound perspectives on being born, living, and dying. You are a very wise person. I know your Mom is very proud. Your Dad, your Mom, and you and your family are in our prayers. Thank God for the magnificent gift of Peggy to so many.

  26. Dear Neely –
    I don’t know how you do it but I am grateful you do. And feel closer for these posts. Our families are more special and precious than should be allowed!! How did we get so lucky to have such amazing parents and in my case siblings? Lot’s of love. Lee Ann

  27. Neely, I only met your parents when they moved to Black Mountain so don’t know them as well as I wish.
    I’ve never been one to pray according to the guidelines I grew up with and don’t know what I think about prayer’s power. Yet at times like this I feel compelled to lift up your mother, father, you and your family to a higher power. So I’ll say, I’m praying for you all. Please pass this on to your dad.
    Nancy Poling

  28. Thank you for sharing – I went through hospice with my grandmother several years back and had the privilege of being with her when she died. Katy German is my friend and shared this with me. All the best to you, your mother and whole family. Susan

  29. My 21 year old grandson was killed in 2011 at work. He was an electrician and that terrified me. Each time he left my house I’d say “if anything happened to you it would be the end of me.” When the call came that morning I rushed to the hospital half dressed. I made them let me see him. When I wrapped my arms around him I could feel his soul. I’d heard that the hearing was the last to go so I held him close and started singing songs he liked when he was little. Then I heard that “little voice” telling me that was not what he needed from me. I knew why he hung on until I came. I remembered what I had said to him. I kissed his cheek, that I loved him more than life itself and would miss him more than he could imagine. Then I told him that I would be fine and it was okay for him to go home. I felt his whole body relax and he was at peace knowing he didnt have to worry about me. When I had to let go of him he had the most beautiful smile on his face. I knew he was seeing heaven. I didn’t intend to get s long-winded but nobody believes me when I tell them what happened. I can’t convince them that when people die they don’t just suddenly keel over.

  30. Neely, may the Lord sustain you in the coming months. Hospice was with us step-by-step as we saw first our mother and then four months later our dad fly home to Jesus. It’s been over a year since we lost our dad, but I will forever be grateful for the experience of being with them as they went on to a larger life in Christ. Thanks for sharing

  31. Neely:

    I am so inspired by your blogs, but this one touches me deeply. Your mom has lived a life of faith and has lived it well. You are now helping her die well. I am praying for strength for you and your family during this difficult time. Thank you for sharing such an intimate aspect of your life. May you feel a strong sense of God’s presence each day of this journey.

  32. Neely you are a great inspiration and a strong person I know that this strength will carry
    you through this time.We think of you skip sophia and dave and love all of you very much
    uncle Jack & Aunt Janelle

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