The Transition

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Aaron Burden

By Mary Boutieller

Like a beautiful maple—from small bud to big green leaf—to shades of yellow and red—the passing of a loved one can reflect this spectacular transition.

I am writing this article when my heart is heavy. I know I could put off writing it, but feel somehow compelled to put my thoughts down on “paper.” This past week, my dear stepfather passed away. I had gotten very close to him over the years since my mom passed away, and I am riding the waves of up and down emotions—my brain processing it one way and my heart another.

I spent most of the last two months at his side, keeping him company and talking about nothing in particular; and now I marvel at the lessons he taught me—about life, about compassion, about staying in it when your impulse is to give up.

One of the beautiful lessons I received during this process was to accept what is, not what I wanted it to be. This was very challenging for me. I wanted to feed him when he didn’t want to eat. I wanted to draw out some profound life lesson when he really wanted to watch television or just rest. I had to accept his truth and his journey. In many ways, he was a simple, uncomplicated man living his life, even as it was drawing to an end.

I learned that I had to let go—really let go. I am a fixer, and 22 years as a paramedic made it even harder to not try to fix him. There was no fixing, but the urge to “do something more” was almost overwhelming. To sit by his side, to get him a cool drink or make him comfortable, that was all I could really do. And I had to learn (again) that not everything has to be fixed. Some things are perfect and purposeful just the way they are.

I also had to fight the urge to bring him to someone/someplace else with more expertise—a hospital, a doctor, etc. This urge came from my fears—that I didn’t know enough, that someone else might do a better job, that this was too hard for me, that death is a scary thing to watch and accept and be okay with. In this country, we have “medicalized” the process of dying so much that somehow the controlled environment of the hospital seems easier/better than the comfort of home. Yet I knew better. I knew in my heart that he was where he wanted to be, and that the process of dying was natural, and that it was me who was uncomfortable, not him.

There were so many more lessons—about impermanence, about love, about sacrifice, about acceptance; lessons that ran through me as I went through this process with him. I’m sure more will surface in the days to come. I gained a new respect and admiration for all the caretakers and loved ones and friends who stand by and bear witness to the process of illness and death. I fell in love with the staff at Hospice who came to my aid over and over again. I appreciated, as always, my husband, my sister and the rest of my family for standing by me, helping where they could, and allowing me to put everything else on hold so that I could do what I had to do.

I was reminded once again of the invaluable lesson of simple kindnesses—the many hugs, the waffles, the pants hemmed, the breakfasts shared, the chores done, the space and understanding to be in it, the unspoken words, the sweet little things that somehow made it all a little bit easier.

And lest you think this is all rather depressing and sad, I want to say that it was also a very powerful time for me. To have this opportunity, to not push it away, showed me some things about myself. It demanded that I sit and contemplate all of my emotions and thoughts and desires and, through it, I feel like I am a better person. Life is really pretty amazing.

I am reminded of the image of a beautiful maple tree—from small bud to big green leaf—to shades of yellow and red as it begins its release from the tree back to the earth. It is in transition and it’s pretty spectacular. So are we.

So, with an open heart, I am grateful to my stepdad for the lessons he taught me. May they remind me to spread kindness, to let go of grievances, and to remain willing to experience this life one phenomenal day at a time.

Mary Boutieller is a Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance. She has been teaching yoga since 2005. Her work experience includes 22 years as a firefighter/paramedic and 10 years as a Licensed Massage Therapist. Mary’s
knowledge and experience give her a well-rounded understanding of anatomy, alignment, health and movement in the body. She is passionate about the benefits of yoga and the ability to heal at all levels through awareness, compassion, and a willingness to explore. She can be reached at:

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