My mother’s deathbed: an initiation!

Ingrid Schmithüsen
4 min readFeb 14, 2022

Gremlin is present everywhere at any time without exception, also at my mother’s deathbed.

Forty four hours before my mother passes away, I arrive at the hospital. I find her strong, radiant, serene and ready. I am surprised to notice that my Gremlin feels deceived. He captures, in a fraction of a second, that he can neither play the hero, nor be the messenger of wisdom and calm. His imagined scenarios won’t be possible. He is angry about that. I notice my Gremlin’s anger several times that day as unease, restlessness and lack of focus in my mental and physical body. Each time, I raise my conscious anger to keep the leash very short, saying firmly, “Sit!”

During the night watch with two of my siblings, my Gremlin can’t stand the silence and tries to make conversation. This surprises me because I carry a self-image of being comfortable with silence. Again, I keep saying “Sit” several times. He continues by judging the situation as useless and a waste of time because of my mother’s agony. I raise my anger to reframe him strictly.

By the time my other siblings replace us in the morning, my Gremlin has already created a story that my mother’s state will continue. So he is really surprised when my brother calls three hours later to tell us that my mother has crossed the threshold. My Gremlin is disappointed because he hoped to be decorated as the preferred and closest to my mother and this meant for him that she would die in my presence.

All of this enervates my Gremlin and his intentions become visible to me as never before. He doesn’t like that at all. He had hoped to be able to keep the hidden part from being seen. But the expectation and, at the same time, the unpredictability of death keeps the vigilance of my adult very high, and I catch my Gremlin earlier than ever before. My adult feels joy about that, and also sadness about being blind to this Gremlin behavior for such a long time.

The next surprise is to feel Gremlin joy the moment my mother dies. My Gremlin triumphs and anticipates that he will regain his force and influence on me. Instantly, he starts planning PM meetings and thinking about office responsibilities in order to get back a feeling of importance. Again, he is surprised that my adult catches him with strictness and a sort of curious clarity.

I spend now much time with my siblings to organize the funeral. My Gremlin is very easily triggered by my siblings and especially by their Gremlin behavior. He had been used to winning Gremlin encounters in earlier times by exerting the authority of being the eldest. And now he feels like he is losing every fight. He becomes agitated, impatient and falls into a bad mood. Yet, through the sharp attention of this exceptional situation, my adult is able to just notice.

The first evening after my mother’s death, we are in a restaurant. My youngest brother Ulrich says : “May I say something which might disturb you all? Can we just speak a little bit more calm and with more mutual attention please?” My Gremlin flips out. How come my youngest brother speaks like this? That is my role as the eldest. I need to speak like that, to be wise, to take everything in consideration, to temper, to create community. My Gremlin is frantic with jealousy. It hurts. I can’t look into my brother’s eyes. I decontaminate unremarkably behind my other brother, several times. And after maybe 5 minutes or more, I am able to look at Ulrich and to thank him, even though I am still shocked.

The feeling of jealousy is totally new for me. My adult starts to have a closer look and I give my Gremlin the task of catching jealousy impulses. He likes that job and, yes, there are many. Those impulses are connected to the benefits of the role of the eldest.

I decide to use the presence of all my six younger siblings to do a sort of eldest sister graduation. Consciously I resist my habitual impulses to speak, to resume conversations, to create harmony, to not feel my feelings in the presence of my siblings. I do things which my box judges as selfish, such as not cooking. I don’t serve food, I don’t run the dishwasher, I don’t clean even when my two sisters clean around me. I stop pretending. I look bad. I feel liquid and vulnerable through that practice. I stay closer to my truth: I don’t want to be an eldest any more. ECCO helps me too. I get sick. I let my siblings take care of me.

I accept one exception when the question arises of who would speak during the funeral. None of my siblings want to do it, yet I feel a clear call to do it without knowing what I will say. The next day, I know that I will speak about my mother’s dying process. The text comes fluently to me and naturally from a space which embraces everybody who will be there. On the funeral day, I feel nervous. I have the possibilitator stone in my shoe in order to stay conscious. I use my fear and my Gremlin to let my words land. Clarity and love emerge in the space. Then, the recorded choir music, including my mother’s voice offers grieving and beauty. I am glad.

Not even three weeks have passed, and all this happened. I almost can’t believe it. I feel different. My mother’s dying process gave me the chance of shedding an old identity, and offered me a new tool on my belt of things: a loop and also a sharpened sword of clarity in my hands. I feel gratitude.