“There is more to being human than meets the eye
We think we know who we are
But if we fix the image
We will never see our truth”

Edwin received the next message on his doorstep on a grey rainy English day that matched his mood.

In truth, he liked this sort of weather. It felt cozier than any summer’s day with a bright blue sky. A point he viewed with perplexed amusement.

In the light of being solo again, he had taken himself off to a meditation retreat where he had learnt some Tai Chi, practiced Zen meditation and enjoyed American Indian chanting as he had braved a hot sweat-lodge ceremony. A smorgasbord of hippy-ness that fitted his variable mood.

He had forgotten about the anonymous messages, despite the fact that it was they that had provided the original impetus to attend the retreat. Something very different for him that reflected a new found drive to better understand himself.

Two days later he received a call that his mother’s condition had deteriorated and that she was not likely to last the day. After some frenzied packing he drove to the home where she lived, reflecting gratefully that he was glad he had gone to see her more in the recent months.

When he arrived an attendant showed him to his mother’s room and commented that the day had been a difficult one for her. His mother had become unconscious and was having trouble with her breathing. Edwin’s heart went out to her because he knew her worst fear was of drowning and not being able to breathe. It was as if at the gate of death such fears had a life of their own and were purposely confronting her, attracted by such a weakness.

As he sat by the bed his mother, seemingly sensing a change, became more panicked, grasping at her breath as though clinging to the last straw of life. It was then that he received as a gift – he could think of no other word for it – an intuition that he should sing to her. And so he began a chant that he had learnt on the retreat – pitching his voice soft and low, timing his chanting to match the rhythm of her breathing.

It was if a switch had been thrown, providing a light in the darkness. She immediately relaxed and began to breathe calmly as he kept up his chanting. He brushed a stray hair back from her forehead, feeling the wonder of how life changed and how it was that the child became the comforter to the parent.

It was only a short time later that, as if his mother had been waiting all day for him to arrive, her breathing slowly became more shallow and reduced. As he carried on chanting her breaths became less frequent and finally…



He carried on chanting for a few minutes more – rather for himself than for his mother.

When he stopped, his tears came – quietly – matching the peace of her death. They were not angry or upset tears but rather – fulfilled – rightfully placed.

After seeing to the details he walked back to the car feeling somehow more whole, as though this was a moment he had been meant for, a seminal point in his life. He had carried his mother over a threshold, gently and lovingly laying her soul to rest in a safe place where he knew that whatever followed, it would be right for her.

Despite all his shortcomings and self-doubts this was one thing he knew he had done well.

© Charles Tolman 2016.

One thought on “BOUNDARY STORIES 8: By Chants

  1. The 90-some year old mother (dementia for the last few years) of a close friend died a few days ago, opening her eyes briefly and breathing her last breath soon after those assembled started singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

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