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Five Years ago--my mother is dying

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I always thought that there would be a simple undramatic ending. We would all get older and a bit wiser and with old age would come a sort of natural anaesthetic which would dull the aches and pains of contumely. Things would become smoother and the dramas would revolve around idle scenes--what to eat and what to wear and desire would have no keenness. You’d dream of a good night’s sleep or a day without a headache the way young people dream of passion and conquest.

I see my mother stretched out on her bed at the end. Nobody cared; when I came in I had them move her to a private hospice room where she would not have to hear her roommate shout out readings from the Bible and other exhortations. She wanted my mother to arise and cut a caper, evidently. And then I held her hand and talked. It seemed as if she heard. She smiled a couple of times and she rooted for the straw when I held up her water and sucked fervently.

Nobody else paid much attention to her. My sisters sat across the room (and we are now speaking of a big room---not a hospital room but something more like a hotel room with an extra twin bed and lots of chairs and a television and DVD player and CD player—I suppose in case you want to die watching a DVD.

I was there for my father too. Dying is not easy work. You don’t simply lie there and wait to be embraced out of nature but you choke, you have fever, your breathing is stertorous and labored. Your fingers look for something to pluck. Your dreams are further constained: perhaps you long for an easy breath or a nice sound. I didn’t know what my mother wanted but it seemed that she liked the sound of voices.

It was far across the room and my sisters were murmuring together about their wonderful sons—Greek Gods. Which is smarter? Which is taller? Which is fleeter of foot? And I felt resentment because I truly sensed that the far off murmuring of incomprehensible words was not what my mother was there for. I believed that she wanted to hear up close and clearly words—her name, a reference to the Buddha; poems. I kept on saying her name and reading poetry out loud and reading Buddhist mediations.

I like to think that she heard me or if she did not really hear me that she sensed a voice focused on her; directed to her; a voice concerned about easing her dying if at all possible. Why is it that so many different people in so many different places say that you should speak to the dying? That their sense of hearing is the last to go? She would sometimes smile at the end of a poem or the beginning of a familiar one. Finally, I know she heard me.

My mother was in a very different place than my father at the end. He was evidently dead; breathing through the auspices of a respirator—no movement, no plucking, no lifting up his lips for something….she was clearly wandering between two worlds—the world of the sentient and the world of the final destination—sheer oblivion and nothingness. I could not wander with her, but I held her hand.

Thank you to all who responded; my sisters did they best they knew how to do in the circumstances.
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  • no profile photo CD13425678
    You have given me a gift here. When it is my turn to sit by my mother I will remember what you have shared, and try to do as well by my mother as you did by yours. Thank you.
    2888 days ago
    So lovely, and heartbreaking. Thank you.
    2888 days ago
    So many thoughts are swirling in response, some directly related, others tangential. Our understanding of death, our incomprehension, the sense we make of it, the subsequent thoughts, observations, events that make us doubt the sense we'd made. What to do, how to behave, what to say. It comes down to acting on what we believe is right at any moment. When others' conduct strikes us as bizarre, it's okay. It has nothing to do with us. They, like us, are doing the best they can with what they're made of. Too bad it isn't always easy to look the other way.

    2888 days ago
    I'm sure she heard you and felt your presence.
    I talked and sang to my mother too...there were definite signs of her mental and spiritual presence even though she was in a septic coma.
    At least your sisters were in the room. One of my mother's sisters never came to see her at all, because she was afraid that she (the sister) would "be upset."
    Thank you for sharing this.

    2888 days ago
    poetry and buddhism - hope I have someone like you when I am dying. When I was 13 we all woke up with my father's tortured breath so well described by you. He had been sick for a long time. No one needed to tell any of us children that he was now dying. The other day, about forty years later, my mother, who is 86 and has worked in hospital or volunteered for hospice for most of her life, phoned me after she had taken a friend to a hospital and happened to be there when her friend's husband finally died. It may seem odd, she said between tears, but in among all the sadness and the pain, I feel so so privileged every time I witness someone dying. There is something so special about being there and sharing in this - just as there is in being there when a baby is born.
    2889 days ago
  • no profile photo CD12935469
    I fervently hope that when I die I am attended by someone as thoughtful and kind as you. Warmest regards.
    2890 days ago
    The anniversary of my mother's death is always so difficult for me. I, too, think back to her final hours and how hard it was for her to let go.

    I hope it has helped you to write about your mother's passing. I have written several poems about my mother's nightgowns and it seems to help me grieve.

    I'm sure your mother heard you speaking to her and knew you were there with her. That had to be a great comfort to her at the end.

    2890 days ago
    Great blog and similar circumstances for me with my parent's passing. My only sister (only sibling too) would not be there for mom's passing. And not sure what mom knew with her alzheimers but do know when I held her and told her it was ok to leave and that I loved her and she could now leave, she didn't last long after that. It was like she needed someone to tell her good bye and hug her one last time. Thanks for sharing this.
    2891 days ago
    Beautifully written!
    2891 days ago
    You did the right thing, by talking and comforting your Mother !! You're a good daughter.
    2891 days ago
  • INSH8P
    I am reading your blog posts for the first time. Yes, it is a difficult subject, and it certainly can't be easy when observing the responses of siblings to the death process. While in sympathy for your loss, I thank you for your thoughtful written expression.
    2891 days ago
    Hugs sweety. I am thinking of you constantly and sending all my positive vibes.
    2891 days ago
  • no profile photo CD13629552
    Unfortunately many people are afraid to attend to death; they are afraid to see it too closely - for fear of dealing with emotion, for fear of thinking too intimately about who they are without this person they are losing, for fear of thinking about their own mortality and the mortality of others they are afraid to lose. I think often that others who appear indifferent are not, really. They are just trying to wall themselves off. It is a shame that they cannot rise above their fear to attend to the most important person in the room at that time, who is the person caught in between worlds, as your mother was.

    Sometimes accepting the fear of others is part of the grieving and healing process.

    I knew a veteran who spent almost the entire time his wife was actively dying in the hall of the hospital because he was afraid to cry. Twenty years later we talked about it together. I brought up the subject carefully with his daughter, who was still angry at him for it - and we talked, too. Realizing that it was fear based in love, not absence due to indifference or sheer cowardice, made it easier for both of them to put the matter to rest.

    Have you ever talked to your sisters about this? They may feel as deeply ashamed as you feel bewildered and upset by their behavior.
    Perhaps reaching out gently might heal this rift.

    Meanwhile - you have written beautifully about the different experiences your parents had. It is true that very few people die easily. Only 10% die suddenly according to NorthWestern University's Hospice and Palliative care courses. The remainder of us need to plan for long term care and a slow decline in our loved ones.

    I am glad that you had the courage and the moral fortitude as well as the deep love to do what your mother needed to have done to help ease her passing.

    2891 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/25/2013 2:11:08 AM
  • LE7_1234
    2891 days ago
  • POPSY190
    I sat by both parents as they died and this brought back those feelings that are so hard to express. I have no siblings but have often seen instances where I didn't think I was deprived in that respect. The idyllic slipping away in one's sleep happens so infrequently; you convey the emotions of those difficult transitions from life to death poignantly. Thank you.
    2891 days ago
    What a beautiful poignant time that must have been. And how sad that your sisters treated it with such callousness. Hugs!!
    2892 days ago
  • no profile photo CD12805109
    Your Mother's interactions with you during her last hours were the most important. All else will float away without meaning.
    2892 days ago
  • no profile photo CD13664249
    Amazing and compassionate. Thank you.
    2892 days ago
  • no profile photo CD12648623
    Beautiful and heartbreaking.
    2892 days ago
  • WILDKAT781
    2892 days ago

    This was as painful as it was beautiful. I hope that my last moments can be accompanied by someone as thoughtful and loving as you.
    2892 days ago
    Yes, it was a little difficult to read as I think back when my mother was dying. Oh, how I miss her! emoticon
    2892 days ago
  • no profile photo CD13423281
    This was hard to read but I'm glad I did. hugs to you.
    2892 days ago
  • TREV1964
    You have a most wonderful understanding of this most difficult of subjects and your knowledge of this has been summed up most wonderfully in this very impressive article. We nurse life as it comes into this world and it is duly right that it should be nursed as it goes out pf this world too.

    You seem so sympathetic and so in tune here - it really is a joy to read despite the difficulty of this subject matter.

    Well done


    2892 days ago
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