Life (Part 2)
Are You Ageist?

A Good Death

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If by the time we reach our 50s or 60s, we have not buried a parent, we will. And when we do, in addition to our grief and in addition to the shock sometimes of becoming the oldest generation, it speaks also to our own mortality. The death of a parent is one of the great passages of life.

It is a blessing when there can be a "good death" whatever one's definition of that may be. In my case, caring for my mother during the last months of her life remains the most profound experience of my life; 15 years later, nothing has yet matched it. A blogger who I've known since my earliest days of blogging, Jill Fallon of Legacy Matters and The Business of Life, recently traversed this milestone and has written eloquently about it in three parts. Below is part one, My Mother is Dying. There are links to parts two and three at the bottom of this story. I urge you to read them all.]

This is a hard post to write because the words themselves have a certain finality that's not here yet. My 85-year-old mother last fall had abdominal pains that, after a visit to the emergency room and a CAT scan, turned out to be colon cancer. Surgery followed a couple of days later and we were encouraged to think that the tumor blocking her colon had been completely excised and her colon stitched back together.

Recovery was slow but seemed complete and while she had lost lots of weight despite my cooking, she was back bopping around in her sports car. About a month ago, she began having abdominal pains again. It was the cancer back. She doesn't want chemotherapy at her age which seems to me to be quite sensible, so the focus has been on reducing her pain.

My sister Colleen is a nurse and immediately took medical leave from her job to come out for the duration which she counts as a privilege and a blessing to be able to do since her two daughters, my nieces Jessica and Chrissy are away from home, in college. My brother Kevin, his wife Melinda and two daughters, Taylor and Lucy, live in the same town as my mother as do I just two blocks away. For Mother's Day, Colly's husband Robin came, brother Billy came from Switzerland and brother Robby and his wife Jennifer with their two baby girls, 21/2 and 4 months, Zoe and Adia from California.

We all had a lovely time, my mother included, playing with the babies and looking at old family and childhood photos, about 1200 of them that I had digitized so every one could have a copy and telling stories. Now numbering about 16, we had a delicious Mother's Day lunch at a local restaurant.

In many ways we are very blessed. Mom -we call her Ruth - is completely herself, if much frailer and more tired. She laughs, makes jokes, gives orders, goes through her mail, makes calls, gets her hair done, and is forever putting Vinny her beloved Jack Russell terrier out when he's in and bringing him in when he's out and making sure he gets all three of his dinners. She carried long term care insurance for in-home care because she hates being in the hospital even though she too is a nurse and never wanted to go into a nursing home. Now the benefits are apparent because she's home where she wants to be and Colly is even being paid, making up for some of her lost income. Colly got a new MacBook, put in wireless, got a new bike and is testing some of Ruth's best, baking recipes and I'm going to make a book out if it.

We have an elevator in the house which my parents put in about 15 years ago when my sister Debby, wheel-chair bound with multiple sclerosis, was living at home. So Mom still uses her bedroom and bath but can come down easily to the kitchen, the living room, office and yard during the day. Heat gives her the most tactile relief for her abdominal pains so she sits with a heating pad at her back, holding a hot water bottle against her stomach, a heat sandwich.

Two weeks later it's a different story. Hospice has started and they have been wonderful, delivering my mother's exponentially increasing pain medications, an assigned nurse, Peggy, who visits several times a week to check on her status and making sure we have everything we need. Since Ruth was only eating about 300-500 calories a day, she was becoming even thinner although her pain does seem to be under control.

"Two to four weeks" we were told in one of Colleen's daily emails to all concerned. In just a few days, Robby was back from the West Coast, Billy from Geneva, and Julie, my youngest sister, due in Tuesday.

Her affairs and finances are all in order so there's nothing to be done there. My mother is enjoying lots of visitors, family and friends alike, basking in all the love and banter, sometimes glowing. The weather is beautiful. My brothers have found projects to do around the house and yard. Patty, Colleen's dear friend from Florida is visiting for week and cleaning up gardens, planting the window boxes, and impatiens in every corner. We all eat dinner together that one of us makes or takeout and we have cases of beer in the garage so we'll never run out. These are wonderful times for the family. The loss will come soon enough.

This is the way to go, a vigorous old age and a fast decline, at home surrounded by family and people who love you.

My Mother is Dying
A Beautiful Death
Eulogy For My Mother

[Today at The Elder Storytelling Place Ronni Prior has a funny story you'll enjoy titled Community Theater.]

Comments

Thank you, Jill, for sharing your beautiful story and the eulogy to your mother with us. I made the mistake of reading it at work, for I cried so much that my eyes are red and puffy. Fortunately, I have an office to myself, so I will continue to sit here until my emotions calm down.

My father died one of those “lucky” deaths. He was living and celebrating life up until, unannounced, in an instant, his heart stopped beating, and then, in one breath of a moment, he was dead.

During those first months of grief, when I could only breathe the most sallowest of breaths, I was carried by my feeling of gratitude for a life he lived fully and his gentle death.

I saw these posts over on Jill's site. I think this is the best way to go. I think we would lose our fear of death if we knew we would go out this way.

Thank you for sharing this. I admire the resolve of both patient and loved ones that could bring about such a peaceful transition to what is inevitable and too often feared.

Ronni, I remember well your series of postings on your mom; it was a source of strength and inspiration to me at a needed time.

I had a very good friend who died from colon cancer in much the same way. Hospice was invaluable. I hope her passing is serene.

We should all be so fortunate to pass such as Ruth did.

Much grace, much love.

Yes, this is the way to go. If I don't die in my sleep (preferable) this is the way to go. Bless you all.

This is definitely the ideal way to depart life, especially to have so much family to be available to your mother and each other.

The process of parting with my own mother a few years ago involved some decision making that was among the hardest I ever had to make in my life. Unfortunately, we didn't have so much family and assistance available.

I am glad for your mother and all of you that you can be together, but sorry that you even have to have this experience.

Thank you Jill for sharing your beautiful mother with us. What a wonderful woman....in life, and in death. You ALL were very lucky. And thank you Ronni for the links to Jill's posts.

Thank you all for reading and commenting. Lilalila, I understand totally your feeling of "being carried" by feelings of gratitude and thanksgiving. A wonderful description of something just out of touch but that is very real.

Ann, I always used to think I wanted to die in my sleep, but now, I want the heightened awareness that comes with a fast decline.

May we all have such good deaths.

I have just finished reading all three entries by Jill Fallon and my first thought is, "All that we put into the lives of others comes back into our own." Ruth was obviously a good loving mother and raised her children to follow in her footsteps.

She was there for them in times of need and they were there for her in the end. Everyone would be lucky to have such a loving and caring family to make our journey out of this world easier.

My experience with my father in 2005 was similar, for which I am forever grateful. Caring for my mother during her last years, too, was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. It's encouraging to hear such stories as shared here -- thank you.

This was indeed, a very good death. And from the sounds of it, Ruth was quite a special person. She passed over surrounded by the love I'm sure that she herself radiated outward on earth.
Beautiful writing by Jill and I very much enjoyed reading all of it. Thank you for sharing it here with us.

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