I was with my mother when she died. Her eyes were open, her face was still, and although I was heartbroken at losing her I was thankful and honored to be with her for this passage.
That I could do this and feel this was the result of a gift my father and I had been given–the presence of a compassionate circle of people–some who had known my mother for a very long time, and some who had met her only weeks before.
At 92, my motherʼs death was not surprising nor unexpected, but lack of surprise is not a comfort and it doesnʼt make the dying any more peaceful. She had been in failing health for several years, and we had discussed the options for when she could no longer be at home. Yet her stoic acceptance of her diminishing abilities and her incredibly positive attitude kept us all from taking that final step from discussing to planning. After several hospital stays, followed by increasing weakness, disability, and pain, the decision was made to call on Hospice. And so, after her final hospital admission, following discussions between her, my dad, me, and the hospital social worker, she was discharged under Hospice care into a facility on Hospiceʼs approved list.
As it turned out, the facility was not actually experienced in caring for end of life patients. They were set up to care for long-term residents and rehab patients. The Hospice personnel had come, done their evaluation and left instructions, but the staff at the rehab facility was unprepared to follow these instructions. What followed was a distressing two days of frustrating and painful events where my mother was treated as though she could recover, and we were constantly trying to communicate our wishes to the rotating staff.
Although my mother was mentally acute, she was really too weak to advocate for herself so could not be left alone. We were becoming more and more anxious about what was happening. And, then the gift arrived. That small and caring group of friends and caregivers came together to support us all. Someone would be with my mother day and night, making sure she got the care she needed, that she did not get any treatment she did not need, and to let her know she was never alone. Included in this group was a woman who had experience in the dying process who could guide us along our way.
Itʼs kind of silly, really, how unprepared we are for this inevitable part of life. We know the trip is coming, but we neglect to pack or even get directions. Like me, we find ourselves in a clinical environment when thatʼs not where we need to be. Under stress our instinct is to fight or flee, and when one is useless and one is cruel, we need a better approach.
Our guide monitored my motherʼs condition and let us know what changes were coming, what they meant, and when they occurred. She helped us know what to do and when to do it. She watched for signs of distress and knew what to do if she sensed some change. She did this with calm and reassuring grace. It was in her hands that my motherʼs face was cradled at her passing. Because of this gift, my family was spared the panic and anxiety we would have experienced if we had gone through this alone or with the institutional staff going about their daily routines. My mother was not alone, she was surrounded by love, calmness and a sense of reverence for what was taking place. I am so grateful to have this final picture of the her, the woman who was so good to me and who I loved so much.
Andrea, a daughter.
I have attended many deaths. Some are peaceful and others are not. Some people turn to the spiritual and others do not. Death is as individual a process as all of life. As one of the “professionals” present I appreciate all the care and support for the families and the patient. My ministry is strengthened by a supportive team as well. When we can bring together the physical, emotional, and spiritual support the process becomes one that draws us to our best selves. When we can accompany the family, the patient and each other, the time together deepens our love for life. There is so much to learn – I have deep gratitude for a caring circle; for all involved.
Kimi, NWUU Church
I’m writing about my last days with Anne. She was my best friend for many years and we’ve shared everything with the knowledge that all would be confidential. We laughed and cried together and I knew that I wanted to be there for her and her family up to the end of her life. So many members of our church including our minister wanted to help and we were able to assure that someone would be with her at all times, even through the night. There were problems with the nursing home, but because someone was always there to monitor her care, the problems were nipped in the bud, and her pain medication was delivered on time. In the last weeks, I was there to fill in when others could not be there, and we talked, laughed and cried. She passed away peacefully with her loving family at her side. I miss her everyday but feel a sense of acceptance knowing how much love and care surrounded her and still surrounds her.
Norma, a friend, NWUU Church