What I learned from my mother in the last weeks of her life.
My mother died in July last year. I spent the last few weeks of her life with her every day. She knew she was about to die and what’s more she was looking forward to the journey. A couple of months off her 90th birthday, she’d had enough of the medical efforts that were needed to keep her alive and she believed that there was a new adventure waiting for her. As she said a few times to me: “I have packed my backpack, it’s sitting near the front door, all that remains is for me to take off this coat I’m still wearing and then I’m off”.
The last weeks of our lives together were incredible. Many people have come up to me since her death and wished me strength and love in these tough times and offered me their shoulders to cry on. And it’s lovely that people have, but I wish I could explain to them how I don’t feel the need for sympathy. I actually feel relieved, content, satisfied and lucky, grateful even.
It’s not that I didn’t love my mother, and that I’m glad she’s gone, far from it, we were very close. No doubt I’ll miss her in the coming years, probably for the rest of my life. I feel emotional from time to time, I feel sad sometimes, and confused maybe, unsure what’s going on, all of that, but none of the emotions I feel are negative.
Nor were the last stages of my mother’s life easy, not at all. There was pain and suffering and in the end my mother died from suffocation. I can assure you there’s nothing fun in that.
But it was all good and it still is.
It’s a cliché and it nevertheless bears repeating: We are all going to die.
None of us can avoid it.
And that fact is neither good nor bad, it simply is.
Yet we spend so much of our lives pretending that this fact relates to other people, not us.
We avoid thinking about death and dying and we don’t plan for it and we don’t talk about it and we don’t let the fact of our death and the process of our dying interfere with the pursuits of our lives and our bucket list.
Let’s Organise a Death Shower
And then when it does happen to us, we act as if we never saw it coming. We spend 9 months or more preparing for the arrival of a baby, from organizing support during and after the birth, to organizing our work life, to getting the baby’s room ready. How about holding a “Death Shower” to balance out the saccharine sweetness of the “Baby Shower”?
I am in awe of how my mother prepared and planned for her death. Not just in the last few weeks, but over the past 30 years. She looked the facts of life right in the eye and didn’t shy away from them. Her greatest fear was that she’d end up in a hospital bed in a nursing home. And she realised that to avoid the nursing home, she’d need to organise her life differently.
Getting involved in the community
She set about doing exactly that. She sold the house she’d lived in since 1957 and found a house that she’d be able to manage when becoming increasingly decrepit. She also got involved in local neighborhood services and volunteered in the community. Part of her motivation for doing so was to be well connected when the time came for her to need that community herself.
She did these things and various others and she was very clear and open about them. For her it was all part of the process.
And the thing is, she succeeded. She died in July in her own cozy home, looking at her beloved garden, cared for by her local community and with the people that mattered most to her around her.
And she was content, and she felt good and so did we all.
Pain and suffering is part of the process.
It was a truly special experience for me. I actually have a lump in my throat as I write this, not because of any negative sense of sadness, rather because of the beauty of it.
We are all going to die, and pain and suffering will probably be part of the process. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. The GP who looked after my mother said at some point in one of our conversations: “You know I often think that we get too fixated about wanting to avoid suffering at the end of life. There is a lot of pain and suffering in child birth and maybe at the other end, it is also rightly part of the process”.
I’m not sure of course, one death hardly makes me an expert. What I do know is that the process of growing old and dying fully scares the Living Daylights out of me, but I am nevertheless going to face the facts of life and think, plan and talk about my death.
Just like my mother did.
#Death #Dying #LifeAndDeath