My mother died one year ago today. I was there. So was my daughter.
I am not a philosophical person – I’m no deep thinker. As my mother grew weaker from her degenerative illness, I wanted to know facts. What other symptoms of the disease were coming? What could we do to improve the quality of her life? What medications might help?
As it is for so many people suffering from neurological conditions at the end of life, the final symptom was the inability to swallow. I watched as we changed her diet, the mushy foods she could eat and the thickened liquids, and thought about how many wonderful meals we had together. How she enjoyed eating, but most of all fixing food for her family, the focus of her life. Too soon came the inevitable, swallowing was so ineffective that it posed a danger of pneumonia. Food by mouth would have to stop, and knowing she did not want a feeding tube, I looked again for facts. How long could a person live without eating? How do you know a person is close to death?
Mom went on hospice, and our family held vigil. She died within 24 hours. She was adored. Her children gathered; her grandchildren gathered. The illness took her ability to speak months earlier, but she was alert, and she held our hands. Night came, and I stayed with her. My daughter insisted on staying as well. I knew she wanted to be with her beloved Gran, but more than that I knew she wanted to support me.
As morning broke, Mom’s breathing changed, and I felt that death was near. With me on one side, and my daughter on her other, my mother died. The intensity of this moment will stay with me forever. The look of tearful disbelief in my daughter Rose’s eyes. Shelby gave birth to me, I gave birth to Rose, and now we were in the presence of death. This tiny, and yet larger-than-life person, my mother, who dedicated so much of her life to me and my children was gone. As we held vigil, I recalled near death stories about people hovering above themselves and seeing themselves on a surgical table. In the moment I wondered – can my mother see my daughter and me clutching and clinging to one another? If so, I knew it would give her comfort to know we were there for each other.
This morning my sister sent us a message that she is grateful for her family, which was our mother’s great legacy. It’s the great legacy of so many mothers. Today I wear my mother’s grandmother bracelet, and I think about my sweet Mom and also my sweet Rose.