Dying Is Just A Part Of Life
Before we get started, if you click that picture below, you’ll be taken to a memorial video I made of my darling parents, Joe and Gertie. They are forever missed and forever loved.
Note: this article was first penned in 2012. I’ve left it mostly intact with minor updates as needed.
I started my career as an internet writer when I was caregiving for my elderly Mom, Gertie, basically as something to do. Mom came to live with me the day after Dad died in 2007.
During the next 5 years until her own death at 95, I was privileged beyond belief to be my Mom’s caregiver. I kept her with me to the end – something I promised my Dad I would do as long as I was able to ensure her safety. And, due to her wonderful nature, I was.
Mom died in my arms, surrounded by those who best loved her. My eldest brother, Mike, flew in from Arizona for the month prior to Mom’s death to help me with her care. One of my BFFs Sharyn was on the other side of Mom’s bed, having come up the year before to help care for her.
I had an exquisite caregiver, Elizabeth, who was with us and, of course, there I was, holding her hand and telling her how loved she was.
So, when an internet writing site I was part of put out a call for articles taking us writers back to our beginnings, I knew I had to tell the tale of Mom’s death. The good, the bad, and the ugly will be recounted here, but I don’t mean to scare you if you’re in the same boat.
In fact, I hope to recount for you the gentle way my Mom slipped away to join the only man she’d ever loved along with my sister who died in 1989 at the young age of 36.
Also gone and never forgotten was my Dad’s elder sister, my Aunt Gertie, who, although she was only in my life 18 years made an impact that was so grand I think about her every single day.
In this article, I’ll point you to some of my early writings, including one of my most popular articles When Death Looms – The Signs and Symptoms of Death. I wrote that article because I was scared of what we were facing – Mom was 92 at that point and in the hospital fighting pneumonia.
The Impetus For This Article Was Lying In a Hospital Bed, Fighting Pneumonia – And, I Was Scared….
The physician in the emergency room took us aside and said Mom had about a 40% chance of making it through the night. It was this exact night, as I sat beside her hospital bed, that I started researching death as I was frightened. I just needed to know what was coming.
During that long night, I took every opportunity to read up on death and dying and made the article in the hopes of helping others who followed in my path. Please read it if you’re frightened of the process of death. My hopes are that it may comfort you.
As an interesting side note, the physician walked into Mom’s hospital room the next morning at 6 am and couldn’t believe that she was there, sitting in a chair, drinking her morning cup of coffee. He was astounded. She put out her hand and said ‘thank you.’ The doctor had tears in his eyes as he thanked her back.
So, dear reader, come along with me and see the journey that Mom and I started in 2007 and ended peaceably and gently on February 15, 2012.
Dad’s Death And Our New Beginning
I’ll never forget the phone call I received at 10 pm on April 5, 2011. My much-cherished father was being rushed to the hospital in Phoenix, Arizona in cardiac arrest.
Now, it may not be a surprise to most people who have an 89-year-old father but, for me, it was a total ‘WHAT?!!’ After all, my cousins had just been visiting that evening and, at 9 pm, my Dad had even gotten up and gone to his study to bring them a map of Arizona for their travels.
I had just been in Phoenix 3 weeks prior to take the folks up to Laughlin for their gambling fix. How was it possible that he was gone?!
In looking back, and, in my humble opinion, my Dad won the game of life. He was fine, he went to the hospital and died just one hour later. Poof. Gone.
Of course, Dad’s death left all of us in a lurch as it was totally unexpected – well, as unexpected as a man who was 89 and died can be.
I asked the nurse if I could talk to my Mom who was there in the waiting room, along with her brother who had rushed to her side. My own brother was en route from Tucson to Phoenix where he would comfort Mom throughout the night.
She Said “These Things Happen”
My Mom was as wise a woman and as strong a woman as I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
As the hospital nurse handed Mom the phone, I was crying on the other end.
I’ll never forget the words and the strength in her voice as she said, ‘Lori, these things happen.’
It was that very moment that my Mom and my wondrous journey on our own started – a journey that would signal the start of the most important years of my life.
And, those words – ‘These things happen’ – would go on to guide my view on death (and life) forevermore.
Books On Death And Dying
I didn’t really buy a lot if books on death and dying when I was caring for Mom; I sort of ran by the seat of my pants instead. However, I don’t suggest that everyone do this as I had some wonderful supportive caregivers who really knew what they were doing.
Here’s some highly rated books on death and dying on Amazon.com.
HereOn Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own FamiliesBeing Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the EndDying Well: Peace and Possibilities at the End of LifeFinal Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and CoBeing with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death
Daily Life With Mom Starts
So, the day after Dad died in Arizona, Mom was back with me in Maryland, trying to adjust to our new life. To be sure, it was rough for a while as we were both in the throes of grief.
There was really nothing I could do to soothe the ache in her heart except be there – and, to her credit, I believe she thought the same for me. That was one of our secrets to getting along. Mom wanted to make life easier for me, and I wanted to make life easier for her. And, we did. Mostly.
There were definite adjustments to be made including modifications to my old house to ensure her safety. We had chair lifts installed so she could continue to have her bedroom upstairs by mine, we had walkers everywhere, we had bath safety rails about everywhere you can imagine, including in the living room by her easy chair to make it easier for her to get up. You get the picture. And, so life began….again.
And, Life Goes On….
With the help of wondrous caregivers, I was able to keep Mom home with me. And, really, until she suffered a broken hip in November of 2011, I was sort of wondering how long this caregiving gig was going to go on.
But, knowing the statistics, I expected Mom to die within 3-6 months after her broken hip. True to form, she gave us 4 months and 3 days more to enjoy and care for her.
After Mom’s rehab for her broken hip, she came back to my house but, this time, our living room was transformed into her bedroom with the addition of a hospital bed, oxygen tank, and all the accouterments that surround the last moments of life.
We were fortunate enough to mostly have paid overnight caregivers (and wonderful caregivers at that) to spell those of us who were there 24/7.
I will tell you this – we had a very self-absorbed relative who totally did not get it. She asked one of my friends why I was so tired all the time. After all, I had caregivers at night, right?
This kind of gave me insight into how she took on her ‘caregiving’ duties for her own mother when she was dying. I’m afraid my ex-relative just went upstairs to bed every night, content in the fact that her own mother would be cared for with an overnight caregiver.
Let me tell you, readers, those of us who are truly caregivers and truly care are never off duty, ever. Sure, there’s 2 or 3 hours of sleep here and there, but, in the end, either myself, my darling love John, or best friend Sharyn was up every 2 or 3 hours to check on Mom even when we had overnight caregivers we could trust.
Never underestimate the work that goes into caring for someone who is dying. There is no rest for the weary. I don’t mean to scare you. There were some wondrous times when I’d come downstairs at 2 am to find Mom awake and waiting for me to make her that cherished cup of coffee she so enjoyed.
There were many late night and early morning chats and sharing of secrets. These are moments that soothe me to this day when I get to missing Mom the most.
There’s also a whole lot of sheets to change, sponge baths to give, and daily chores to do to keep the elderly comfortable. Aging, as my Mom would say, is not for the faint of heart.
Mom’s Final Wondrous Hours Pre-Death
Mom was mostly comatose the last 3 days prior to her death, coming back to us just now and then. But, the most wondrous moment of all happened at 2 am on Feb 15, 2012, just 5 hours and 11 minutes prior to her death.
I knew Mom was close to death and had come downstairs every hour to check with our caregiver, Elizabeth, to see how she was doing.
At 2 am, I was standing next to Mom’s hospital bed, watching her labored breathing and holding her hand. I remember memorizing her features as she slept in the hopes of keeping the images with me – and I have.
Mom awakened for the last time as I stood there drinking in the image. She turned to me and said ‘Lori, get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.’ Those were the last words my Mom ever spoke.
I’m amazed to this day that, even in the throes of death, my darling mama was more concerned about me than she was about herself. That, my dear readers, was my Mom personified.
Around 6:45 am things changed. Mom affected the death rattle I’d heard so much about and had steeled myself for. This is caused by the body not being able to absorb liquid so the liquid in the mouth collects in the throat. This is just one of the processes of death.
This death rattle is in no way painful for those dying, but it’s sure not easy to listen to for the living. I was, though, comforted to know that Mom was in no distress. She passed away at 7:11 am on Feb 15, 2012.
….These things happen….
One of my dear friends surprised me with a gorgeous little Tiffany type night light in memory of my Mom. To this day, the light sits on my kitchen counter close to where Mom would have her breakfast every day. I’ve clipped Mom’s favorite butterfly hair clip to the top of the light.
Every single day, I see this light and think of my Mom. Of course, I don’t need this light to remember the wonderful (and sometimes, trying times….) with my darling mother. But, the warmth of the light warms my heart.
So, Where Am I Today? – Update #1, 2012
Due to my Mom’s very loving nature, she not only embraced the new man in my life, my love, John, but she encouraged me to go on to make a new life with him after she was gone.
Mom and I had many wonderful conversations about how John was so like my Dad and, in my Mom’s book (and in mine), there is no bigger compliment. So, building a new life, I have.
I knew that, after Mom was gone, I’d need time to decompress – it’s not easy living through those last months, days, hours, minutes. Mom realized that too and actually helped me pick out the house in Key West that I would rent for 6 weeks after her death.
And, I did. I drove down with my friend Sharyn, who also needed the adjustment time, along with 2 of our 6 dogs. The healing time in Key West was very necessary and very appreciated.
John and I have been together 6 years now, happily unmarried, traveling the world (see update below). I still write here on various internet sites although I’m branching out to my own websites and eBooks.
My eBooks On Amazon.com
Mom was particularly helpful in contributing to my Senior Citizen Caregiving book. She not only was my experiment into caregiving but she was my muse also.
And Life Goes On For Me….
I still love and cherish the moments I spent with my Mom, but I am moving on, albeit, with her always in my mind. There’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think, “Wouldn’t Mom or Dad have loved that?”
And, I can never pass by a bread pudding to this day without immediately thinking of brings a piece home for Mom as it was her favorite dessert, even though I remember that she’s no longer here physically with me. Ah, but, mentally? She’s been here right along and always will be – I’m pretty sure of that.
And, I’m pretty sure she’d be proud of how we’ve are moving on to and enjoying the rest of our lives.
Mom and Dad are both well missed, their memory will always be cherished, and I will always remember the wisdom they imparted to me. I try hard to continue to make them proud by living the life they expected me to live – I donate to causes important to me as my parents did during their lives, and I continue to appreciate my closest family and friends.
Where Are We Now – Update February 2017
As we approach the 5-year mark since my Mom has been gone, I found this article stashed on another internet site for which I used to write. I’m so glad I found it and recycled it for my own website!
True to my Mom’s wishes, I haven’t let John go! We married this June 2016, surrounded by those friends and family who mean the most to us. We’ve been together almost 10 years now – our life is charmed.
Today, we are surrounded by three darling dogs and one sweet cat. I’m retired and work on my writing on a daily basis. I donate a lot of the proceeds from my writing to both human and animal charities.
We are looking forward to the day John retires and we start the next chapter in an already wondrous life.
My parents prepared me well for life without them one day and, for that, I’m so very grateful. Long live the memories of Joe and Gertie. They left quite a legacy behind. A legacy that I’m so grateful I have. And always will be.
I hope this article gave you some of the insight into death as it can happen. Now, not everyone is as lucky as we were to have the parents we did. Not everyone is able to be by the side of a loved one as they take their last breath.
I pray that your family will have the same beautiful ending that ours did.
Please feel free to leave me comments below. I’d love to hear from you.