Today is exactly one year ago my Mother shook loose this mortal coil, I would like to write something touching, yet humorous to mark the occasion. I want to tell the story of the last week of my mother’s life. I want to tell you about my experience as her soul midwife and daughter.
It’s strange, bring up two things at a dinner table, and watch as those around you choke on their steak. 1) Natural Childbirth, and 2)Dying. These subjects are more taboo than dirty sex jokes, racist jokes, political debates/namecalling…
Last year, when the doctors told us there was no more they could do for my mom, it was Micheal’s birthday. I went into Enchanted Forest to look for a birthday present for him. I wandered around the tiny store as though it were a continent searching every surface for the perfect gift for my husband. Instead I found the biggest gift anyone ever gave to my mother and I. On the bookshelf that day, I found a book called “Gentle Dying” – this 200 page book became my guide book, a clear set of directions for the weeks to come.
gentle dying – a simple guide to achieving death by Felicity Warner. If you are seized with fear of going through the death of a beloved. You could do worse than read this book.
The last time they admitted her to the hospital, August 14 2010, I was at my cousin’s Looooooooooooooong awaited wedding. Standing in this beautiful garden, surrounded by the bursting hope of the birth of spring, the clinking of glass on long stemmed glass in celebration of this wonderful couple. My guts sinking. I know. This is it. She’s not coming up for another round. *gulp! *dry mouth “Smile!” for the camera. I’m sure I look like a smiling zombie in all their wedding photos.
A half hour after my dad calls to deliver the afternoon sucker punch, My mom calls. There is a quiet tremble in her voice. I can hear how dry her mouth is. She is struggling to speak to me. She wants to ask me if I know what’s happening? every one keeps taking dad out into the hallway, each time he comes back further and further down. I tell her, the Doctors say there is nothing more they can do. They’re looking into a transfer to another care facility. “Hospice?” she says. I guess, I shrug. She asks me not to do that, “I want to go home, please just let me come home”. I promise her.
In the middle of a wedding reception. Fuck! My mother is dying! I wanted to get into Michael’s car, drive as fast as I could to the Medical Facility, race up the stairs ignoring the lift, fly around the nurses station on the 2nd floor. I resented knowing the geography of that hospital ward so well! I hated that my mother was laying there, ignored. I hated that I didn’t know what to do! I stayed at the reception ate my food, and made my excuses to leave. Came home, buried myself in my husband’s chest and cried.
The next few days were a struggle back and forth to the Hospital. Fighting traffic, morning and afternoon. Kids fed, and back to the hospital. Trying to be cheerful, but the reality, looking into my mother’s pale face, at the pain a simple trip to the bathroom meant. My pain and confusion growing. Her Oncologist making rounds every other day – there was a lady in nappies, a lady on some kind of fever watch, she just slept and slept. There was the old woman in the corner. Very upset by the volume of my mother’s visitors. We didn’t mind her so much, we’d just pull the curtain shut.
The 22nd of August 2010, the Doctor agreed to discharge my mother into our care. We made the arrangements for the delivery of the bed and other medical supplies we needed. I converted one of the rooms in the house into a space for my mom. I hung paintings she liked, brought in pictures of the sea (she loved the sea, although she didn’t swim).
She came home for the last time on the 24th of August. She appreciated the effort, and was happy to be home. I played some music, I started with that relaxation crap, but after the first day it was just making us edgy, so I got some of her old favorites out, and did what I always did. Brought along the new stuff I was listening to, played her my favorite songs, she listened. It was us being us together. There was a day nurse, and night nurse. who seemed constantly and genuinely surprised that I wanted to feed, and wash my mom. From my diary on the 24th :” She’s home now. To rest. To let go of her body. I feel (at the same time) joy, relief, sorrow and pain. She died on September 1st, 2010, at 21:45
There are things about dying that I didn’t know.
Dying is a process that the body goes through – not unlike labour and birth. It’s OK to touch someone who is dying. She loved being touched, and tickled, so I touched her all the time. I brought out the very expensive skin care products and gave her a facial every day. I made a cinnamon mouth rinse, because the commercial ones were to intense for her. I rubbed her hands and feet with Almond Oil infused with Neroli essential oil. The smell was quite heavenly. She would get hot. I would mist her, she would smile. My best friend (a yoga teacher) taught me how to adjust her body for maximum relaxation. I would adjust her every time she moved, I could see the relief it would bring her. I would leave her when her sisters would come. I would play the piano (I brought my electric piano to the house). Music soothed the house, helped the hearts that were breaking. I felt it. I bless music.
The most important thing about being with someone you love when they have little time left, is just be you, with them. Love them for every precious second. Say sorry if you really mean it, say I forgive you, and mean it! Write thank you cards to all those who help you. Gratitude is the only medicine for sorrow. Talk about your feelings, listen to theirs. Be quiet. Be there. Talk about their ideas for their memorial. Say it’s OK that you’re dying I understand, I love and support you. I will hold you, and be with you until the end. You are not alone. If they ask you to fuck off! do it with dignity.
In the end, the biggest myth about death is it doesn’t come for you, you have to choose it. You have seen those corpses attached to cables, pumped artificially with air – technically alive, medically alive, billably alive. Unable to die, because of intervention from well meaning family or, worse, money grubbing Doctors. This intervention is violence. It is the furthest thing away from gentle, the furthest thing away from love.
I hope that each of you is blessed to experience gentle death. I was blessed. Thank you mom!