Tuesday, March 23, 2010


She wasn't perfect.  And in many ways she had a hard life.  She grew up during the depression.  As a child she knew poverty.  She knew abuse then too.  She knew loneliness.  And she never meant anyone any harm, though in her insecurity she needed obedient, respectful, dutiful children.  She always tried to care about others.  And she taught us never to exclude anyone:  to share; to be kind and considerate; not to think we were better than others.  Bigotry was not part of her nature and she instilled that in us as well.  She did her best.  Trying to hide her own problems and put on a good front - as best she could - all the while her husband was often away on business trips.  We didn't see enough of our dad, but she tried to make up for that as best she could.

On their 66th anniversary (last month) she didn't comprehend the word "anniversary" or the reason for the tiny cake my father brought to the rehab unit.  She told him to take it with him when he left.  But he ate it.  Bit by bit.  Over 5 days.  Two pieces the first day (one for him, one for her).  And one on each on the following 4 days.  At nearly 93, he thought it was the best cheesecake he'd ever eaten. 

She went downhill quickly.  Falling and gashing her head at the end of January.  A week in the hospital.  A few weeks in a rehab center, where they tried to cure a bedsore from vegetating in front of the TV - as her mind had slowly lost its bearings.  It was Alzheimer's, but my dad simply could not bring himself to see what his children saw so clearly.  Not till after she fell, when it suddenly dawned on him:  "We've lost her." 

The rehab center was way too chaotic for a person descending into the last stages of Alzheimer's.  They were not set up to deal with such persons.  Only with persons on the way to getting well.  When she was on the way to death and dying. 

If only we'd known....

Not till the rehab center, finding her more than they could handle, transferred her to the best psych unit in town, did we get the diagnosis of Alzheimer's.  And one week later, the news that she was dying of it.  There they calmed her down - in a quiet room - with quiet, carpeted hallways.   Told us she needed nursing care.  Next thing we knew, it was hospice care she needed.

I cannot begin to tell you of the kindness and consideration and compassion we received in this last place - the home that nursed her into death.  She, as a resident, only for 6 days.  We as family.  They treated her like you'd treat a saint - if you knew a saint was dying.  I'm not kidding!  And they asked how we were doing too.  Brought us snacks and beverages.  Gave me sheets to spend the last two nights on a mattress on the floor next to her bed.  I got to see the good care, night and day, that she received. 

She was incoherent these last of her days.  Hardly spoke at the end, except to moan now and then - words we could not comprehend.  But she did clearly say things like "dying... good" and "I love" and "I love you" and  "I'm sorry" and "bye-bye" and it seemed that the last night she called my name and seemed to try and moan when she heard my voice.

I never thought it would hit me so hard.  Hearing that she was dying, as I drove home from a few days of retreat, a respite while my brother was in town.  I never thought I would see her turn into a saint, as her body slowly wasted and desiccated, as her mind lost its bearings, while her spirit grew and grew.  Till in the end I felt I was communicating soul to soul.

RIP.  Born:  4/21/22.  Died:  3/23/10

Addendum - via my brother, by Lord Byron:
My task is done -- my song hath ceased -- my theme
Has died into an echo; it is fit
The spell should break of this protracted dream.
The torch shall be extinguished which hath lit
My midnight lamp -- and what is writ, is writ --
Would it were worthier! but I am not now
That which I have been -- and my visions flit
Less palpably before me -- and the glow
Which in my spirit dwelt is fluttering, faint, and low.


colkoch said...

My condolences to you and your family. This is a wonderful eulogy.

One of the great gifts of good hospice care is a blessed death which is really a transition into a different and better state of being. When done will hospice care is like a birth and baptism into a new life. It's sacramental on a very profound level.

TheraP said...

Thank you. Yes, it was so holy. So sacred. That was it exactly!

Debbie said...

I am so sorry for your loss.
My heart just breaks for you and your family. I'm going home and giving my mom a huge hug.

TheraP said...

Debbie, how wonderful! Yes, appreciate her while you can. I am so happy you have her with you still. At the same time, I so appreciate your kind words of comfort.

Alan said...

Peace be with you, Thera.

TheraP said...

Thank you, dearest Alan. I am assuming your kind permission and will try to put your photo (sent via email) in the blog. I felt it needed something, but didn't know what to put there. This is perfect!

It is one week since her death. Today we will gather at the time of her death to eat carrot cake, her favorite in old age, and toast her with white wine.

She is with us - in our hearts. I feel her presence.

Your photo touches me so deeply. It says more than anyone could put into words! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I feel the Peace you sent.

Carol Gee said...

ThereP, I am very sorry to hear that you lost your mom, but I am gratified that her last days were the best they should be for both her and her family. Your lovely eulogy, yes it is, reminded me of the passing of my own mom at 93 in December of '08. As you know, we cannot rush the passage of grief's healing time. All we can do is ride through it as wisely and comfortably as possible. I send white light your way, and my good thoughts. And thanks for being the incredible wordsmith you are.

ttarleton said...

So sorry to hear about your mother, TheraP! But glad to hear of your hospice experience, and appreciative of you sharing your story with us.

Best Regards,

Stagnaro said...

After reading your fascinating comment on NYTimes, I visit this wonderful Page. Compliment! I love people like you because augments my enthusiasm, sometimes fading, for the war against today's Middle Ages of Medicine. Such as holy, sacred, paramount life corroborates y brie paper Stagnaro S. What is a good death?: Good death will happen if life was good. BMJ; 327: 1047 [MEDLINE]

A Good Easter day to all of you.

La said...

Dear TheraP, as Stagnaro said I also appreciate your comment about your mom at the NY Times. I send you a big hug through the net.

I was thinking about his (Stagnaro) las sentence "Good death will happen if life was good":

¿Why if this life wasn't that plenty? What do for the others who will survive us (children, husband)?

TheraP said...

Thank you for the hug!

As for your question and Stagnaro's comment, all I can say is that I know my mother had her difficulties in life, and I have no idea if she viewed her life as "good" or not, but her death was surely "good" - to me it was a blessing to have been granted a glimpse of her soul. This surely was something she passed along to me. That glimpse convinces me that I need to remember, always, that the soul of the person may be hidden, but it is the soul that holds the Truth of the Person.

I only wish everyone could have such an experience! I will carry it with me always.