I expected this topic to be my last post but I have experienced five deaths of close friends and family in three months, so I am writing about it now. Death is not to be feared; we all have to go through it. Both my mother- in-law and my mother died at home, peacefully, surrounded by family. They both had terminal illnesses and they were both in hospice. My experience with these two deaths has led me to believe that the terminally ill live as long as they want and die as soon as they want. My mother-in-law waited until her son came home from work before she took her last breath. My mother waited until her favorite nursing assistant came on duty to take her last breath. Both of them had a tear in their eye, sad to leave us, but ready to go to Heaven. That tear, and the fact that both waited for a particular person to come to their bedside, indicates they were fully conscious and knew what was happening.
Both of them had stopped communicating verbally for several weeks and had stopped eating for about two days. I believe they stopped talking because it became physically difficult for them; my mother would still nod or shake her head to respond. She used to tell a joke about a little boy who never spoke until he was eight years old, because he never had to. I told her that joke and asked, “Is that why you don’t speak? Because you know we are meeting all your needs?” She actually smiled as she nodded her head “yes”!
At this stage, it is easy for family members to think that their loved one is “in a vegetative state, no longer there mentally, comatose, and unaware of what’s going on.” But that is far from the truth! My mother surprised me one night when, after she had stopped talking to me, she said to my 9-year old daughter, “Good night, Sweetie. See you in the morning.” Clear as a bell! I turned around in shock and asked the nursing assistant, “Was that HER?” She replied, “Yes.” The next day I called the hospice nurse and asked her about this. She told me that my mother knew that the child’s needs were different from the adult’s needs, and that’s why she spoke to my daughter. On the day my mother died, she did not eat for me, but she ate some yogurt when my daughter offered it to her. Again, she was fully conscious of her surroundings; her mind was far from gone!
The hospice nurse who was on duty with my mother-in-law told us people were aware during the dying process, and said we could talk to her as if she were fully conscious and she would understand us. I asked her how she knew this. She replied, “Reports from people who have died (clinically) and been brought back (by medical science).” Now, my mother-in-law was one of those people. When she was in her thirties, she became very ill. Her parents were Christian Scientists and would not call a doctor. She was clinically dead and says she went to Heaven, but was told she could not stay becauseher work on Earth was not finished. She talked about what a beautiful experience that was and said she did not fear death. So, at the time of her real death, we wished her well and told her to go on to Heaven, not to worry about us here on Earth; we would be fine.
Incidentally, I learned that people die the same way they lived. My mother-in-law was very flamboyant and dramatic, gesturing with her hands while she talked, and using voice inflections for emphasis. She began what is known in the medical field as Cheyne-Stokes breathing. Long ago, when it was common for people to die in their homes, it was called the death rattle. It is very loud and you could hear it throughout the entire house! I expected my mother to go the same way, and kept listening for the rattle, but she was a quiet person. There was no death rattle; she simply took her last breath and left. Had she done this before the nighttime sitter came, we might have missed it, but the sitter witnessed it immediately and came to tell us. Thus we were able to go right to her side, hold hands and recite the Lord’s Prayer for her. I was reminded of babies in the womb. If they are active there, they will be active toddlers, and vice versa. My best friend and I were pregnant at the same time. Both turned out to be girls. Hers was not very active in the womb and was not too active as a young child. When I had my first sonogram at four months, Dorothy was swimming back and forth from one side of the womb to the other! As fast as her little fetal arms and legs could go! Even the doctor said, “Wow! This is an ACTIVE baby!” And she was an active child! My mother, who raised three daughters, said she never learned to walk, she just started running!
Speaking of Dorothy, she was only 10 when my mother died in our house, in the bedroom next to hers. I was worried initially when I made the decision to have mother move in with us and die at home. I knew God wanted us to do that for my mother, but how would it affect Dorothy? I explained the situation to my priest and asked his advice. He said, “Start talking to Dorothy about death. Let her know that death is a part of life and it is natural.” That’s what I did. About a month after Mom’s death, Dorothy wanted to bless the house with one of Mom’s favorite candles. As we were walking from room to room with the candle, Dorothy said, “And, Lord, we are not one bit afraid of death.”
The last frost killed my blooms and many of my plants so that we had to cut them back. But, not to be thwarted by the weather, Al and I put some new sculptures in our garden. After all, it originally started as a sculpture garden. We bought four terra cotta fairies and Al painted them. Incidentally, he painted them before he had his eye surgeries; just look at the details! And Dorothy and Q bought me a new solar dog for my garden.