Saying Goodbye

My brother Steve died suddenly while my mother was lying in a hospital bed, at her home, heavily sedated on morphine, and under hospice care. Steve died from a heart attack or a blood clot. He wasted precious seconds that morning trying to decide if he needed an ambulance. The pain in his chest was tremendous.

We chose not to tell our mother. She was barely coherent. Those of us from other parts quickly made our way to be with each other as our brother was laid to rest. Two days before Steve died my mother had stopped eating, talking or getting up. When I saw her on Thursday for the first time in 6 weeks, I was taken aback by her appearance. Skin gray, mouth opened to gasp for breath, shockingly thin. As I leaned down to give her a kiss and squeeze her fingers my mind screamed that there had to be a better way. Our mother was starving to death. And, there was really nothing we could do. I sincerely believe that it would have been much more humane to end her life. But, the laws in Georgia prevent that.

We laid Steve to rest on February 5. My mother slipped away the following morning. My mother prepared us in a way that seems fitting. Since August of last year when she took the nasty fall down a flight of steps in her house, we had been caring for her. At 82 with the break not mending, the dementia progressing and the rapidly growing sarcoma, we had a host of problems to deal with as a family. I think we came through with flying colors. Each of us in our own way got to say goodbye.

Here is how I summed it up at her service:

February 8, 2010
Inman, GA

I heard our mother say many times throughout her life that she never wanted to be a burden to her children. She had no idea what the last two years of her life would bring. It would have been her definition of “burden”.

But to us, her children, it was a gift to experience our mother’s grace and dignity in the final years. It was a gift to be able to care for her in the many ways that she once cared for us. It was a gift to see siblings pull together, without drama, loving each other more than ever. It was a gift to spend precious hours visiting and laughing with Mama.

I want to say to my brothers who walked beside our mother on the journey of her last days, “Be proud of who you are.” Few families could face what you’ve faced and remained in tact. You made hard decisions, fretted and worried, and got no sleep on the all night shifts. You made a hundred sacrifices so Mama would feel comfort and love. If you have any lingering doubts about the times that felt chaotic or clumsy, let them go. She could not have had better care or been more loved.

Our mother wanted her family to be close. She gave us the greatest opportunity to do just that. At times it was hard. But, as hard as it was, in many ways, I see it as our family’s finest hour.

These finest hours were also greatly enriched by the help of Jeanette, our dear friend and adopted sister who gave us the tools, the guidance and the confidence to get the job done. Thank you Jeanette. And thank you to all of you, our families and friends for your help and your generosity. It allowed us to give back to our mother the love, care, and compassion that she so richly deserved.

Goodbye Mama. You are loved. You are missed.