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My Mom's Last Days

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It's been a month since I posted messages on this board (I don't remember which categories) and much has changed. Much sooner than that I expected my mom died on June 20, 2006. This is very very sad and I have been crying and remembering her and wishing so much she is here.

I am writing to caregivers because I want to share my experience of being with my mother during her last few days and upon her death. It was nothing like what I expected -These words may sound unexpected, perhaps you may even question what I'm saying. I can tell you that I was as surprised as you might be reading this. Yet I have decided to take the risk to share honestly because I want this information available to others. Living with our being close to with somebody who has cancer is very difficult and very very sad -- at least I was for me. Being with a person in her last week and when she died had some sadness, and it also had many other things. Now that my mother has died I am again very very sad and I miss her terribly. But that intervening time -- it was so special and so unexpected. I want you to know that there can be a very special connection with your loved one at the end. I also want to be clear I don't know what will happen for you. I do want to communicate a possibility.

Here are my words... written to friends shortly after my mother passed....

-- Words cannot express the experiences of the last few days. I can say that I

feel so connected to life, presence, and sadness. My mother died Tuesday

evening surrounded by love from friends and family and love through music.

-- It was deep, profound, and almost unspeakable.... I experienced a profound sense of aliveness, it seems such a contradiction when my mom was dying, yet that is what I experienced.

-- In other language I might say that spirit was coming through me and spirit was all around us. I experienced a really rich time of connecting with the wonder of life, deeply deeply experiencing it.

-- Mom's passing was exceptionally loving, satisfying and life generating, while at the same time bringing deep sadness and great loss.

I found it life affirming, spirit affirming, a time of deepening connections with my family, and I felt a close connection with my mother throughout the process. I was there when she died -- and it was I crying along with my sister (my father died two years ago). The first time we were crying so hard, when we stopped she was breathing infrequently. The second time we were crying so hard and we stopped and she was no longer breathing. Yes it was hard, and it was also a precious, tender time of connection, of being with my mom and my family and a close friend. I feel lucky that I was able to be with her, that the nurse alerted me that her time was very short and my sister and brother-in-law had not left the hospital yet, that the hospital provided a single room for musicians to come in and for all of us to spend time with her on her last night, and that both myself and my sister has special people with us who were not family members. Family members are so involved emotionally. Having the special person with me is so wonderful because now I can refer to that evening and she knows exactly what I'm talking about because she was there.

I found it a privilege to act as my mother's medical power of attorney , to be keeping her wishes in mind as decisions were made, and to be making all decisions along with my sister and brother-in-law so that we were all in agreement before decisions were communicated to the doctors. I think this contributed to the positive part of this experience. I wasn't sure how well it would go, because my brother in law and sister are fundamentalist Christians and I lean towards Buddhism. I thought they might have difficulty withholding treatment as my mom wanted, wrote out in her medical power of attorney (done by a lawyer), and discussed with me. I believe she also talked to my sister, but perhaps not as clearly as she would have later (none of us expected this to happen at this point.) However, I was amazed at how similar our values were and how we came together in using our mothers wishes to guide us in making decisions. I know that some families cannot do this with the ease I experienced. At the same time I want to let you know that my family is not unbroken -- I have an estranged sister who did not participate in any of it, did not visit, and did not come to the memorial service.

I know people grieve in many ways. Unexpectedly, I found it very helpful to be with my mom when she died. In addition to the profound connection I felt, there was something so visceral, so real all about it. Her dying is not abstract to me; I saw it happen. I think it was helping me shift into grieving more easily.

I can't say what you experience will be like if and when you lose your loved one. I am sharing what my experience was like because it was so different from what I thought it would be. I thought every moment of the process would be horrible and awful and terrible. It wasn't for me.

For those of you who would like a chronology of what happened, here is an overview: I’m a bit reluctant to share this because I don't want to scare you, my mom's particular experience is unlikely to be your loved one's experience. At the same time I know I'm always curious so I am including this for those of you who are curious.

My mom decided to have a procedure to remove fluid from the lung sac and sort of "seal it up" so that more fluid could not get in. The morning she got to the hospital her breathing was extremely difficult and, when her friend came to pick up she needed help being dressed. This was new. Her breathing had been difficult, but not this bad. The procedure, which works 70% of the time, was not successful my mom. In addition she had acute kidney failure. In a healthy person 2-3 weeks of dialysis nearly always results in a return of kidney function and a return to health. Not so here. My mom went into the hospital on Wednesday and died the following Tuesday. When they talk to my mom about dialysis she wasn't for her By Monday she was not communicating with us so my sister, brother-in-law, and I made decisions (I had power of attorney, thank goodness it was all set up). We decided to try the dialysis. It did work in the sense that her blood tests related to the cleaning of the blood came back normal. However, my mom did not come out of her confusion. She would look at us when we talked, and I think she understood us. However, she rarely spoke clearly. On Tuesday morning she was worse. Tuesday afternoon we were talking to the hospice nurse. A couple of hours later that afternoon the doctor told us she could go that evening, so we had a wonderful party for her with all her friends and the Scandinavian musicians that she loved. Her nieces and nephews also sang for her and played their instruments. After the party ended her breathing got very very labored and a half-hour later she died. It was such a privilege to be there with her throughout the process and to be there when she died.

And now I am so so sad and cry easily -- I think that's what it's all about now. The great sadness.


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Dear Laurel,

First let me say how sorry I am for the loss of your Mom. I really appreciate you sharing your story. It sounds like an amazing experrience. I lost my Dad 10 weeks ago....the saddness is overwhelming...I understand. I also had the priveledge of being with my Dad the moment he left this earth.....the peace that came over the room for those few moments were heavenly....I can't quite descibe it but will be forever gratefull for those moments.

I hope you can reflect and that will bring some peace in your saddness

love, NancyT

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I lost my wife 6 months on the 23rd of this month. thanks for sharing this with us. REmember you can talk to mom whenever you want, She is your guardian angel and is always with you. No one can take away the many memories you have of the great times together with Mom. Saying prayers and Glad you are doing ok as ok can be now.

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Hi Laurel,

I understand what you're saying. Two weeks before Rick died, I wrote a very rambling, emotional letter to a friend. In the letter, I described that period of time as "this terrible and strangely beautiful, ever-changing stage in our lives", and said that it had "forever bonded us in a new and different way that I could have never understood before now and still can't explain". Toward the end of the letter I said, "I don't want to miss a minute of it, so I'll just be there".

I suppose it probably sounds odd to people who haven't experienced it, and maybe not everyone has the same experience. I'd give anything to have Rick back again, but I'm grateful that I was able to spend his last days with him. As difficult and painful as it was, I couldn't have been anywhere else.

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I get it, I really get it. And I do not think you are being Morbid or freaky or anything like that. I did not get to have those last moments and Thanks for sharing them wiht me. Many prayers for you.

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