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the inescapable reaper

by Judy
July 21, 2014

Over the past five years in helping to care for my 98 year old mom, I’ve noticed that dramatic change often comes unexpectedly. No doubt there are signs that “foretell” at times this change, but they are not always visible. For example, when my mom had a stroke, there didn’t seem to be any indications beforehand, but of course she did have mini-strokes about three years before this happened and she was 96 years old with aging arteries. From one moment to another, her life radically changed. She went from walking with some aid, still going out to restaurants and even movies at times, to pretty much being bedbound, not being able to walk and being very dependent for help. And for myself, I started to live with her all the time with only brief forays up north. As time goes by and she is ever fading, I don’t want to be away very long. She said to me a little while ago, “Please stay with me until I go” and that is what I am doing.

A few days ago I came back from being in New York City for three days. It was a delight to see my mom. I jokingly said to her, “Do you remember me?” and she said, “I almost forgot you. If you had been away for one more day, that would have been it.” And then we both laughed, so happy to see and be with each other again.

This morning, I thought another big change was happening – this time the final big change. This morning my mom did not wake up for breakfast nor did she respond verbally. She just kept sleeping - going into a deeper and deeper sleep. At first she still would drink some water, but later she would not even take water and when I or Pat spoke to her, there was no response. She didn’t talk nor did she hold hands. It was strange to not have any response. Difficult. We took her blood pressure and pulse - all was fine. As time went by she looked incredibly peaceful. Tears started to roll down my face. It was happening seemingly out of the blue. I thought, “Is this it? Is my mom really dying? No, of course she will wake up” but she didn’t. I didn’t know for sure and in many ways it seemed like a dream and yet it was happening.  As I started to adjust to what seemed to be reality, all the time I was aware how very peaceful she looked. I never imagined it would be this peaceful.

We did keep on talking to her, and then at about noon, she started to respond. At first very little, but at least there was some response. And then she was fully back and we gave her some lunch. She had no idea what had happened.

I felt so grateful and still do - a renewed gratitude to have my mom still with me.  Even if it’s only for a few more days, I am grateful. I think Pat also feels a renewed gratitude. It’s like someone has died…almost…and then come back to life. Such a thin line between life and death, isn’t there? In a split second, and that is it and then so much gets put into gear in another direction - taking care of business, funerals, decisions to be made, notifying friends and family…the list goes on.

For now, still that space of just being can exist and the joy of being together however brief that may be. A renewed appreciation for the preciousness of life and connection.

And now more than ever I feel the presence of that inescapable reaper - not a frightening reaper however, just inevitable, inescapable, but not grim. As my mom was lying and getting more and more peaceful, it really hit me that there is nothing to be afraid of in death and dying. Sickness and disease, unexpected accidents can be very hard, but actual dying can be, not always, very peaceful. What I am writing now may not always be so apparent to me, but I know I have had this clear sense many times before. I had it for sure when my brother died – and he died way too early - and I have had intimations of it for a long time. I think partly because my mom is so surrendered to the inevitable - not fighting it – that she exudes a kind of peace, a letting go into the changing cycles of life. Because of this and all that I have intuited, it also brings me to a kind of peace in the contemplation of death and dying. Oh, yes, there is sadness, but also a peace that, as it is written, “passeth all understanding.” That is what I am left with.

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