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a soft goodbye at bedside

a soft goodbye at bedside

by guest writer, Joan Berland
December 23, 2015

As part of our caregiver’s circle, a few participants have been drawn to write about their caregiving experience. This essay was written by participant, Joan Berland, who wrote about her 90 year old mother, Jean, last January. Joan is writing again now, from her mother's bedside as her mother is approaching her final hours under the care of hospice. This is a tender and poignant, two-part essay. We are honored to share Joan's writing with you.
~ Judy and Andrea

For the past three years I have dreaded receiving a call that begins with the 914 area code. That’s the way any call from my mother’s nursing home began. The air gets stuck in the middle of my chest and to pull it back up and out through my nose takes a monumental effort. I expect the voice on the other end of the phone to confirm my worst thoughts. My brain starts shooting off bottle rockets inside of me. Was this the call that would begin with ”I’m so sorry…”

Yesterday was the day a version of the call actually came and it was different than I ever imagined it would be. The hospice nurse’s voice is so soft and gentle that I couldn’t actually comprehend what she was saying. I didn’t hear her say the words “she’s passed away”, instead of words an unknown feeling emerged. It’s a sense that although not dead, my mother was actually in the process of dying.

Today the difficult decision to take her off all medication, food and water was made. In its place, morphine would be administered every four hours. My brother was on the phone with me as the choice became clearer and the knowing that the time to release my mom emerged. He was crying so deeply that no sound came at first and when it did arise to the surface it was strangled with pain. I held the phone tighter and him closer to my heart.

Right now I am sitting in the room with her touching a leg, holding her hand, communicating heart to heart. I savor every breath because at some point she will cease to breath forever. There is something wanting to arise in me that don’t yet have words. It’s an honoring of who she was and wasn’t to me as a mom. Different conversations we had over the years want to be called forth so I’m making space for all of them to be present. Not just the moments of love and care but the times when I was profoundly frustrated or hurt by her. All of it gets to be included. All of it was a part of our journey in this lifetime together.

My mom Jean is 91 years old and still has the most beautiful skin. Her forehead in repose has not a line on it. If I strain my eyes I could maybe see a line around her eyes. Her hands are as soft as velvet, purple velvet covering her protruding bones. My hands are like her hands. People often remark how soft my skin is after we’ve shaken hands. Somehow I assumed it was the cream I applied daily. But no, it’s the softness of my mother’s hands. I even have one oddly textured nail on my left hand that is identical to hers. I carry her with me in that nail and I always will.

There is no time in this space that death will soon enter. There is no awareness of what day or hour it is. It’s surprising how meaningless time has become. Hours have no more weight than minutes. The only known is that at some point in the days to come her breath will stop and time will define an ending of life where once there was a person lying in bed in front of me. Whatever is going to happen doesn’t exist yet, there is only right now.

Part two: notes for a eulogy

About Joan

Joan BerlandJoan Berland lives in a 150 year old farmhouse near Rhinebeck, NY with her husband of 23 years. In addition to being a great traveler, for over three decades Joan was an elementary school teacher. Her experiences in the classroom lead her to pursue a deeper connection to life and to the dream of a new paradigm for human relatedness. It is this dream of a new paradigm that allows her to be so open and loving as her mother’s life comes to an end. 

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