We’ve heard and read hundreds of stories from people who want to have the conversation, have had the conversation, and from those who wished they’d had before it was too late. In honor of Mother’s Day, we would like to share with you five heartfelt stories from those who have lost their mothers.
I wished at that time the doctors would have recommended a “conversation” while she was thinking clearly. Two years later, her liver shut down and she was in a state of confusion as a result of the toxins in her body. Our family guessing what we think she wants. We were also very unprepared for the 24 hour responsibility that the family has to care for her at home with the supplement of hospice care. There was no plan in the place and the result is a family divided on “who is pulling their fair share of taking care of her” and conflict over how she wants to spend her last days.
Having “the conversation” would have prevented so much turmoil in her last days. I urge everyone to talk in detail to their doctor, especially if they have had a diagnosis like my mom’s. Talking and planning will enable your parents to die in peace and keep your family intact because the decisions were already made and discussed.
Please pray for our family so that we will can also forgive each other and enable my mom to die with the comfort of knowing that the family she left behind is in peace.
At the Park with my Mom
I sent my Mom the starter kit via email at the holidays and we had several aborted attempts to go through it in the past few months – largely due to not actually setting time aside on one of her visits as though that time would magically appear. Once we blocked the time and headed out the door we were fine. She had printed out the starter kit and read it through but not written a single thing on it. We got tea and went to a park and sat side by side on a bench while going through each question with me scribing the answers (I asked her to sign the front and back pages since it is all in my handwriting!) It took an hour and she cried the entire time. There were no big surprises in her answers but I was somewhat surprised by the level of emotion. The emotion was at a peak when she said she wishes she had held her mother’s hand more when she was dying. I am an only child and she is single and it was clear she did not intend to have this conversation with anyone else though I asked if I could share it with my husband in case anything happens to me. I don’t know if others have had the experience of going through the kit in real time but that was the striking thing I wanted to share. She really didn’t want to work it all out and then bring it to me, she wanted to work it through in the moment. I also wanted to share that prior to her visit, she sent me an email that said that reading it through is making her think about how she wants her life to be in addition to how she wants her death to be and that is leading her to do some specific things (financially for example).
My mother had open heart surgery in 2000, having mitral valve replacement to alleviate heart failure. She did well, and was able to return to her home after 2 months in hospital and nursing home care. She lived 550 miles away from me. I asked her “If you are ever unable to make a health care decision for yourself, do you want to be in your hometown where you know everyone, or where I am to oversee your care?” She chose to be near me. We also visited an attorney who was able to give me health-care power of attorney. It was a relief when she needed to come and live with me, especially breaking a hip and living with us (with hospice home services) until she passed away in 2011. I am so glad we had the conversation!
My Mother, My Model
Actually, the conversation was initiated by my mother over a period of 40 years. All her 6 children were very aware of her wishes and she diligently prepared for the end, little by little, over time, in the 18 years she survived my father. She disposed of belongings, making sure family heirlooms were placed, organized her will and finances, downsized to a studio apartment in a senior independent living institution, wrote her obituary, including a photo, providing information about the $25.00 cardboard casket which would carry her body to the university which was receiving her donation. She died at 90, within 24 hours of a heart attack, just as she wished, and in her honor, all family members wore sneakers to the memorial service. She died as she had lived. My model.
At 74, I wrote my obit yesterday, and since I have no children, am thinking about who, in addition to my remaining siblings who do not live nearby, will be a part of my support team and help me carry out the wishes I am in the process of getting clarified.
Whatever Comes Next
When my mother Helen was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer she went through all 5 of the stages of grief, oh, in about 10 minutes. “How are you Helen,” friends would ask. “I’m dying!” she said with absolute delight. In the ten weeks she had left, Mom focused on making things right. She mended fences with neighbors and worked out differences with her daughters.
Always an active woman, we carried a wheelchair and morphine so Mom could continue her life of adventure. We walked in the mountains, we visited a park she helped found with a grand tour in a golf cart. She attended an art opening that included her paintings. Just days before she died we packed her off to water aerobics.
While some days were difficult, others were filled with humor. Just out of earshot, Dad showed off hardware he had bought to attach to her urn. Wanting to be part of the conversation she said, “Hey, I want to be in on that.” Dad answered, “Honey, you will be.”
One of Helen’s greatest gifts was to deal with death honestly, openly and with great humor. This approach meant that she enrolled in hospice immediately to access the gold standard of health care—no waiting at the clinic for pain medication, it was shipped to our door. Hospice answered many requests: a massage therapist for comfort, a harpist played by her bed, we had help with bathing, and a nurse was available day and night.
We had this level of care because we had the conversation. We didn’t have to tiptoe around difficult decisions. She could sign the cremation form while she had the mental capability.
Please, create the ending you want. Have the conversation too. For whatever comes next.