The Secret to Dying Well. What My Mother Taught Me about Death And dying
This may sound odd, but when it’s time, I want to die well, at least as well as I’ve lived.
I want to transition out of this life as gracefully as possible.
I want to exit here and enter wherever there is, as easy and gently as a sigh.
I want the end of my life, and the time leading up to it to be meaningful and precious.
I want my family and friends to visit me so I’m not alone.
I want to die in a home or a hospice, not a hospital.
I want to have no pain.
I want to resolve any conflicts.
I want to die like my mother.
My mother died well.
She was able to do this because she was pain free, and because she had the grace to accept her death, both physically and psychologically when it came.
Mom had accepted death all of her life and had no fear of it.
She ingrained this attitude in us, not by preaching, but by the doing. By that I mean we attended wakes and funerals, at a young age, stood in line with other grieving fellow human beings and told people we were sorry.
She told us to say nothing more than that because people were sad, and sad was how you were supposed to feel when someone died. There was nothing anyone could say to make them feel better, but you could make them feel worse.
No these times weren’t pleasant, but you had to do things you didn’t like. That was also part of life.
Mom knew the subject of death wasn’t something anyone of us could avoid, so the sooner we got used to it, the easier it would be.
And she was right.
As the years went by, my siblings and I attended many services. We went to as many funerals as weddings and they were both in a good day’s work. When I got older, I was surprised by the number of friends who were still petrified to go to funerals and didn’t want to expose their children to it, the it being death.
And there were some tough ones over the years as there are for anyone. Going to the expected ones, our friend’s grandparents, helped prepare us for bad ones, like my friend’s 14-year old brother who was hit by a car. I was in high school and I was glad I had a few under my belt at that point.
My mother was also able to die well due to a fabulous support system of family, friends, and hospice.
When neighbors and friends learned that “auntie”, as my mother was called, was dying, they felt a deep sense of pending loss. No one could do enough to help us and they all wanted to say good-bye and spend time with her. It takes a village to raise a child, and I found, it also takes a village to help someone die peacefully.
My brother, three sisters and I all had a turn at being mom’s primary caretaker for a week at a time. It was a relief to be able to leave for an hour to take a nap or go for a walk.
On the physical side, hospice transformed our living room into a hospital room. They provided a bed, wipes, tucks, bed pans, and of course morphine. A nurse’s aid came to the house every day to help us with bed baths, re-positioning and lessons on repositioning, changing her clothes, and sheets.
My mother also had a beautiful view of Boston Harbor.
A nurse came twice a week to check on mom’s catheter, empty the bag and check on her medication. He was an ex-Marine and would sit and talk to my father. It was a comfort for him to have another man in an all female household.
If we ran out of anything, someone delivered it to the back door.
We were lucky. I’m not sure this level of support still exists in the healthcare system of today.
But as I said, my mother was able to die well.
She hit all the marks.
On the reconciliation side, she and my sister made progress towards peace. In fact, my sister helped her choose the clothes in which she’d be buried.
Mom was never in pain.
She didn’t die in a hospital, she died at home.
And except for when she was sleeping, my mother was never alone.
My oldest sister joked: “ This is what she’s wanted her whole life: to stay in bed, eat chocolate, and have people come to visit her.”
Edgy, but true.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to die as well as my mother.
I don’t know who will be alive to see that I am not alone, have enough pain medication, or that I don’t end up in a hospital.
I don’t have control of these things.
I will do what I can, now.
I will make a living will and express my wishes.
I will have conversations throughout the years to reconcile any conflicts that arise.
And when the time comes, I will accept my death graciously.
It’s all any of us can do. But by accepting and not resisting, we will pass more gently from this life.
That’s the secret.