Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Good Death?

Yesterday morning, at 11:19, my mother's body ceased its biochemical magic, and the person she was changed from a corporal reality to wide-scattered memories and a spirit.

A little over three months ago, on the Monday following a big 80th birthday celebration packed with friends, relatives and neighbors, she had been diagnosed with incurable cancer. Since then, her treatment focused on comfort and pain relief, and her days were filled with people caring for her and visiting her. Her stout Polish spirit held out longer than most of us expected, and our goodbyes were serious but not overly sad, and time's winged chariot moved at a humane pace to accommodate conversations.

The last time I sat with her, we discussed her faith. She was a devout Catholic - fiercely loyal to the Church, but ready to criticize it and its representatives when she disagreed. Pity the priest who got on her bad side - she may have been part of his flock, but she was not a typical sheep.

I asked her how she felt about the afterlife. She saw herself as departing on a journey soon, without knowing exactly what it would be like. It was like knowing that she was going to be handed tickets to a bizarre trip after going to sleep soon. She was ready to go, though not in a hurry to depart.

No grandstanding final words or dramatic flourishes - she fell asleep over the weekend and never woke up. Her body struggled for breath in her final hours, but her face remained calm. My sisters were at her side, and she could not have been in more compassionate hands at her departure.

Of course I'm saddened, but I have trouble imagining a better way to die. 3 months of preparation and goodbyes, a sufficient but not interminable time to calmly face the future.

Others in my world have suffered other deaths recently, shocking, brutal and far too young. Those are horrible deaths, and my heart feels bruised as I think of them. My mother was blessed with a journey she awaited calmly. If we must be mortal, I cannot imagine a better way to see a life end.



Blogger Andrea said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Dan.

5/20/2008 8:07 AM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

I'm sorry for your loss, but it sounds like a very graceful exit indeed.

5/20/2008 8:27 AM  
Blogger whistleblower said...

I am sorry for your loss.

My thoughts and prayers are with you.

5/20/2008 8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow;
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain;
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there; I did not die.
As we've discussed, this is not an easy road, but your mother passed through the door gracefully. My prayers are with you, my friend.

5/20/2008 8:38 AM  
Blogger les said...

My best wishes to you and your family, Dan. A week ago, my Dad went, nearly the same situation. They stay on, as we continue their lives and memories.

5/20/2008 8:46 AM  
Blogger Keith Sader said...

My best wishes go with you and your family at this time. You have bidden your time and spent it well with your mother. I'm glad she went peacefully for hers and your family's sake.

I know you will continue to cherish her and the memories she made with you.

5/20/2008 9:07 AM  
Anonymous travel said...

Glad you all had a chance to bid her a peaceful farewell on her new journey.

5/20/2008 9:38 AM  
Blogger Capt. Geoffrey Spaulding said...

From a fellow Pole- my sincerest condolences Dan.


5/20/2008 9:43 AM  
Blogger Spyder said...

Knowing you & reading what you've written about your mom I think I would have liked her. We could have had good conversations about the church. We can all hope to have a time of preparation for the next journey as she did.

I'm so sorry for you & your families loss. You are all in my prayers.

5/20/2008 11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope that one day my children write of my passing with the love and compassion that you have shared with us!

May you be filled with peace and comfort,
Cortney Cooper

5/20/2008 2:39 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

I'm sorry, Dan, but I know what you mean.

5/20/2008 3:35 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

I'm sorry to hear about your mom.

In all my experiences and observations, I would definitely call your mom's passing a "good death". It sounded ideal.

5/20/2008 3:36 PM  
Anonymous Dustin said...

My condolences.

5/20/2008 5:02 PM  
Anonymous Doc said...

Plum petals falling
I look up...the sky,
a clear crisp moon.

5/20/2008 5:41 PM  
Blogger DR said...

I am deeply sorry for your loss. I will keep you and your family in my prayers.

5/20/2008 11:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a friend of your sister, Laura's. She told me about your meditations "two hospital visits 48 years apart" as well as this one about a good death. You write so well, so compassionately, so thoughtfully. Your mother leaves a wonderful heritage in her children, a wonderful contribution to the world. Love and prayers of thanksgiving for the life of your mother, and wishes of comfort and peace to your family.

5/21/2008 8:55 AM  
Blogger --Blue Girl said...

My condolences on your loss, and I thank you for this moving post.

We should all be thankful for peaceful exits. After a career in trauma response, I know my druthers. I want to go like your Mom did.

My thoughts are with you and your family.

5/21/2008 10:45 AM  
Anonymous Nuke said...

All my best to you and the family for the next while. And may we all go as well when it is our time.

5/21/2008 1:51 PM  
Anonymous Rhymes With Right said...

Dan -- you know my thoughts and prayers are with you at this time.

She sounds like she was an amazing woman.

5/21/2008 6:44 PM  
Blogger Do you see me? said...

This is a most difficult time, Dan, but you handle it with great aplomb. My sincere sympathies to you and yours.

5/22/2008 12:03 AM  
Blogger Bea said...

Dan, I am truly sorry for your loss.

5/22/2008 8:03 AM  
Blogger Absolutely Feisty said...

I will be thinking of you in the coming days. Even though the journey was a good and well lived one.. I don't think it makes the goodbye any easier.
Big hugs to a big heart.


5/22/2008 7:52 PM  
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5/24/2008 7:48 AM  

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