by Joan Blumenfeld, MS, LPC
My mother died in 1998. She was close to 95 years old. I was . . . well, mostly prepared for it. She had struggled with Alzheimer’s for nearly 10 years and had been in the final stages of that devastating disease for many months. She was curled up like a fetus in her bed at the nursing home, unable to speak, unable to swallow, barely able to move. So it was not really a surprise when the nursing home called to say Mother was “actively dying” (a medical term for the process whereby bodily functions visibly shut down) and that they did not expect her to live for more than another week.
I immediately flew into high gear, rearranging my schedule to be available for those final days and hours of my dear mother’s life. I canceled an impending trip to England (luckily, it was well insured!), canceled all professional appointments and social engagements, and spent part of each day at Mother’s bedside.
I alerted my children and my brother to the situation and soon discovered that, although each member of the family treasured Mother and loved her deeply, they would each have to find their own way to say their final goodbye.
My eldest daughter was in Amsterdam, attending a conference with her husband. She could not get back in time to say goodbye, so she created a special memorial ceremony instead, floating a bouquet of red tulips in the Prinzengracht Canal in honor of her grandmother. She brought a red silk tulip back to me, which remains standing in a vase in my apartment to this day, in celebration of my mother’s life.
My youngest daughter was able to get to the nursing home the next day. She is now married but was a single career woman living in New York City at the time. This had been of some concern to her rather old-fashioned grandmother. So, in order to put Grandma’s mind at ease, my daughter embellished a story about the new fabulous boyfriend in her life. Although some details were not exactly the truth, she knew it would comfort Grandma, and to this day she swears Grandma heard her and reacted to the good news by moving in her bed!
Mark, my stepfather, who also lived in the nursing home, was having his breakfast in the next room when Mother died. He simply could not bear to be present when the love of his life passed on, nor could my brother bear to be there at that last moment either.
As Mother’s time grew near, I said my own goodbye. I told her how much I loved her and how much I would miss her. I promised to take care of Mark for the rest of his life, and to always be good friends with my children and my brother and his family. I reassured her that Sam, my life companion, would continue to take good care of me. I told her it was ok to go when she was ready.
I was holding her hand, and Sam was holding mine, when the light went out of Mother’s eyes. It was a powerful and profoundly important moment.
Along with many friends, the extended family assembled for the memorial service, which took place when everyone could be there. Those who wished to speak did so tenderly, from their hearts, about what Mother meant to them. It is now 15 years later and she is still sorely missed and well remembered, even unto the third generation.
Pearl of wisdom: In death, as in life, we each cope as best we can. There is no one right way to part with a loved one. We must each find our own unique way to say goodbye.
Joan Blumenfeld, MS, LPC is a Geriatric Care Manager in private practice in Fairfield County, CT. For information, visit her web at www.joanblumenfeld.com. © Joan Blumenfeld 2012.
Thank you Sharon Sayre for the use of your photo.