I want to hear the story of your mother’s death, a friend said. It startled me. No one had been bold enough to request anything like this from me before, and in all of my phone calls to the bereaved, I, myself, had only ever asked for the stories of the deceased one’s life.
But we need to hear more death stories. Maybe dying wouldn’t be so scary if we shared more good deaths. And in the end, all in all, my mother had managed to have a pretty good death.
On the weekend after one sister had visited, my other sister and I arrived clueless to our mother’s state of mind. Not answering phone calls or emails, two weeks earlier Mom had written on my blogsite that she wasn’t ready to die, don’t give up on her. A week later she reported on the blog that it was time. When we got to her apartment, she was teetering between lucidity and an ever-enveloping morphine fog. It was the beginning of the storm before the calm.
Is this it? Am I dying now? she begged of her aides, desperately searching their eyes.
No, not yet, we all told her. And tucked her snuggly into the new Sleep Number bed. All night long and into the next day, she groaned in an alien tongue. It sounds like you’re in pain, her aide said.
No pain, she responded. But then she’d tear herself from the bed, driven by some invisible force, sending the aides scrambling to avoid her falling.
I think I’m dying now, she whispered with eyes closed. Yes, I’m dying, she said, not moving. Even the aide was convinced my mother was willing her death to arrive in that instant. But Mom perked right up when asked to initial and sign paperwork for the traveling notary, and whenever she was served rum raisin ice cream. That was pretty much how the weekend went. In and out of this world.
Agitated and restless, in the middle of the night of the day her daughters said goodbye, my mother wanted to be moved to the couch she’d inherited from her boyfriend. Soft, cushy and low to the ground, it was the couch she never sat on because she knew she couldn’t get up out of it. But that was where she chose to sit at 2AM Monday. And soon the aide helped her to lie down there. Then, she finally went to sleep. And never woke up.
These sculptures are worth a lot of money, my mother had told me, way before she could consider dying. I photographed them partly to show her that Yes, I’m taking good care of them, Mom. Also, they kinda remind me of all of us on our own individual journeys through life and dying. What we bring to the ends of our lives. What we leave behind. The chaos and the calm.
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