A Good Death Story

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photographs sculptures to illustrate dying a good death.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.

Got any good death stories to share?

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2 thoughts on “A Good Death Story

  1. Sandy

    Wow, that was a great Mom story. I have a Mom story.

    My mother was 86…and prone to calling 911 often. The EMT staff on the ambulance got use to my mother’s calls…and finally…they figured out that all she needed was to feel secure in her bed and tucked in. They did that. Often.

    My mother did have a serious case of angina…and had to be rushed to the hospital often to check out if it was her heart…or having a heart attack. It was always serious angina. That can be extremely painful, I’m told. But Mom was rarely held overnight…most often her heart was checked out and she was taken back home. Thus the long romance with the EMT staff.

    One Monday Mom had one of her “rush to the hospital by ambulance” attacks. The routine was established; she was checked out and sent back home with instructions on how to take better care of herself. On Wednesday of that week, my “here” brother and his wife, and I…were taking a train to Flagstaff, Arizona to visit my “there” brother. I visited my mother and told her we won’t go, we can’t leave her. She said…”No, no, I’m fine. You guys go and be together.” We hardly ever saw each other…so we left on Wednesday. The train was a 3 day trip on Amtrak, through Albuquerque…and up to Flagstaff. It was a great ride, but cold. I made a note to carry a pillow and a blanket with me if I ever did this again. The cell phones died…the chargers on the train by the seats did not work. So, we lost contact with the flashing world whirling past us by late Wednesday night.

    When we arrived in Flagstaff where my “there” brother was picking us up, it was late at night, maybe around 10:30. We exited the train…did our hugs and greetings…and then my brother said “While you were on the train, Bertha died yesterday.” Huh. What? He repeated it…sadly. It was strange he called her Bertha, her name of course…instead of “our mother.” But, he was doing it for effect, I’m guessing. Since our cell phones had lost power, we could not have known.

    And so, we hurried to call home and find out what next. I called the funeral home. “What do we need to do?” I asked. He told us about how her brothers and sisters were going to arrive and how her older siblings were taking care of things. My mother had prepared everything earlier, on her own. All but the stone was taken care of. Just as I was lowering the phone to hang up…I hear the undertaker say…”Okay, so we will be putting her next to your Dad.” “What did you say?” I exclaimed as I picked the phone back up. He repeated it. It is a good thing I didn’t hang up…as this coveted space next to my Dad was to be saved for his second wife, my stepmother…not my mother. The undertaker did not realize at the time that my mother had purchased a different plot…and made sure that it was within “eyesight,” she said, of my father’s burial place. That faux pas was averted.

    Upon arriving back home, we heard the story of her passing. My niece, the daughter of the “here” brother, was put in charge of checking in on Grandma while we were away. And so she did. Her delightful story was pure Bertha-ness.

    On that Thursday my niece went to visit her Grandma, who lived in an apartment. Grandma had a number of packed boxes on the floor…each with a name on it as to her three children…and which box would go to which. She had taken things off her wall…and packed that too. She had done her nails, which she had not done for quite some time. Her signature nails were one of every color…or those with spots on them. She would have led the trend as we see nails done this way today. She colored her hair, which she had not done for a long time. On this day it was not grey, but the normal brown that we all remember Bertha’s hair to be.

    My niece said she was very different…she wanted to talk. On a normal day, you couldn’t be 15 minutes with my mother as she just would be “done” with you. On this day, she told stories of her kids. Stories of her life. Stories that made her and my niece laugh and cry. My niece stayed for over 2 hours talking with her. When it was time for her to leave, my mother asked her to tuck her into her bed, under a quilt that I had made her when I was 20. Then she said something very unnatural…she said “don’t lock the door on your way out. My brother will be coming for lunch today and let himself in.” My mother always locked her doors.

    And so Lisa left, with her grandma tucked in and curled up cozy in bed. My mother had passed before her brother showed up for lunch.

    I so hope, that I can have a passing like this someday. Maybe without the colored nails…but I’ll figure out what my signature goodbye will be.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      OMG Sandy. Thank you so much for sharing your mother’s death story. How amazing. And how wonderfully “Bertha.” Yep. I think I could get a few ideas from this myself. I love the energy and kinda-nesting-like spirit she found in the end, that led her to color her hair and do up her nails. Yeah, a signature goodbye. I will remember this. Many thanks. What a great way to start off my evening. Wishing you a great one too.


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