My mom got her wish for death on April 25th, 2017, exactly 5 years and 2 hours after her eldest daughter, one of my two sisters, died. She was 94 years old. She had a great death. A brilliant life-affirming death. She wanted to die. She embraced it. She was ready and open.
A few weeks earlier I begged her, tongue in cheek, not to die when I was going to be out of town in NYC for a week with my family. Two days after I returned, she took to her death bed, after what hospice called ‘a cardiac event’. When I came to her room at the assisted living facility, the hospice nurse was already there and my mom looked at me from her bed and said weakly but with a knowing smile, “ See? I gave you New York! Now its my time.”
And it was her time. I had moved her out to be near me four years earlier from Florida, also known as “God’s Waiting Room”. At 90 years old, she chose to give up her house, her car, shopping and cooking her own food. Her husband had died a few months earlier, and she had taken care of him and my sister for the prior year. She was worn out with advancing COPD. When she arrived at her new home near me in the Bay area, my mom was convinced she had a year left to live.
Her amazement over her longevity never ceased to fascinate her, and I watched as she held on to the desire to live, in part to be there for my other sister who was struggling with health issues. She was warm and very loving, always with a big smile for everyone in her facility and for me, my spouse and my daughters. I took her every Saturday to get her hair done, followed by a family dinner out on the town. She loved pastrami sandwiches and hamburgers. A wheelchair lived in my trunk so we could go to the coast or to a museum or Macy’s for bargain tops for her.
She had been on hospice for 2.5 years before she died. She used oxygen daily and loved the attention of the facility’s aides and the hospice caretakers. The hospice nurses fought over who would get to see each week as they all loved her so much. She loved getting showers the aides provided and chatting with her many visitors. The other residents adored her for her fashion and jewelry and warm smile.
But in her last year, her ability to hear faded, her need for a walker increased, and her OCPD and congestive heart failure progressed, she would sleep for longer and longer. She fell six times in as many months and started to complain about not wanting to live in a body that was falling apart. We had to have the facility’s nursing team administer her meds due to her short term memory loss and sometimes confusion. This was a big blow to her as she had been so in charge of her meds and loved correcting the medical team. She spoke about not feeling her life had purpose or meaning. She felt her quality of life was compromised and her desire to live was waning.
So she was ready. Things turned as her fear of death became second to her desire for it. She started the process for physician assistance in dying but like many others, ended up passing away before she completed it.
Her readiness was something else. She was full of love and light. She was surrounded by love and love emanated from her. I got to sit with her for most of those eight days and tell her how much I loved her. She sang me the song, “Don’t cry for me Argentina” and told me she loved me and my sister with all her might. She gradually became less responsive and needed more meds. Her granddaughters and son in law came to say goodbye. Her niece got to say goodbye by phone. The nurses were amazing. She was ready to go and was at peace. She had transformed into love and light.
By contrast my mother in law, who had died 10 months prior, was not ready for death and faded quickly and unexpectantly. She did not have a great death, although she was greatly loved by her family. My spouse struggles with the pain of not having gotten to say goodbye.
When I miss my mom, I am quickly filled with the love we shared in those last days and the four years we had together. Knowing she was ready and wanted death is a great comfort to me. I am filled with that love whenever I want. I am so comforted by her readiness and willingness to meet her death that missing her quickly turns to a quiet and joyful love. My mom gave me life and the gift of unconditional love for all her days. She gave me an amazing and awesome gift in how she died. I am forever grateful.