My mother is dying.

Not imminently (at least I don’t think so), but sooner rather than later.  She is, as they put it, “in her decline.”  It’s a term I heard a lot in my role as a Hospice volunteer.  Not yet in the pipeline, not yet “actively dying” (another term I learned).  Think of her as a rocket on the pad, steam coming gently from various pipes, readying herself for the big push to the Great Beyond and whatever lies waiting for her.

She’s pensive, mulling.  Thinking.  Ruminating.  Chewing over her life like a cow chews cud, inspecting each portion for what sustenance it offers her on this road which she has now set her foot upon; a road along which she can draw the rest of us only so far before she must leave us to go on ahead, alone.

She doesn’t talk a lot about her dying.  The family in general becomes voluntarily deaf whenever she tries, saying things like “I don’t want to hear this” or “Oh, Grandma, you’re not dying yet.”  Their fear won’t allow them to acknowledge what they see.  I understand that pain, that reluctance to admit what stands before their eyes, but they’re doing her a great disservice.  The dying need to talk about this process, need to search their life and give it some sense of order, some meaning.  The dying need to be heard.

My mother fears that she has not always been a good parent.  (Who is?)  She worries that she will not be forgiven for transgressions she has made; forgiven, not by God, but by those she feels she has wronged.  Some of those folks I know.  I’ve asked them to come forward and tell her she’s forgiven, whether or not she really is.  Fake it ‘til you make it, as they say.  Maybe if they just say the words, it’ll come true all by itself.  Forgiveness has a way of slipping in the back door like a silent cat around your ankles.  You don’t know it’s there until you turn around.  Even then, some people boot it back outside.

I am my mother’s Health Care Proxy; a heavy role to play and one in which I need to become more active.  Calls to her doctor are in order and appointments to discuss her care.  A call to Hospice, maybe.  (Mention of that will go over like a fart in church with my father, with whom I am already at odds.  He may try to bar them from the house, I just don’t know.  Maybe he’ll surprise me, although he’s expressed his reticence to have strangers in the house and, at 91 years of age, is as obdurate as the Rock of Gibraltar.)  Still, I owe it to Mama to try.  I have that responsibility to make her passing as dignified and peaceful as I can.

I am not unaffected by the thick stew of emotions alive within my family right now.  I sometimes wish I were.  It might make things easier.  Certainly it would keep me from having those (juvenile) knee-jerk reactions to my difficult father (who has always been difficult, just ask anyone who knows him).  My work with Hospice has given me a certain degree of distance/dispassion when working with the dying and their families, but this is my family, woven of a cloth patterned with betrayals and hatreds, petty offenses and joy, loss and love.  At some remove there is affection (sometimes).  At others, outright dislike.  We are definitely not the Waltons.  How to bring us to an accord, to agree to disagree, to put ourselves aside and focus (for a change) not on ourselves and our often petty grievances, but on that woman in the bed, that woman who finds it difficult to open her eyes some days, who lays awake in the dark and thinks about those who have gone before her (brothers and sisters, her unloving mother and wretched grandmother, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren)?  How do we unite for her sake?

Maybe we don’t.  Unite, I mean.  I have to accept that possibility.  Bringing cohesion to my family is not my job, but it is my wish.  I’m hoping for a Christmas miracle, no matter what the time of year Mama chooses for her “lift off.”  We each do battle with our own demons, so I will battle mine (that knee-jerk reaction, for one) and strive to do the best I can at any given time.  Sometimes that best will be pretty good.  At others, it will be pretty lousy.  It is what it is.

Like life.

Like death.


About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
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6 Responses to Resolutions

  1. Suzi says:

    Thank you for this wonderful essay… so many of us with parents in their late 80s and early 90s, are dealing with these very issues, thoughts, feelings, family dynamics, medical decisions… and dealing with them right now, today, tonight and again tomorrow. As I am… thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I’m so glad I clicked on your facebook page tonight and found your blog. I have been given a surprise blessing! – Suzi

    • Dear Suzi — Thank you so much for writing. I hope you’ll check in with me from time to time.
      Dealing with the end of life of a loved one (or even one not-so-loved) is a situation unlike any other. What has helped me enormously is the time I spent as a Hospice volunteer. My patients were the best teachers I’ve ever had, and I learned so much from watching their families (both how to do it and, more importantly, how NOT to). Keep open to the process. The book “Dying Well” by Ira Byock is my bible, as is “Stay Close and Do Nothing.”
      I wish you strength and peace of mind and heart and spirit. Let me know how you are.

  2. Adina says:

    DEATH sets a thing significant
    The eye had hurried by,
    Except a perished creature
    Entreat us tenderly
    To ponder little workmanships
    In crayon or in wool,
    With “This was last her fingers did,”
    Industrious until
    (E. Dickinson)

  3. becky truesddell says:

    wow this is great my mom too is on hospice she is in end stage dementia alzhimers I too am the health care proxy guess cause I am the only girl , my brothers have choose to do nothing the past 5 years not even see her and now that hospice is involved its like they are all suoer heros running to see her it upsets me because when she was getting lost na d the police were always calling and she was in and out of geropshy noone would help me….but now when they think she is dying they have to make it right ,,,well I will continue to pray for you on this journey as I know its not a easy one


  4. Hi. It seems like everywhere I turn in the concrete world or in blogland or in regard to my writing–it’s all about the dead and dying. It’s been rather unsettling this week because death seems to be keeping me company–or I am keeping company with death? The interconnectedness of all things in play and above board perhaps. Or my intution on full blast workout. So–here I venture and discover your piece about your mother and family. And I wonder what comfort can I offer. It really doesn’t make anything ‘better’ to know that others also have difficult-terrible family lives or that they’ve been where you are. Perhaps that just confirms the pain that people have created by their choices. What I can say/write is that I ‘hear you’. Maybe family unity is not possible, but the one thing you do have control over is what YOU do in this situation with your mother. What’s in your power is how you deal with her and her journey to her next adventure. Perhaps you can model positive behavior–if you’re so inclined–that others might follow your example–or not. But what’s important, in part, is that you make peace with her in your own way. This is as much for you as it might be for her.
    Peace to you in this hard time.
    shanti om

    • Thank you. Believe it or not, it does help to know that there are others out there with their own versions of this. Logically I know that, of course. Still…human are united by the commonality of their pain. I don’t remember the quote or who it’s from, but I read something once that spoke to that and how each of us has within us something nailed down and in torment. Someone may look like they have it all…but unless you’re living their life, you can’t know what hides in their shadows. Yes, what I can do (and intend to do) is control my own behavior (acknowledging that there’ll be slip-ups) and go forward the best that I can.

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