One year ago today, our lovely mother left the Earth. She was 94 and she wanted to go. Blind for ten years and increasingly unstable, she had fallen and broken bones for the third time. In this episode it was her hip and collar bone. It was just too much. In a completely sound frame of mind, she chose the only way out available to her: she stopped eating and drinking.
I am furious at our legal system that she could not have help in her passing from her doctors. They could have spared her three weeks of pain from the surgery that had to be done to address her acute fractures, and the ensuing discomfort from lack of food and hydration. My devoted sister, a highly experienced RN, nursed her at home in her own bed through those three weeks with the help of hospice and a team of caretakers. I was one of the team too. Chris made her as comfortable as humanly possible and certainly the worst of the pain was controlled with drugs, but the fact remains that she suffered unnecessarily for three weeks, when she could have simply gone to sleep. There is nothing more excruciating than watching a loved one suffer – nothing!
But there were truly some good points to having those weeks. She lost consciousness for the last five days, but until then she had wonderful conversations with all who came to say goodbye. Each visit with her four children, her grandchildren, and phone calls with her two sisters and nieces and nephews was an expression of gratitude for her interest in them, for her generosity in welcoming all to the family homestead in the upper reaches of Maine that she worked hard to maintain, for her gentle, supporting and fun-loving spirit. When I reached her bedside shortly after she made the decision to leave the Earth, our conversation went like this:
“Oh, Marcia… I’m so glad you’re here to help Chris.”
“I’m so sorry you had this bad fall, Mom.”
“Oh… I am too. It was so stupid. I was turning and was impatient. I was just so mad about how long it takes me to do anything that I turned too fast and lost my balance.”
“Sorry you had to go through so much. So, you decided to stop eating.”
“Yes. I’ve had a good life. So many lovely people, lovely children. But I’m not enjoying life. When you’re not enjoying life anymore….”
Then she asked, “Are you enjoying life?”
I answered, “Well… it’s not over yet! Yes, I am. But… almost nobody gets through life unscathed. It’s just the way it is. And you know that I went through some rough times. My cancer was rough and then losing Tim right after finishing chemotherapy. That was a tough go. But… you and Dad gave us a good foundation. With a good foundation, you can roll with life’s punches. I came out the other side and I am now doing fine and I owe it to you.”
She replied with a simple, “Thank you.”
That my sweet, humble mother could finally, in her last days on Earth, say “thank you” when I credit her with my resilience through tough times brought tears to my eyes. Finally, she could fully claim her worthiness. So, the most precious gifts in life were exchanged between her and those who loved her in those final weeks — expressions of deep gratitude for a life well-lived and loved that benefited all those in her sphere.
Here is a poem written by Andrea Mabee, wife of my oldest brother, Carleton, that was written for the spreading of Mom’s ashes on her beloved Maine farm. You should know that my mother was an accomplished sailor who loved to cruise the beautiful coast of Maine:
A role model
Always choosing to project the lime light away from her
Ever keeping her eyes on the horizon.
Eyes and nose into the wind
True and reliable
A smile and twinkle in her eyes
A supporter for worthy causes
The family cheerleader
Abundant with kind words
Stingy with criticism
Generous in spirit and heart
Lover of nature
Ready to laugh
Reluctant to complain
Genuine as “this is the real deal”
Mom, today we scatter your ashes in a place that is so dear to you. You have been and will always be the salt of the earth. We are all blessed to have been touched by your love, good nature and wisdom.