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Death Be Not Tardy

Posted on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 in Daddy, Mom

I’ve now watched both my parents die and I have a few observations.

It’s a powerful experience being with someone as they die. Even as you sit in silence, it is very intimate and humbling.

No one really knows how to make it an easy experience for the person dying or the witness. Nevertheless, little comforts matter.

It’s an emotional road trip forĀ  the witness. When I got the phone call from the nursing home suggesting that I come in, I felt all of the following: elation, fear, grief, relief, love, gratitude, anxiety, anger, love.

I placed elation first in that list because it was the first emotion I felt. No more tossing and panting and restlessness Mom was experiencing during her struggle to depart. No more frustration over the loss of a word or concept. No more waiting and worrying for me or for others who love her.

My more consuming feeling about death is that he can be a laggard. That’s where the anger in that list of emotions comes from. I’m not angry that death came, but that he seems to take his own time about it. Both Daddy and Mom were ready to go. Neither was scared of death. Both had a strong belief in heaven. Yet both had to wait days for him to arrive. Daddy did it quietly for weeks; Mom was in bed waving her arms trying to get his attention for days. I have a large chip on my shoulder about this. If I ever write a fantasy story in which Death appears, I’ll show him as easily distracted from his task, a little soft in the head, dragging his scythe along the ground; or he’ll be sitting in a bar somewhere watching a football game when he should be out releasing souls or oiling and sharpening his scythe.

But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps it was my parents’ choice to go slowly. It gave their loved ones time to understand what was happening and complete a bit of grieving before they actually left us. They would be that generous. Or perhaps it was just part of their characters. They both taught me to use something up before replacing it. It’s because of their examples that I unroll the toothpaste tube and give it another long squeeze before I throw it away. And just like Mom, I wash sandwich bags and reuse them until they are no longer transparent. Maybe they both felt like they didn’t want to leave until they’d squeezed the last bit of life out the bodies they had been given.

Today, a day after Mom’s death, I’m willing to be a bit more forgiving. Mom would have forgiven a Death who stopped to watch squirrels at the feeder or stayed with another client longer than he should have because that client was scared. She was a patient woman.

  1. Thank you. This is a meditation about death that I know I will long cherish. As you already know, even when death is welcomed, grieving is an absorbing and idiosyncratic process; may you be sustained, as you grieve your mother, by your remarkable awareness of the nature of both life and grief.

  2. Death, I have decided, has ADHD. While at work something might catch his eye and he wanders off, returning in his own time. Sometimes Death has hyperfocus and works too creatively, too fast. Very rarely does Death work successfully in a ‘team;’ even in a coma my own mother waited until my older brothers left her room and the two of us were alone even though she, too, had been waving her arms about in an effort to get Death’s attention.

    Thank you for bringing such thoughts to mind.

    (Found this entry through a roundabout search on Childcraft. Thank you for those entries also.)

  3. Thank you so much for your comments.

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