Tag Archives: living

My mom

“I want to live until I die,” my friend Jim said when he understood that an incurable brain cancer would soon end his life. He did not want to be kept alive by artificial means; he also did not want to live or die in a hospital.

My mother felt the same. When the doctor offered her a pacemaker after her first heart attack three years ago, she said, “No.” He explained that her heart would probably give out while she was sleeping and she would just not wake up one day. “That would be a blessing,” she said.

At the time of that first heart attack, my mom was ninety-two, still driving, going to card parties every week, living in her own home and enjoying life.

After that heart attack, she began to slow down a bit and cut back on some of her activities, but she continued to live on her own and to cook, clean and do her laundry. She was very independent.

Over the past three years, she has had several medical issues that landed her in the hospital for a week at a time, and each time, she returned to her home determined to live as fully as possible.

After an internal bleeding incident in January, her doc took her off heart medicine, and she went on hospice. Then we knew it was only a matter of time until her heart gave out.

When she started falling a few weeks ago, we knew she was getting weaker every day.

Her consistent wish was to live and die in her home.

With some help, my sisters and I were able to make that happen. The past three weeks, someone was with my mom 24/7.

Giving up was not an option for my mom. She had known people who did just that—they stopped doing what they had always done and just waited for death. She would say they stopped living before they died. That was not my mom’s way.

Just last week, she looked at a silk flower arrangement on top of a cabinet and asked me to bring it down. “I want to wash the flowers and rearrange them,” she said. I brought down the basket and helped my mom get to the kitchen sink where she washed the flowers. It was exhausting for her; it was also her way of living her life.

Last Wednesday evening, she ate her last supper. On Thursday, she was too weak to get out of bed and too weak to swallow. We made her as comfortable as possible and kept vigil over the next two days.

Hospice nurses came every day, and each one said some version of, “You girls are doing a great job with your mother.” We are not medical people, and their affirmations were appreciated.

After only two days in bed, my mother died peacefully on Saturday morning, surrounded by family. She truly lived until she died—a role model for living a full life.

Earthen Vessels

The readings the other day included 2 Corinthians 4:7-15: “…we hold this treasure in earthen vessels….” As I read, I was transported back almost thirty years to the chapel at Villanova.

I had been working at Villanova Law School, coordinating clinical programs. Gerry was one of the students in the Juvenile Justice program who regularly visited my office. By the time he graduated, we had become friends.

During the summer after graduation, while he was studying for the Bar exam, Gerry developed a kink in his neck. It got progressively worse and he sought medical help. “Tension” was the diagnosis, and he began to take aspirin for relief.

Gerry passed the Bar in the fall and went to work for a law firm in Rehoboth Beach, MD. But, by mid-November, the stiffness in his neck had gotten so bad that he could barely turn his head. On a trip home to Connecticut, he visited his family doctor, who ordered blood work.

“Leukemia” was the real diagnosis, and a bone marrow transplant was the only hope for a cure. Gerry was told that if no compatible donor could be found he only had two years to live.

“They can tell that?” I asked skeptically. It turned out they could.

When his sisters were determined not to be compatible donors, a bone marrow donor drive brought out hundreds of Gerry’s former classmates and friends. None was compatible, and Gerry died two years later.

While he was sick, Gerry taught me a lot about living well and dying well. He continued working until just a few weeks before he died, carrying on in the same calm, understated way he always had. He would not talk with me about being sick or knowing he was dying or how he was preparing to die—all things I desperately wanted to talk about. He just wanted to live until he died. I learned to let go of my need to process and just be with him and enjoy our times together.

“Earthen vessels” was one of the readings at a Memorial Mass for Gerry held at Villanova’s chapel. He had also recorded two songs to be played before Mass: Lean on Me and At this Moment.

I sometimes hear Gerry’s songs (that is how I think of them, as “Gerry’s songs”) played back-to-back on random radio stations. At those moments, I remember him and am grateful for his presence in my life, even for so short a time.

I am glad he left these reminders; little gifts from him that always make me smile when I stumble across them—and sometimes produce a tear over what I have lost.