From Generation to Generation...
I have been home for two weeks, having spent another week with my elderly mom in Florida. When I was there, I arranged for around the clock care and helped her get stronger. I was her cheerleader, encouraging her to move her body. She was able to walk down to the dining room, unassisted, with only a walker! Sadly, the day I left, she contracted a 24-hour virus, which in her frail state, set her back. In the last two weeks, she has continued to slide downhill. When the social worker from hospice called, I knew that her condition was deteriorating. Her condition has slowly declined.
Most of my mother’s aged friends could not understand why she entered hospice. “Don’t you want to live? Don’t you want to get better?”—they asked. Most adults think of hospice when someone is close to the end from cancer. They think of it as a way of dying at home.
But in her case, with congestive heart failure, severe coronary artery disease, and unstable angina, she didn’t want to go in and out of the hospital, getting weaker and frailer after each hospitalization. I am sure if she was 71, she would think about this differently. But at almost 91 years of age, she knows that she is coming to the natural end of her life. She wants to have more quality life, more time with her friends and family, but only if she is well enough to participate in her life, even in a diminished way.
Now she is on oxygen continuously, morphine for her resperatory distress, and she is so weak that she can barely walk at all. The end is near. Members of my extended family, from all over the country, continue to come and be with her--my stepsister last week, my niece last weekend, my brother and his wife this week, and my wife and I the week after.
We are waiting for the inevitable.
Every time the phone rings, my heart skips a beat.
Will this be the phone call?
Almost every one of us is born or adopted into a family and if we live long enough, we will experience the death of our parents. Our children will experience our death and their children will undergo the same loss. It is one of the sentinel events in life that we all share. We are all born and we will all die. Everything in between is up for grabs.
Our connection to our parents is not always simple and pure. Often, we have complex relationships with our parents for many reasons. Perhaps they didn’t win gold medals as Moms and Dads. Maybe they were emotionally distant, poor role models, or had significant health, substance abuse, or mental health problems. Our parents, like us, have their strengths, weaknesses, and limitations.
Anticipating their death can bring on a wide array of feelings and emotions depending on the complexity of our history with them. Sadness, anger, relief, or even lack of feeling can be part of the mix. But adults are often surprised at the depth of feelings that they experience when their parents do pass away. It may be very different than what they imagined. I know that I will feel more alone in this world when my mother does come to end of her life.
I know that when that call does come, or if I have the privilege and good fortune of being with her when she passes away, that I will feel relief that her suffering (and mine) is over and grieve over my loss. With her passing, my brother and I will take her place at the table as the older generation. While this is not a role that I cherish, it will be our turn to take this mantle. I know that her shoes will be impossible to fill. But we will do our best to make her proud.