I have avoided thinking about my demise for years. I know I am going to die someday, I just didn’t want to actually face it.
I did learn a lesson when my mother, diagnosed with stage four cancer, got busy taking care of business instead of floundering in self-pity. She sorted drawers, and after offering it all to me, sold her 5,000 plus volume library and her collection of eastern artifacts. I battled conflicting emotions’ as she asked me to box books, deliver statues or deposit payments in the bank. All of these items were what made “her… her.” I didn’t want to be a part of wiping her out, removing all the things that built her home! My poor dad hovered in the background, afraid to make a move while trying to support her needs.
One day I took a chair and locked eyes with my mom.
“I don’t like this!” I said forcefully. “This feels like you are giving up and I am helping you do it!”
Tears filled her eyes, a sight I had only seen twice in my life as she struggled for words. Moments later, her face composed she told me to sit still and shut up! I did as I was told, lol. I was mesmerized as she began to speak…
“As you know, my childhood stunk, I survived abusive step-mothers, thyroid and weight issues and more. Then I met your father and my life changed. The only sorrow I had then was the news that I would never carry a child to term if I got pregnant. You proved them wrong, you were my miracle baby. Your father and I vowed to keep you away from the cruelty of our families and we vowed to protect you, and I won’t stop now. I can’t leave knowing you will have to wade through a ton of possessions and paperwork, I want it all taken care of now.” she said intently.
I tried to end the conversation because I was REALLY uncomfortable but she wouldn’t back down. Grabbing my fidgeting hand she forced me to sit still, locking me in her steely gaze.
“You need to know that you are my rock. My relationship with your father has been touch and go but no matter what, you have been here. When I am upset, you listen. When I am mad, you listen. When I am sad or need support, you are there. Every time I reach my hand out for comfort, you are there to take it.”
I lost it here…mom sat back and let me have my fit, just for a short time before taking charge.
“If I am going to die, I have to know that you and your father will be ok. I don’t want you weeping over boxes as you gather my books and Orientals. I want you to spend time with me now and move on later. I need to know that my passing will not strain your body due to your disease. I want to know that your limited energy will be available to take care of your father, he can’t even write a check and he has no idea of how to pay the electric bill or cook dinner. All I ask is that you don’t let them put me in the hospital. I want to be here, in my home when my time comes.”
It took almost twelve months for me to sell all the books, meet with her lawyer, get my name put on the checking account, savings account, savings bonds and house title, but she was bound this would be taken care of before she left. She trusted me to look out for my father.
The morning I got the fateful call from my dad I was not prepared. He said that he had fallen asleep for about two hours and when he woke my mom was unresponsive and gasping. I flew to the house, a mere mile away to find an ambulance backing into the drive. My dad had called paramedics, the one thing my mother asked me to “not” let happen.
They bundled her into the squad and drove her to the local hospital where we were mired down with reams of paperwork and well-meaning nurses. I was angry, all of this red-tape cut into the time I could be holding and talking to mom. My dad, convinced that someone could save her held fast to his decision to call for help, but I heard the doctors say that she was in for “palliative care” all they could do was drug her up and keep her comfortable until she passed.
I played along for a bit, out of respect for my father, but I ended up snapping. Mom’s last wish, her ONLY wish was that if she was to die, she wanted to do it in her own home! Thankfully, a few doctors and nurses helped me convince my dad that she would not survive more than twenty-four hours.
I was torn between comforting my dad and fulfilling mom’s wishes. I climbed onto the gurney, spooning her onto her side as I know laying on her back was painful. When she finally moved, it was to place a hand to my face as she uttered one word, “home.”
She never let go of my face or hand as she kept repeating “home, home, home.”
Torn between making sure mom’s wishes were fulfilled and doing what my dad needed was heart-wrenching, but I had to side with my mom. I asked the staff if there was a quick way I could get mom home and back on her couch, but they passed me from person to person. I finally got pissed and told the staff to call somebody, ANYBODY that could transfer mom to the house before I picked her up and walked all the way! Waiting for an answer I climbed onto the gurney, embracing her from behind as laying flat hurt her back, letting her know I would get her home if I had to throw her over my shoulder and carry her. She squeezed my hand and relaxed.
The ambulance staff showed up thirty minutes later and respectfully wrapped and loaded her into the squad. Once home, lounging on the couch she had slept on for years, her face relaxed and she smiled. It was here that my father and I spent our last twenty-four hours with the most important woman in our life. We held her hands, we rubbed her feet, administered pain medication and told her all about family events. My son, daughter-in-law, their son, my granddaughter, husband, aunt and my mom’s best friend were all present when she took her last breath. My father yelled for me to do something, but once I gazed into her eyes, I knew she was gone. I felt for a pulse and watched her chest, praying that it would take a breath, but it was obvious she was gone. Leaning in for a kiss, I moved my hand over her face, closing her eyes so she could rest.
She NEVER let the cancer rule her, she ruled up to the last twenty-four hours. She dictated where she would sit, she watched Susan Boyle videos online and sat in her usual chair with pride. A mere twenty-four hour period took control, but she stayed on her feet, ruling until the end!
In the days after her death, I realized what a final gift she had given me. Knowing she wouldn’t be here to help me through this loss, she did all she could to take care of the clutter and legalities. A wise woman my mom.
I decided I need to think about the legalities and give the same gift to my kids. I don’t want to face it, hell, I don’t want to go! But I will, so I need to draw up papers and leave my family with a legacy like the one my mom left. I don’t want them bogged down in a sea of possessions and paperwork. It is morbid and not pleasant to talk about, but you are giving your family a great gift by purging belongings and tending to paperwork long before you check out.
Give it some thought. Who would raise your kids you if die in an accident? What will it cost for your family to retain legal custody of your home? How can you word a will to keep it out of probate? Who get the Christmas ornaments, the furniture, the home and everything else?
This was a long ramble and a doubt that many of you are still reading, but for those who are, please know that my mom filed papers to name me as co-owner on all of her savings bonds, checking and savings account. She had my name put on the deed to the house and gave me her most treasured mementos with hand written notes listing the history of each item.
Thanks to the notes, I know that odd, faded teddy bear pin was the first gift my father bought her with his meager wage. I know that the pearls were given to her by a life-long friend so she could wear them at her wedding. I have a box full of history and memories that would have meant little to me if she had left without telling me about each one.