For 127 days I greeted Mom in the morning, sang Barges at night and recited the Lord’s Prayer. She lay in her hospital bed, dining room table pushed to the wall, chandelier cabled close to the ceiling. Most nights she joined me in phrases as we sang about barges flickering lights, resurrecting distant memories for each of us from camp fire days of the past. The first night during this final homestretch, I recited the Lord’s Prayer, something I hadn’t said since Dad lay dying six years prior, joined then by hospital chaplain, family and Mom, or bedside as a child. The prayer too became a ritual for 126 subsequent nights, Mom often joining in with me, one night reminding me of a passage I forgot. Her last night, eyes closed, last breaths drawing near.
For more than a decade I accompanied my parents through the joys, and guided them through the challenges of aging, allocating medications, grocery shopping, library pick ups, and doctor appointments. Baby steps at the beginning, watchful leaps at the end. So slowly adapting to the changes from child to guardian, adding handrails to a toilet – interpreting medical instructions. Grateful for each other. And still we each shared our stories.
For nearly seven years I’ve bolstered mom as a widow, through the challenges of moving from independent living to assisted-living to group home and most recently, facing a continued world of COVID isolation –cold weather threatening to end outdoor visits, to her final 4 1/2 months in our home. Grief was my word early in the pandemic, the first three months of lock down when window visits were the closest I could get to this woman who is part of me. I posted Mourning at my deepest low. Now although loss ebbs and flows through my waking moments, my word is gratitude.
For 59 years I have adored and admired my mother, applauded her independent nature, love of people and nature. At times referring to her as my best friend. Securing a special place as the two females in our family unit of seven. Many times over the last year I have advised my mother that she was my favorite mother, usually adding that if I had 100 mothers she would still be my favorite. To this she would laugh. Almost always.
Intelligence was a trait most honored by Mom and often what she considered her most important attribute. Even though those around her might identify kindness, generosity and sense of humor to be her most appreciated quality. A few years ago I openly acknowledged the dementia she was experiencing (Yes, I will use the D word), late to recognize how I too was adding stigma to this condition by “covering for” Mom’s memory lapses in public or around acquaintances. (No Mom, I would say. You are as intelligent as ever, your brain just works differently now.) Other days I might remind her of the decade plus of hiking, biking, traveling and loving family she unexpectedly gained after battling and recovering from Systemic Lupus at 71. Yes, she agreed. It helped her to look at it that way as she tried to appreciate what she still had. And now, following Mom’s passing –living just days short of 88 years, I’m thinking about the grief associated with accompanying a loved one through the various stages of dementia, and the grief we feel upon our loved one’s final passing. Those of us supporting loved ones experience loss and grief, and may reach some level of acceptance with each stage of dementia, before we move to losses associated with the next, and adjust again. For me and I suspect others, when our loved one does make their final transition we have already felt so much loss and grief we are also flooded with relief. Especially when our loved one, like Mom, had shared their readiness to die.
We were lucky. Lucky in family. Fortunate in sibling love that extends beyond the lifetime of our parents. Fortunate that both our parents shared their stories, with Mom leaving us with her 300+ page memoir, writing we have read to her these last years and can continue to read into the future. Three nights before Mom passed, I shared this part to her as she lay next to me, eyes wide open. She acknowledged the writing by listening intently, gifting me with a smile or two. She knew she was the author of the passages.
What is my Legacy?
My deepest hope and prayer is that my children and grandchildren learn from my history…that they will love and care for their bodies, stretch their minds, and grow spiritually as each day passes…that they wisely use their innate high energy levels…that they love themselves and others with passion, gratitude and respect…that they live their lives in creativity and morality…and that they (unlike my generation) make the world a better place for all living beings. Even when I am gone physically, I will remain around, about, and within each of them as a sense of deep, unending love.
And we lived happily ever (and forever) after…Patty’s Memoirs, Patricia Merrillin Daum Montgomery, Portland, Oregon, May 2008.
Now mom is with us in our heart pockets, all of the time. Forever and ever. Most days I feel grief and sorrow that ebbs and flows, but all days I rejoice in and feel grateful for all the time we’ve had together. I have no regrets. Each moment. Each phone call. Each visit. Each walk in the park and shared glimpse of the river. Each song and prayer. And everything else in between. Forever and ever.
“Embrace your grief, for there your soul will grow.”Carl Jung