How do you say goodbye to a loved one when they have already left the room? I received that dreaded call I wrote about yesterday except it was twenty-four hours late. My mother passed away at about 4am while sleeping in her extended care bed. How does one react? The whole family knew it was coming however the realization and the actual experience are two different things.
My youngest brother, Don, had made the trip from Edmonton to Kelowna to be there with her, kudos to him. The facility care staff had already made him aware that time was short so he got a jump on it and was there for the actual event. There is no way to “de-stress” that. As the time neared he called our baby sister, Heather (who had a trip planned for the fall), to suggest she better come now. She did. She was on a flight from Ontario to Kelowna in a matter of hours and arrived Saturday night. Don picked her up at the airport but it was really too late to stop at the extended care centre. They stopped to pick up some groceries after deciding they would stay until the end regardless so were stocking up. They received the call this morning so Heather never was able to get in the last hug or those few moments before mom passed.
She was 95. My last Facetime had been five days ago. My brother, Don, had spend the week arranging Facetime calls so everyone involved could have their “last moments” with mom, or for some, Auntie Pearl. I’m not sure I needed that call since that was not the last memory I wanted of my mother but I couldn’t abandon her over optics. I know how I wanted to remember her and that decrepit shell of a person I spoke with was not the women I knew. In so many ways her passing was a blessing. The mother I wanted to remember was the vibrant, intelligent out going person who never missed a visiting day with me as a polio kid in a hospital who could only have visitors twice a week.
Who I spoke with at the end was a vessel for the spirit that was actually long gone. I say “I spoke” because she couldn’t. There was no dignity left for her and the only comfort she had came through a tube containing saline and pain meds. According to my brother, mom hadn’t eaten in almost ten days and had mentally checked out long before that. Don provided comfort just through a gentle touch (hand hold) in those moments when he was able to sit by the edge of her bed. Even then, he tells me, she wasn’t really aware of who he was but he was the one who took on the task of setting with that husk while the last of her spirit slipped out of the vessel.
Fortunately, with Heathers arrival, he won’t be alone in the final preparations. They will support each other through the cremation process and tidying up whatever there is of an estate which, in these days, is more about filling out all kinds of government forms to “prove” my mother has left this world. When I spoke with him this morning he talked of his last trip with mom, bringing the urn back to Alberta. He does plan on stopping in Olds so mom’s urn can have a moment with my fathers gravestone before going into it herself.
Next year, once all things have slowed down, there will be a “:celebration of life” as we gather, probably for the last time, as a family to share our feelings, stories and memories of mom in her role with the family. After that she will take up eternal residency next to the man who was our father and her husband of 52 years. She may have passed last night but there are miles and miles before she fully goes. Even then she will always live on in our hearts…
Your body stiff without a thought
Upon a satin board, so much support,
Surrounds your shroud,
To mourn the parting of your soul.
You can walk, without a sound,
Into a dark black night.
Without an anchor holding you back,
Your soul will know what’s right.
You find your way through dazzling lights,
Within a bank of clouds.
To sit among souls of support,
That watch us from on high,
I’m now on guard and standing tall,
Knowing things from you I miss,
Your warmth and touch for oh so long,
Brought happy thoughts and bliss.
How do you say good bye? You don’t, you hold those memories close…