I believe when someone dies, the best words of consolation are, “I’m so sorry.” When I lost my mother, people said many things, but no one said, “I’m sorry.”
There were just two months between the day we found out our mother was terminally ill and the day she died. Specialists determined that treatment would not make a significant difference. Mama never believed in undergoing painful treatments just to live a few more weeks, especially when those weeks would be lived in pain. She didn’t want to be a burden to her children, and she was terrified of dying in a hospital. She wanted to die at home, in her own bed with her two dogs by her side. She opted for hospice. My circumstances allowed me to take a leave of absence and care for her until she died. My sister in town would provide daily assistance, and our out of town siblings would do what they could. I knew that I would never face a greater challenge, yet there was no place else I would have been.
Friends and family who were not home at the time of the diagnosis were upset when they heard Mama’s decision to forego treatment. They all thought she should go to any lengths to extend her life. But once they arrived and talked to her, each person “caught” her contagious peace of mind. Mama was completely at peace with her impending death. There was no crisis of faith for her.
Near the end of her life, I was awakened one night by my mother’s voice. She told me she was scared. I asked if she wanted me to lie down with her until she fell back asleep, and she said yes. We had completely reversed roles. It was the most bittersweet moment of my life. Yet I had to tuck away the power of my emotions and survive on auto-pilot or I would fall apart and be unable to care for her.
As I sat next to Mama’s bed the day before she died, I looked at her beautiful face and she suddenly opened her eyes, saw me, and smiled. The picture of that moment is burned upon my brain. I knew it would be the last time I was ever to see that precious smile during my earthly existence. I smiled back.
And when the end came, Mama got her wish to die at home, in her bed with her two dogs by her side.
Although no one is exempt from it, our society ignores death. When it occurs, many people do not know what to say or do. Some never even mentioned my mother’s death. Others focused upon their own feelings of loss rather than express sorrow for ours. I knew such reactions were due to emotional inadequacies and not to cold heartedness. People simply did not know that the only thing to say is, “I am so sorry.”
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