“Dying is nothing to fear. It can be the most wonderful experience of your life. It all depends on how you have lived.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Today’s “fearlessness” post is about death. I had the privilege of being with both of my parents when they died. Each passing was unique. Each passing was a reflection of a life well-lived.
There is a sweet space between waking and dreaming where time is suspended; my mind stops flitting from thought to thought, my breathing is steady and my heart is open. I was in my sweet space when I heard my deceased father’s voice.
“I will be coming for your mother soon. I miss her. It’s time. I need her more than you do. You will be okay. You always were.”
During the fifty-nine years of their marriage, my father’s whole purpose in life was to take care of my mother. He created a bubble around her. At the same time he was teaching her to be independent. He cared for her when she was sick and he wanted to be sure she didn’t take herself too seriously.
In our last conversation, my dad asked me if my mother could still laugh at herself. I assured him she could and told him a story about a recent event when she did something silly and made a joke out of it.
Later that day he slipped into a coma-like state. His body could no longer keep fighting and he knew my brothers and I would make sure my mother would be well cared for.
To say my father had a strong spirit would be an understatement. He survived thirty-four months in a Japanese prison camp and the Bataan Death March. When dementia had nearly taken over his mind, he continued to look for my mother around every corner of the hospital.
When his spirit came to me twenty-one months after his death to let me know he missed my mother and would be coming for her soon, I took him seriously but protested.
“You can’t have her yet. She’s not ready. I am not ready.”
My mother was in good health, active and not about to slow down any time soon. She was getting ready for her second knee replacement in less than twelve months. She didn’t want the surgery and put it off until winter when she wouldn’t mind being inside while a Michigan winter raged on outdoors.
* * *
Two weeks after my father’s spirit came to me and nine days after mom’s knee surgery, we were in the emergency room. Mom’s nitro pills were not controlling her chest pains.
This was not our first time in the ER. Before following the ambulance to the hospital, I grabbed her medications and medical power of attorney. No matter how many times we had been to this hospital, they always wanted the paperwork.
Mom was having a conversation with the nurse when a traumatic event occurred. The ER doctor asked the attendant at the desk to call “the team.” I knew this meant a Code Blue. A handful of nurses moved her to a trauma room to work on her. The wheels were in motion and my father’s spirit was following the action.
I spoke with the doctor and asked him to stop any extraordinary measures. I showed him mom’s advanced directives.
He confirmed my identity and asked me, “Is today the day?”
“This is what she wants. So I guess today is the day,” I said. There was no time to think about what I wanted, only time enough to think about what my mother wanted.
Two nurses stood on one side of my mom while I sat on the other holding her hand, watching her struggle for breath, her body tensed from head to toe. She was caught in that space between staying and leaving. I could sense by father’s spirit hovering above her.
I stroked her brow and said, “It’s okay to let go mom. Go be with dad. He needs you and I will be okay.”
Her body relaxed and her breathing settled, becoming shallower and shallower. My father reached out for her and she slipped away with him into sweet space.
Today was their day.
“Those who have the strength and the love to sit with a dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
If you have made it this far, let’s end on a lighter note.