A Mother’s Final Gift

[We are excerpting one last time from our new book, A Mother’s Final Gift: How One Woman’s Courageous Dying Transformed Her Family]

My mother died three years ago, and her death and dying process has changed my life. I’ve never been afraid of death itself. Rather, I’ve been afraid of the process it takes to get there. My mother’s dying process played out my worst nightmare. She became incontinent, and had to have her granddaughters, daughter and son-in-law change her diapers. In the last weeks, she was totally dependent on other people for everything. She was not able to get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, or even change to a more comfortable position in bed. Plus, she was at times in significant pain.

I believe my mother concentrated on the goal rather than the inconveniences along the way. She had prepared her whole life for what she called, “the great adventure of death.” The fact that this adventure had inconveniences, like being incontinent and in pain, did not stop her from enjoying the experience.

Imagine you had saved for many years to take a trip of a lifetime. You got to the airport and they told you your plane would be delayed. You might grumble a bit, but then just as quickly you would return to the excitement you felt about this dream trip. That’s how my mother was. She grumbled a bit from time to time about the inconveniences of a failing body, but she held high the goal of a beautiful dying process — a journey as well as a destination.

There was so much about her dying experience that was exciting for her, like seeing her beloved husband of sixty years who had died eight years previous. That in itself was enough to erase anything painful or disturbing about the ordeal of dying. And, as we write about in the book, there were other experiences that were just as powerful! She never felt alone or scared. There was so much unseen help and love surrounding her.

Words from a song written by Michael Stillwater seem appropriate to what my mother was doing: “Breathe in the pain, breathe on out the love. May my heart be a place where this world is changed forever.”

I saw my mother doing this with her dying process. She breathed in the pain, then it went through her loving heart and she breathed out more love. In this way she showed me that it does not matter how our body dies. It matters that we concentrate on love, and knowing we are being cared for in the highest way. Her main message to me on her death bed was, “Please tell everyone you can that death is so beautiful.”

My mother has given me many gifts in my life, but the model of dying in such a beautiful and grateful way was her final gift to me, and a gift I will greatly treasure. I can no longer be afraid of dying. No matter how difficult or complicated my own dying process becomes, her strength and positive attitude are now a part of me. My mother has truly given me her final gift. When it is my time to die, I hope that I am able to give my children the same incredible gift that she gave me. It is a gift that lasts a lifetime.

Five Christmases before she passed from this world, my mother gave me a small porcelain music box in the shape of a gift-wrapped box. When you open the lid, it plays the song, “Always.” The inscription inside the lid reads, “Always my daughter, and now also my friend.” A small hand-written note, also inside the box, brings me deep comfort: “Always remember, when you can no longer see me, I will still be there loving and caring for you. – Your ever-loving Mom.”

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