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A Gift for Mom

December 14, 2010

Photo by Chalmers Butterfield

My mother lived to be ninety-seven years old. Born in 1911 she saw the world undergo enormous changes. She lived a life that was not without its problems, but always seemed to find a way to give to those in need. When she and my father sold the family home and moved into a retirement community it was an enormous change for her. She didn’t know what to make of apartment living after tending to her own home and gardens most of her life. She struggled to make it “home” and for the most part, she succeeded. When my Dad died a few years later, she was adrift. Disabled from a stroke in his mid-sixties, she had hovered over him and cared for him for twenty years. She was a caregiver by nature and I learned, first hand, most of the tricks of the trade.

For the next eight years, my mother struggled to make sense of her life, to understand what it was she was supposed to do with her time while she waited to die. At first she rallied the necessary support from her children to fulfill her bucket list. Then she turned her attentions toward her neighbors in need. She baked cookies, washed laundry, fetched mail and looked in on sick and dying friends. There came a day, however, when she could do this no longer. One by one she gave up her caretaking activities. It was her turn to be cared for, but it was a completely unfamiliar role and she fought it every step of the way. This made it difficult for her children.

As we age we are asked to change our idea of ourselves and our purpose, sometimes multiple times before we die. As our physical and mental capacities diminish placing limits on our accustomed activities, we must find new ways of understanding who and what we are. For many it is difficult to live without a purpose, or for those like my mother who played more or less the same role her entire life, impossible. Trying to comfort my mother by distracting her was the only thing we knew to do. It may have been the only thing we could do. After all, each of us must make peace with our own lives, no one else can do it for us. This is the job of the elderly. This is the purpose of the last years in life.

It is hard for the living to understand the dying process. It is almost impossible to plan in advance how we will respond. Watching from a loving distance, as our parents pass through this difficult life process is their last real and valuable gift to us. We have much to learn from them even or especially when they are dying. What we witness will inform how we will handle our own last days. It may inform how we live from that day forward. Walking with them, loving them, and allowing them to do whatever thrashing about they need to do as they wrestle with their living and their dying is our last gift to them.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2010 6:01 pm

    Dorothy, I lost both my parents shortly after I turned 20. So it was too early for me to absorb any lessons; all I could do was let the busy-ness of life move me forward. But the loss of my Aunt Patty (my mother’s twin sister), and more recently of my French Aunt Elisabeth, blessed me with the opportunity to participate in the aging process, as the flame flickers and then goes out. Both extremely independent women, they dealt so very differently with their challenges. I loved them both and am richer … and better prepared for my own future … for having shared each step along the way.

    • December 20, 2010 6:46 pm

      The loss of your parents at such an early age must have been so difficult for you Sharon. You are fortunate to have been blessed with aunts that so obviously loved you and may have been able to give you more unconditional love than parents often do. Having them live on in your memory and your heart is the best way you can honor them. We are, after all, the sum total of all who have loved us and all whom we have loved. Thank you so much for your comment. I am happy that you stopped by for a visit.

  2. Judy Rader permalink
    December 20, 2010 8:21 pm

    This article says it so perfectly, “As we age we are asked to change our idea of ourselves and our purpose, sometimes multiple times before we die. As our physical and mental capacities diminish placing limits on our accustomed activities, we must find new ways of understanding who and what we are.”
    I am currently the care provider for my mom. My dad was just recently moved to a men’s alzheimer’s unit and my mom is now without him after 54 years of marriage. Thanks!

    • December 20, 2010 8:35 pm

      Judy, It is a time of great transition for all of you ~ they are challenging times. What helped me most when I was in your situation is attempting to remain as “fluid” as possible, to understand the many different losses we all were experiencing and keep love alive through it all. I hope you have a support system, someone’s shoulder to cry on when you need it. Wishing you all the best this holiday season. D

  3. sunnie permalink
    December 21, 2010 10:16 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. I lost my mother last April right after her 90th birthday. I was her caregiver the last years of her life, and what a privilege that was! I miss her dearly. Hugs,

    • December 21, 2010 10:40 pm

      It’s an emotional time. I would love to send you a copy of my book. Just email me your address, or if you prefer the eBook version, an email address. Wishing you a peaceful holiday season.

  4. January 3, 2011 10:46 pm

    There are lessons to learn from aging parents. I know I learned be thankful for just walking accross a room. Watching them struggle with the simple things we take for granite every day, makes me very humble and thankful.

    Always let them have a say in some of there needs if at all possible. They need some control those last years. I lost my mother 2 years ago and there are things I will do different for my children when the time comes.

    Thanks for sharing and God Bless,

  5. January 15, 2011 1:02 am

    Dorothy, what a lovely, sweet story. Just this afternoon I spent time thinking of my
    Dad.. and Mom, I was blessed to be with both during their dying process very bittersweet. I’d love to share that story with you here. Visit my blog and read it, if you wish, it’s very heart warming too. Passing of Mom

    Thank you. Carol

  6. vicki permalink
    May 9, 2011 3:17 am

    lots to think about. i’m learning so much from you! thank you, dorothy… vicki 🙂

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