When Diane Israel’s mother was dying, she reached out to Ellen Goodman – founder of The Conversation Project
I write you one month after the death of my mother. I want to tell you her story and my story involving mom. I hope it will speak to others!
15 years ago, on September 2nd at a healthy age of 67, my athletic, yogi, vibrant, in awesome health mom experienced a massive brain hemorrhage, a Stroke. Yes, a stroke, which until my healthy mom had one I thought were for unhealthy really old people. Wrong. It taught me a deep truth that it can happen to anyone at anytime. It shocked our family and our community in Scarsdale, NY. It changed us all forever.
For almost 15 years I had the privilege to help care for my mom, she needed 24 hour care. Mom never complained, never said, “Why me?” She embraced her “disability” the way she always lived with grace, elegance, and dignity, embodying a peace from within. Thankfully Mom did prepare a living will and a health proxy. She also wrote her autobiography and her eulogy. Despite all the “perfect” paperwork there were many moments of indecision with 4 kids each with their own agenda.
Ellen, what you are encouraging us all to do, us all to talk about, to face is imperative. I see it as life giving and truly fair for individuals and for their families. For my family, out of love and respect for mom, we could no longer speak about death as her speech became even more limited. We would speak regularly though in life giving ways, and if it was not life giving then not in front of her. We felt no matter what condition mom was in, coma, the dying process, etc, that she was present in her own way and we didn’t want to interfere with with her own unique journey. We did not want to make assumptions that she could not hear us, especially after coming out of a coma and saying she had heard us. We never spoke negatively by her bed or in her room; we spoke honestly with her not at her.
The last chapters of mom’s life were a heightened level of profound elegance, grace, and beauty. For four full days and nights she experienced another stroke, which would lead four days later to her death. Three out of her four children were there for this experience. During her passing we were there to honor, breath with, and write songs for her. Mom’s last words, which came from a very damaged tongue were, “I have everything I have always had it. I love you, you generate me I regenerate you, you and I generate good feelings.”
This was the last conversation, the last words, and then three and a half days of loving our mom as she passed. We used no medications, no hospice, and no funeral home. Because we had talked about her wishes I knew her so well and could make good decisions for her and her life which meant quite, peaceful, with out interventions. We watched her heartbeat and listened to her breath. As an athlete I heard her breath, the rattle breath that scared me turned into the breath of running the end of a marathon. I taped her beautiful labored breath and run to it now. She lives on in me, I have her life and breath in me.
We left the room the night before mom died to honor her privacy, to see if she wanted to die alone, and she did not. On Sunday morning, June 23rd at 5:30am I came to say my goodbyes with the birds chirping and the sun rising, this was always my time with mom, and will be forever. Rob, my brother, also wrote a deeply moving song that he sang and played guitar to while crying. He also requested that we as a family talk in the present to mom and leave all medical or negative talk outside her room. Rob then read mom’s 30 page autobiography out loud.
At around 11am mom’s caregivers, who know death well and honored its arrival, shared that death was close. Mom’s breathing had slowed down and her extremities were turning more and more blue. Rob wiped mom’s mouth with a swab dipped in melted coffee ice cream and said to mom, “Nectar of the Gods.” All of us siblings hugging, kissing, thanking mom, crying, saying goodbye, and “love you’s.” We stacked our hands on mom’s heart, oldest sister Lynn, then me, then Rob and I said, “Mom, we are all together, we are all aligned, mom. I am free, mom you are free. I am free of caring for you mom. You are free mom!”
Then in the most beautiful, natural, and elegant way she took her last breaths, three more with long pauses. And then magically, mysteriously, and relaxed took a breath in sighed and that was it.
Until mom’s death I was afraid of death. I have mom’s life and breath in me. She is forever with me. She speaks to me all the time when I am in nature and I take the time to slow down and listen. Her wisdom continues to be my greatest teacher. I live for these conversations.