In this story, Maria tells how she observed and supported her mother through dementia, liver disease and eventual death. Although Maria did not want to accept at first that her mother was dying, her account of how she coped is a loving answer to this question posed in the book we reviewed in our last post : “How can we all better honor the mystery at the end of life, support our shared humanity, and in turn celebrate life to the fullest?”
Here’s how Maria tells it:
“Three years ago, my Dad (Michael) had an incapacitating stroke. For a while, we weren’t certain he would live. He wasn’t able to swallow or to walk and could not remain at home. Mom (Ourana), who had dementia, couldn’t live at home without him; so, my three siblings and I had to help our parents make the transition to a nursing home.
“One of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do was pack my Mom’s things for that move. She was very artistically gifted and her lifetime of beautiful creations included crocheting, clothing of her own design, and beautiful bedspreads woven from silk. As a young woman, she had raised the silk worms for this purpose. Now, as I packed to move her to the nursing home, I had to leave all these lovely things behind.
“Mom could not stop wondering why she was in a nursing home when she had four children. We had tried to have her live with us and had taken turns looking after her in her own home, but the dementia was so severe that she needed 24-hour care. Although we had tried very hard, we just could not look after her by ourselves. When we took her out on special occasions, we would have to trick her to go back to the home. About a month before she died, Mom finally accepted that she lived in a nursing home with Dad.
“A time came when Mom didn’t know my name anymore, but she knew I was her daughter and that I was there to see her and take care of her. I was willing to do whatever she needed: feed her, comb her hair, bathe her and dress her. I thought, I am willing to do whatever she needs, but I don’t want to change her diapers. Then, when the time came, and she was in emergency at the hospital, I changed her four times, because that was what she needed. I had no difficulty taking care of her in this way. I did it with love, and it was my pleasure to take care of her.
“On August 15, 2018, Mom became very ill and stopped eating. I began tricking her to eat, one spoonful at a time. I thought, if I can get her to eat, maybe she can live longer. Just a few weeks later her skin turned yellow and the doctors discovered there was something wrong with her liver. Still, I didn’t want to believe she was dying. My siblings and I didn’t want to believe we were losing our Mother. I went almost every day to see her after that. I wanted to do everything I could for her.
“Earlier in the summer, Mom told me she had a dream. In it, her mother said, ‘It’s time for you to come’. Mom knew that her Mother was dead, and she was scared to think of dying in order to be with her mother. Several times she had dreams with her mother telling her it was time to come home. When she told us about them, we denied that we might be losing her. We’d say to Mom, ‘You’ll probably live longer than we will.’
“Then she had another dream where her mother said, ‘Ourana, it’s time for you to come.’ This time, Mom said to my father, ‘Michael, it’s time for us to go home.’ Shortly after this, she died.
“The last time I saw her was the day she died. When I arrived, she opened her eyes, then clapped her hands three times. She said, ‘Have my blessings! You came to see me.’ The last words she said to me were, “Move a little bit. The people, they are here. A lot of people are here. They came.” I asked her who, but she didn’t answer.
“I understood that she wanted me to move aside so she could better see those who had passed on earlier and were now coming to greet her. I couldn’t see them, but I thought, She is seeing something. I think a lot of people she knew were there to welcome her. Her face was glowing. She looked very happy and peaceful. I thought, Maybe she is here in this life, but her Soul has already left.
“This powerful moment is going to stay with me all my life, because I was there and saw that she could see the people who had come. After this, the distress she had felt since her emergency visit to the hospital was gone. It was a big change for her. It’s very different to hear someone tell you that they had an experience like this with a loved one, than it is to actually be there to see it, experience it, feel it.
“I kissed Mom on the forehead as I left her that night. ‘Good-bye, Mom,’ I said. I had never kissed her on the forehead or said good-bye like that before. She died later that night after being given communion by a priest.
“Since then, I’ve had three dreams with her. In each she’s been young, beautiful, healthy and peaceful. I believe she is in paradise.
“I have no regrets, no guilt. I am very glad I served my parents, taking care of them, when they were in need. I became very tired from all the work I did to help them, but I’m so glad I did it.
“When I was a child, I felt I had all the time and energy in the world to play and have fun. Then when I got older, I felt I had no time or energy as I worked to make my career a success, get a home, have a family, and take care of that family, including my extended family. Now, I want to use my time and energy to enjoy every day. We never know how much more time we have. This is now my philosophy of life, and I am like my Mother: happy, and at peace.”
The Meaning of Forever Project continues to accept stories of comforting experiences with loved ones who have passed on, and of near-death experiences that have helped to show the continuation of life beyond the physical body. You can email your story to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can find more about our project on our Facebook page, and our Meaning of Forever Website.