Saying Goodbye to a Parent

Mom & our oldest in 1986

It has taken a little while for me to be able to put this out publically. My mother passed away March 23rd.

I am not someone who posts every life changing event on Facebook (I know, I know, odd since everywhere we go ends up there) , some things I just feel like keeping private.

But a little time has gone by and I realize that this is an experience that many of us are going through at our age, so I thought I would share.

Mom was 85 years old, so this was not a tragedy. She had been in and out of the hospital countless times over the past few years. Her body was failing, but her mind was still razor sharp.

That made for perhaps the best relationship we had in our entire lives over the last couple of months of her life. My sister and I were tasked with moving both parents into an assisted living facility following my mother’s third stay in skilled nursing care.

Obviously they couldn’t live on their own any more.

Dad was fine, just bring what I need and I’ll get by, but mom wanted to go through every item in the old house to decide whether to keep it with her, give it away, or put it in storage.

This meant that me and li’l sis had to bring box after box to the new home for mom to look at each and every item of clothing, photos, books, mementos, shoes, and practically everything else we removed from their old house.

Elizabeth James 1933 – 2018

As those memories flowed, any and all of the difficult times that I had with my mother over the years faded away. We talked more intimately than we ever had, laughed, held hands, and just enjoyed each other’s company.

The process took three weeks, and two days after we finished she was back in the hospital.

At first this stuck me as incredibly frustrating. We just did all of that for nothing.

But then it dawned on us, we had shown mom her life. A very slow motion version of the cliché life passes before your eyes before we die. When that was finished, so was she.

Within two days it was clear that this time was different. She was not going back to some sterile nursing care facility or assisted living, she was going home.

She knew this, and told her doctors in no uncertain terms.

At one point a doctor was so stunned by her blunt insistence to be allowed to die with dignity that he turned to me, my father, and sister to ask, “Are you all onboard with this?” Of course we were. This was a huge blessing for my sister, who has medical power of attorney for my folks, because she was relieved of the burden of making the decision to let mom go in peace.

As she prepared to go into hospice, she had the chance to speak with all of her five children and six grandchildren to say goodbye.

Three of those grandchildren are mine, and I cried each time as I took the phone from mom’s frail hand, but I also told each of them how much inspiration as to how to face our final hours I had been privileged to witness.

After that day she never regained consciousness, and two days later my mother, Elizabeth Fitzgibbon James, slipped peacefully away after receiving a goodbye kiss from her husband of 65 years.

These remarks I made at her service perhaps capture my feelings better, since I wrote them as she passed away.

Several of us in this room truly owe our very existence to mom. An obvious fact, but one easily overlooked as we went through our lives preoccupied with our own day to day. In my case, that also means that my three wonderful offspring would not be here if not for mom. How could I possibly ever thank her enough for that? I can’t, but thank you mom.

Perhaps that is why we often refer to the earth as “mother,” mother’s are that important. Everything that has ever happened in now two generations of lives is directly because of her.

Mom was also a companion; obviously everyone here was touched by her in some way, but one man far more than all of us. About a week ago I picked up dad in the morning to go down to the hospital to see mom and he told me of a revelation he had just had while praying the rosary.

In a quiet moment of meditation he heard himself being asked as a young man “What if I offered you a loving companion for 65 years?” With tears welling in my eyes I told him, “now that’s a deal you would take!”

These past few weeks have remarkably been some of the very best times mom and I have ever spent together. An amazing blessing.

While moving her to Larksfield, Kathryn and I brought her boxes of nearly everything she owned for her to decide whether to keep or give away. We didn’t realize it at the time, but it was almost as if we were showing her her life.

During the process we got closer than we had ever been. She was tired and in pain but forged ahead like a trooper. One evening I was sitting with her on the bed and she quietly said to me, “David, I’m done.” I instinctively knew that she didn’t mean finished with our task for the day. Two days later she was in the hospital and in a few more she was mercifully taken from this world.

I have to say that those last few days were about the most impressive thing I have ever seen. She was perfectly lucid, which gave her the opportunity to say goodbye to everyone among those two generations I mentioned moments ago.

She clearly, more like emphatically, communicated her wishes not to linger or suffer to her doctors, all with overwhelming dignity, along with a healthy dose of the best of her wry wit. It was without a doubt the finest example of how to face life’s final chapter we could have ever been offered.

So now it is her time to soar, to be raised up on eagle’s wings, borne on the breath of spring, made to shine like the sun, and held in the palm of his hand.

How many times did we as kids come barging through the back door yelling “mom, I’m home?”

Well now it’s her turn to call out, “I’m home!”



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4 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to a Parent”

  1. One of the toughest facts to accept for me now is the fact that my parents are getting old. It gets me teary-eyed every time I think about the inevitable. Truly, no matter how old we get, we would always need our parents.

    1. No doubt, but it is inevitable. I miss her, but am glad that she left the world peacefully after a long and full life.

  2. I’m very sorry for your loss. It’s hard to put losing a parent into words – my own father passed away 20 years ago and my mother-in-law died on March 31 after a long struggle with dementia (any time with dementia is a struggle!) – but it seems you’ve done a good job of it. I’m wishing you, your family and especially your father, peace and wonderful memories.

    1. Thank you Jill. Best wishes to you too. My dad is holding up alright but it has been hard. As I said, this was not a tragedy, she was in a lot of pain and ready so it was for the best.

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