Sunday, December 26, 2010

Death Unfinished, Words Unspoken

My mother fought hard to stay alive. 

After we were told by her doctors that nothing more could be done, and she was put under hospice care, the writing was on the wall.  

But she kept fighting.

So we didn't talk about the fact that she was dying.

Several times, I approached the topic of death with Mom and was told, in no uncertain terms, that we were not going to have that conversation.  Talking about death, according to her, would signify that we had given up hope and would only hasten her decline.

For the next two months, we lived in the reality of Mom's stubbornness and our denial.  Because of that, we missed the small window of opportunity when she may have been able to engage in meaningful discussions with each of us. 

Honestly, I feel angry about that now.  Angry that my mom couldn't have a conversation that might have brought peace to her children and to her.  Angry that I was alone in wanting to help her move toward greater acceptance rather than join her in denial.  Angry that we watched her die and so much is left unfinished. 

And now, it's too late.

It's done.

Inner Critic thinks I'm being unfair and childish.  People have the right to live - and die - the way they choose.  Intellectually, I understand this.

But, as a daughter, my emotions get in the way of my logic.  And, as a mother, I can imagine some of what I would want to tell my son.

Like how much I love him and what a light he is in my life.  And maybe we'd share memories like the time, as a little boy, he begged us to play The Dark Crystal over and over again at the part where Fizzgig throws a tantrum, and he laughed so hard he almost passed out. 

Or we would laugh about how I used the f-bomb multiple times the one day I tried to teach him to drive.  B-man took over from there.

I would let him know that nothing can ever diminish my love for him and I will comfort and protect him in every way that I can, even in death.

That's what I needed to hear from Mom.  

I know she loved me, but I'll never know what she might have said had she known she was leaving us. 

In the coming years, I can imagine many one-sided conversations at her grave.  Someday, I may come to terms with that.  But right now, her death is the unfinished business of my life.


  1. Very touching, and so true for many of us. Death happens in different ways - to miss the actual moment of their passing (as I did with my mother) is also another form of unfinished business. In her case, I think she would have liked to have talked about her fear of death, but I shut off to that kind of hard conversation. So I feel some guilt as part of this "unfinished business" business.

    Don't be hard on yourself. You were guided by your mum's wishes, and that counts for a lot.

  2. These words that come straight from your soul touch me because four days ago I thought that my mother was going to die. It was only because she had taken the pills for her blood pressure twice and she fainted. But as we didn´t´know, my brother and I thought and felt she was leaving us. The fact that she would have left us this way, without words, without any conversation crossed our hearts. My Dear, I am feeling what you feel at a certain point, because my mother is well now. But when this will happen I really wish, I want that we talk and say goodbye with warm and words. It didn´t happen. This is making you feel this way. and it is right to feel it. I can only send from here, far away but with Love my support, emotionally speaking, that you deserve and one day what you feel now will be a past unfinished business with connections with your own future trip, and I feel it will lessen what you are feeling now. Cause... such is life.

  3. Is there such a thing as a perfect exit? And is it a single moment, anyway? You are perfectly reasonable and justified in hoping for such a thing...but I hope you are able to come to peace with the one you were given.

    It is almost a haunting, the way the idea of the best way to exit has peppered the last season of my year. I have watched you grapple with simply losing your mother...and to watch you move to the how of how it happened, in such a clear and clearly pained heart goes out to you. V. is quite right, you know; you WERE following your mother's wishes, and you were not in a position to guide her anywhere else, as you were quite enmeshed in the passage.

    I'm including a link to an article from The New Yorker, written by a physician who questions his own handling of terminal patients he has cared for. It's the medical profession point of view, not the family's...but with your gift for honestly and movingly sharing your experience, I suspect you will find the overlap. Perhaps reading it will help you take some steps on this processing journey.

    Perhaps even, someday, you will find that you have both come to terms with your mother's death AND helped someone else better grapple with the death of an important person in their life.

    Perhaps you are further along in both than you realize.

  4. Vanessa, thank you for your comforting words. Your empathy and validation has helped me many times over the past year. And I know what you say is true; she wanted it to be just the way it was. The fact that I was present at her death is precious to me, and in the end, it will be enough.

    Thank you again for your support and kindness as I work through these different stages of loss.

  5. Vintage lady, your comment touched me. What a scare that must have been for you and your brother! Things happen as they do, and wrapping one's mind around those events can be surprisingly difficult and the oddest times.

    I loved what you said about what I am feeling now will someday be past unfinished business. I'm looking forward to those future connections. A sincere thank you for your comment.

  6. ScentScelf, hello! It's good to see you here again. You are so right - there is no perfect exit, and I suspect that certain regrets exist regardless of the best attempts at closure. And yes, I was enmeshed in the process of her dying; too much so to pretend now that there was true objectivity to be had anywhere.

    The Holiday Season opened this new level of awareness; the realization that it was not so much what I didn't say to her, but rather, what she didn't say to me before she died. This feeling of abandonment is new in my grief, and the accompanying anger a bit unsettling. I appreciate your pointing out the movement into another stage of grief. That reminder gives me comfort.

    Actually, I read the article you have referenced, but did so quickly as it was given to me at work, and I didn't have the time to linger thoughtfully over the words. I will read it again now at your prompting, and appreciate your insight and kindness.



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