Monday, August 31, 2009

Celebrating life at the end

Phones ringing at 1:00 in the morning never bring good news.

This weekend, our family experienced that 1 am phone call bringing news of the death of my husband’s mother. It wasn’t unexpected; in fact, it was a blessed relief for the entire family who had watched her growing increasingly weak and less responsive day by day over the past several weeks.

Early on, she would grasp our hands and say, “You know that I don’t want to linger. I just want to go quickly.” Initially we’d encourage her to hang on and fight, but, as time passed, it was clear that lingering wasn’t adding to the quality of her life. We begin to spend the time we could with her laughing whenever possible, talking about her many grandchildren and their adventures, and sharing life with her. Sometimes we’d simply sit and hold hands with her while we watched the news or one of her favorite shows together.

Until the last day, she’d usually grasp our hand with both of hers and hold on tight. Even when she couldn’t talk, she’d look in our eyes and communicate that she valued the time we spent with her.

On the last day, she no longer had the spark of life in her eyes, even though she continued to breath. She couldn’t speak; perhaps she could hear us and feel our touch, but we couldn’t see a sign of her spirit left in her body. We took our turns crying with her and each other; it was clear that we had lost her.

So when the phone call came, it was a blessed relief to know it was finally over for her physical body, too.

We were lucky to have all our children home this weekend. We had a chance to talk a bit about how we handle the death of loved ones, both personally and as a society. I instructed my eldest daughter to make sure I was cremated and put in a lime-green urn (she and I have a running joke about lime green being my favorite color), but mostly we talked about how right it is to mourn while at the same time recognizing that death is a part of each of our life journey.

My mother in law lived a good long life, just two weeks shy of her 91st birthday. This week as we gather with the large, close, extended family she left behind we will cry a little and laugh a lot as we remember – and celebrate – her life.

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