Tag Archives: death and dying

Forever Young

I never met a situation for which there wasn’t an appropriate Joan Baez song. This is what made it possible to survive the vagaries of high school. Of course, when it is a Dylan song performed by Baez it is the best possible consolation. As I think of my mother, this song keeps coming back to me. In my harsher, younger years, I might have described her as immature and narcissistic. Now as she is coming very close to her last days, I am choosing instead to see her as forever young.

Several years ago after my mother was admitted to the hospital for what we now think was the beginning of dementia symptoms provoked by an infection, I had a dream. My brother and sister and I were in my sister’s house with debris up to our knees. My brother was standing by a map on the wall trying to point out directions. My sister said she had cleaning to do. And I just kept saying, “But a storm is coming.” Well, it came. But not as a hurricane. It came in squalls, cloudbursts, and occasional showers. The degrees of severity varied, but the frequency of the storms increased.

Having both worked and volunteered with different hospice organization, I know there are specific characteristics attributed to actively dying. I can tell you that my mother is actively dying, though not exactly by the clinical definition. She still has significant periods of lucidity where I can recognize her spirit and see a desire to be alive. But they are fewer. And physically, she has become much like a toddler in needing help to eat and with other bodily functions.

My mother had a shitty childhood. I don’t know many specifics because she claimed she doesn’t remember. There would be a few random stories that would creep out, and they were always sad. I know some of the darkness of her birth family, so I’m calling it: she was abused. Some people who come from a traumatic childhood become old quickly. And I think others, like my mother, become forever young. She functioned successfully as a teacher, parent, and overly involved church person. She never missed a wedding, shower, or reunion to which she was invited by extended family. But just under the surface there was an insecurity and perpetual, though usually mild depression. I think in her self-image, she never quite believed she was loved.

I am trying to value the time left for my mother while learning the lessons offered me and making every effort to meet what needs can be met before she crosses over. I was not her favorite and we were not close in the way that she viewed people being close. I am not the huggy-kissy type, so with my mother being a little over-the-top on that, it is a struggle for me.  I saw her last Sunday and spent most of the day with her and my father. She was in nursing care at their retirement community and he was able to return to their apartment at night, though at her side every other minute.

After a bad fall and likely a concussion, she had a relapse on Wednesday. After leaving my (new) job early, taking a train home, then driving for about two hours, when she stirred and saw me she said, “You’re here,” with surprise. I couldn’t understand why she would be surprised when I have been consistently showing up, with frequency. I promise that I have been front and center. But in my mother’s forever young, and now horribly bruised brain, because I’m not the smothering type she fears that maybe I don’t really love her. Having had lousy parents, she is never sure if someone loves her. For me, this is now a challenge to meet someone where they are. However uncomfortable it makes me, I must use this time left to figure out how to convince her she is loved – in a way she will understand.

It is especially at times like this that we get to see how people express their religion. I was not at all surprised to see two of my non-religious relatives respond with great compassion and spend nearly a whole day with my mother. Another drove from out of state just to spend one evening with her. I was not surprised to see my mother’s evangelical church folks absent. You see, they were busy with their “prayer chain.” My parents’ “pastor” has been showing up and offering public prayer, which to me was just showing off. At one point, when she was in intensive care, he made the relatives circle her bed and hold hands and for his meandering prayer. Had we been Roman Catholic I would have expected last rites to come next. I was grateful my mother was not aware enough to see this spectacle because it would have pushed her right over to the other side.

I can’t emphasize enough how much my mother has extended herself for nieces, nephews, and her church over the years. And where are they now? Their own Bible says, “Faith without works is dead.” She is an 85-year-old woman with a variety of unpleasant and frightening health episodes that keep occurring. I have outright asked her pastor to recruit visitors from his church. No one has shown up except for a couple of their own friends who happen to go to the same church and were already visiting. Where is that ‘community of faith’? They have demonstrated to me they are a social club with a religious theme and bad music, not a community, and not motivated to be compassionate.

I believe faith is exercised in how we treat each other. When we extend ourselves to do what might even be uncomfortable because that is what someone needs, it can be considered an expression of divine compassion. Keep your prayers, people – unless you are going to pray for me to learn to be more demonstrative. If Mother God is listening, I could use help with that.

And to my mother, I am sending her Dylan’s words, with Baez singing them in my head.

“May God’s blessing keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you…
And may you stay, forever young…”

Right now, it is time to let others do for you.

And to the verse that says, “May you grow up to be righteous, May you grow up to be true,” she has. As my mother nears crossing over, I pray that she transitions from a sad child to someone who is forever young, and at peace. -J.B.

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