45: The Greatest Gift

45: The Greatest Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

The Greatest Gift

We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love.

~Madame de Stael

My first thought was why burden me with this? As I sifted through my feelings, I realized it was a gift, the greatest gift my mother could ever have given to me. I felt honored she would select me.

We all knew Mom was terminal. The cancer had come back, and remission was no longer a possibility. The chemotherapy treatments that had taken so much out of her the first go-round were no longer an option. The right step was to roll a hospital bed into her family room and permit her to die with dignity. This way she would be surrounded by her family and cherished friends. A hospice nursing team was employed to monitor and help keep Mom as comfortable as possible.

Dad had recently retired and was home with Mom all the time. My three brothers and I, and our significant others including her grandchildren, would all gather at their home every night after work and school. We would slowly retreat to our own houses and repeat the routine the next day. Mom was in and out of it, sometimes lucid enough to hold a serious conversation, but the intravenous pain medication kept her sleeping or resting a good portion of the time.

She remained stable for almost a week. Then the hospice nurse pleaded with us to talk to her, to soothe her, to convince Mom we would be okay and she could let go. One of the promises she requested of me at this time was to help my dad adjust, keep him active and busy, assist him in moving on.

Mom had gone the better part of the next day without awakening. The whole family was present, socializing in another room, along with the nurse. Dad was sitting in a chair beyond the head of the bed, watching television. I was sitting bedside with my mom’s hand in mine, stroking, tenderly rubbing her arm with my free hand. I observed her facial expression change ever so slightly, then the most amazing experience I have ever witnessed occurred.

I saw and felt her essence, her spirit, leave her body. Time slowed. Her skin turned an ashen gray, then quickly returned to normal color. I informed my dad, “She’s gone. Mom just died.” He asked me not to say anything to the others just yet. He approached the bed, broke down very briefly and said his final goodbye. I then went to the other room to inform everyone else. The nurse tried to take over; she would check and verify that Mom had indeed passed on. I answered, “Don’t bother, I already know.”

While everyone else crowded into the room, Dad suggested he and I take a walk. I got the impression, as we walked and talked, of relief. Relief that the suffering was now over and that lives that had been put on hold could move forward. He even asked my opinion on how long to grieve, as my mom had suggested a date partner for him. Even in death, Mom still controlled our universe.

No one ever questioned how I knew, without benefit of any medical expertise, the exact moment of Mom passing on. I guess it really didn’t matter, except to me, the recipient of this miraculous moment. There was a movie made in 1993 called My Life, where Michael Keaton passes on in a very eerie scene. I get chills every time I watch it. This memory will be with me my entire life, etched in my mind. Thank you, Mom, for this, the greatest gift.

~Thomas P. Haynes

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