Losing a Parent Part One: Lessons for the Living

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A  post by writer Ann Jacobus:

During our fifties, many of our parents are reaching the ends of their lives and many of us are helping care for them.

It’s a difficult and emotional time; however, it can also be incredibly rich and fruitful.

Dying can teach us a lot about living.

There’s a great post by a palliative care worker, Bronnie Ware, called “Regrets of the Dying.” The concerns expressed by those who have accepted that they are in the “final stage” of their life, as Hospice refers to it, are pretty consistent.

The main regret of the dying is that they wish they’d lived life true to themselves and not to the expectations others had for them.

Got that? Our most likely regret when time is up: Not being true to oneself.

No one wishes they worked more and spent less time with family.

Most wish they’d maintained better connections with friends, and had the courage to express their true feelings

And last but not least, the dying wish they had let themselves be happy. Happiness is a choice.

A year and a half ago, I was flying back and forth to Dallas to help take care of my mom who had aggressive, small cell carcinoma in her lungs, colon, internal organs and eventually her brain.

She died peacefully December 1, 2011 at the age of seventy-four.  She was otherwise in good shape and participated joyfully in all the events she could, including a shopping spree at the discount store Tuesday Morning, a mere two weeks earlier.

About a week before she died, we sat in her room.

I was leaving the next morning for California, planning on returning in eight days. I had been two weeks “on” caretaking, so was tired and ready to get home.

I didn’t know it was our last conscious time and conversation alone.

Lying in bed, she kicked up one of her legs and patted it. “I’m really going to miss them,” she said. “These have been good legs.”

I had to agree.

Then she said, “I really thought I would have more time.”

She knew the end was near.

She never did many of the things Hospice said were typical (like withdrawing), so I assumed she still had some time.

I ended up rushing back two days later because she took a sudden downturn, and didn’t really speak again.

Family members nearly always want to know how much time there is. Hospice wisely refrains from predicting. Things can change quickly and people die slower, faster and occasionally not at all.

The “final stage” of life though, is all about learning to give up control and taking full advantage of each moment.

Lessons not just for the dying.

Paradoxically, as a caretaker, you can get caught up in the taxing day-to-day and lose sight of the main event.

That night, Mom looked at me, her eyes bright with so much love it was unsettling.

Our family tends toward undemonstrative, but Mom and I hugged a long time and said how much we meant to each other.

I’m so grateful that I seized that moment to express my love one last time and say goodbye even though I didn’t realize I was.

That I didn’t put it off, certain of having more time.

Because I didn’t.

So, to your folks, and all those you love, say everything you need to say.

Hug a lot.

Also:  Appreciate your body. It’s a great piece of engineering and biology.

Mom, Lacy, Annie

Ann Jacobus lives in San Francisco with her family, where she writes YA and middle grade fiction and blogs regularly at www.ReaderkidZ.com. Learn more about Ann at her website, www.annjacobus.com

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Photos:

Top–Ann’s mom, Libby Jacobus, in Dallas, Texas

Middle– Libby, Ann, and Ann’s sister Lacy near Mexico City

Bottom–Ann Jacobus

16 responses »

  1. Thank you for sharing this beautifully written post. It’s exactly what I needed to read this morning.
    Happy Mothers Day!

  2. Ann, thank you for this. My mom died in 1995 and I still miss her every day. Your post is a wonderful reminder to live our lives true to ourselves, and not to others’ expectations.

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    • Carol, I’m so sorry about your mom. I’m very close to mine, too. (She’s 88.) I’m reading a book right now on parent loss, and as Ann suggests in her post, the author says the closest relationships, although saddest at the time, leave more peace in the end. Sounds simplistic but I’m holding onto it being true.

    • Carol, here you are in the thick of things and my heart goes out to you. When this too has passed, I promise you that you will treasure every kindness to and loving moment with your mom. Of course you’ll look back on some impatience and fatigue (at the very least. We are human!!). Be kind to yourself, too. A lot is being asked of you right now. God bless you and your mom both.

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