Losing a Parent Part Two: Going Gentle into That Good Night or Being Less Wiggy About Death

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Jake Jacobus

A post by writer Ann Jacobus:

As a writer, everything is a story for me, with a beginning, a point of no return, a crisis and a climax, a resolution, and a theme or moral.

I lost my mother, 74, in December of 2011,

My father died at 82 in January of this year, thirteen months later.

And they weren’t even married.

But they both battled cancer of one kind and another for many years.

I got a double crash course in dying, or in the “final stage” as Hospice calls it.

And the theme or moral I’ve determined is that we all should be less wiggy about death.

My folks died as they lived.

Mom, laid back and accepting on one hand; not afraid, yet on the other hand, enjoying some denial right up to the end.

Dad, fighting and refusing to relinquish control until the last forty-eight hours. That’s when, after nine months of serious illness, Hospice finally became a part of his care.

They raged against the dying of the light in their own ways, but I’m convinced they both finally made peace with their departures and went gentle, even gratefully “into that good night.” (Thanks Dylan Thomas)

I find this encouraging.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating just giving up.

But we’ll all have to die eventually.

And as we get older (versus the alternative), we all have to watch it happen to those we love.

If every plant and animal and human goes through the life cycle, with death being not only a normal part of this, but the most certain, guaranteed thing we’ve got, maybe we shouldn’t fear it so much.

There clearly comes a point when accepting it and moving forward into it makes sense. Even if it’s just the last day or two.

My mom was at home under Hospice care.

Dad was in the Hospice unit in the hospital.

I cannot say enough good things about Hospice.

They are such an antidote to our society’s fear and discomfort with death, dealing with both patients and their loved ones with dignity, in a gentle but straight forward manner, helping to make the “final stage” as rich and rewarding as it can be stressful and emotional.

I was honored and ultimately reassured to be present with both of my parents at the moment they stopped breathing in the quiet early morning hours.

The preceding days, two in my father’s case, four in my mom’s, were intense, sad, and full of wonder as the family found its own rhythms of coming and going, talking and silence, laughing and crying, keeping vigil at their bedsides.

The moment a loved one leaves this world is a sacred moment, difficult to describe in its power and awesomeness.

Being present at a birth (let alone giving birth) for me was a similar experience.

It brings us right up close with those big questions.

There’s that really big question: what happens to my parents, or to me, when we die?

Whether you are a religious and/or spiritual person, or not, check out this story—Neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander’s experience: Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. He’s written a book, but was also featured heavily in other media a few months ago. My sister, a doctor, sent it to me after Dad died.

Story, myth, spirituality and science (sort of), all intersect here.

For someone who just sent both parents off from this world, it’s comforting to contemplate reports of such a happy ending, and support for the theme of being less wiggy.

Dad Midland

Ann Jacobus lives in San Francisco with her family, where she writes YA and middle grade fiction, blogs regularly at www.ReaderkidZ.com, and is trying to be less wiggy about a lot of things.  Learn more about Ann at her website,www.annjacobus.com

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Photos:

Top–Jake Jacobus at the helm in Edgartown Harbor, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Middle– Jake and Ann in Midland,Texas

Bottom– Ann Jacobus

11 responses »

  1. Beautifully said Ann. Palliative Care is underutilized in this country partly because doctors haven’t been trained to ease us into our final curtain, only to try and prop it open at all costs. Your parents were lucky to have been surrounded with loved ones when they passed.

  2. Thank you! I agree my folks were lucky. It seems that in the 20th century (in the west) we relegated death to institutions and as you say, only try to prop our final curtain open at all costs. I suspect the pendulum may swing back the other way soon. I have no statistics but anecdotally I wonder if palliative care is expanding. I hope so.

  3. Ann, thanks so much for this wonderful post and for the previous one about your mom. They speak to me loud and clear, saying things I need, and want, to hear. And kudos to Barbara for having you as her guest on this amazing blog! xoxo to you both!

  4. Thanks, Candy. Helping to care for our parents and then adjusting to life without them is a challenge but as we know, part of the natural order. You are an inspiration and I’m so glad you stopped by!

  5. Some people collect things, I collect thoughts! I’ve gained two with your insightful and caring posts about coping with our parent’s death.

    The first is an affirmation for me (it’s one of my favorite philosophies of life:

    1) about being true to ourselves.

    The other an absolute truth:

    2) “The moment a loved one leaves this world is a sacred moment, difficult to describe in its power and awesomeness.”

    Both are going down in my little book of life. Your posts are a tribute to your parents life.

    Blessings, Maritza

  6. My mom died at age 53 from inflammatory metastatic breast cancer– I was 17 and had just graduated from high school. My father died from bladder cancer in his mid 70s. I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 43. I hope I can live at least as long as my mom…but more than that I hope the next generation of women in my family can be senior citizens.

    When my mom died, Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s book was kind of the touchstone. Authors Okun and Nowinski argue that medical advances are resulting in longer periods of chronic but ultimately fatal illnesses. Whereas death was often swift in Kubler-Ross’ era, these days it is increasingly the norm for people to live with a terminal diagnosis for an extended period of time.

    “Death has become less of a sudden and unexpected event,” write Okun and Nowinski. “In its place has become a process that begins with life-threatening diagnosis, proceeds through a period of treatment (or treatments) and ends in eventual death. This process means that both the terminally ill and the family are increasingly confronted with the need to ‘live with death’ for a prolonged period of time.”

    I thought their book,“Saying Goodbye: How Families Can Find Renewal Through Loss,” was pretty good. Maybe you will also find it helpful.

    http://ihatebreastcancer.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/5-things-you-must-know-about-family-grief/

  7. I’ve read that book and thoroughly enjoyed it. Dr. Alexander’s father was a doctor at the medical center I work at so his name had caught my eye. Having lost my father a few years ago, I found Dr. Alexander’s book very comforting. We were on a waiting list for a room but never made it to Hospice. The palliative care nurses at the hospital were wonderful.

    • Thank you, Katherine. I’ll read Okun and Nowinski. Very interesting that we are having to look at death and dying more as a process, due to medical advances and longer lives. I’m sorry you lost your mom at such a young age. Losing them when they and we have had long full lives is hard enough. This renewal or sort of the silver lining of losing someone we love is what has been a surprise to me. That as much is gained in the process as lost. Kubler Ross was ground breaking and I read her as a teen out of interest. I wish you strength and peace in your own fight.

    • Those of us with religious faith of some sort probably come at it differently that those without. I like it as much from a story point of view as from an informative one. His referral to the NDE community and writing, and the millions of people who have had a similar experience was eye opening! Thanks for your comment, Ginger.

  8. Pingback: The Goodbye Party | Believing

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