Life, Losing a Parent

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

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

Aging, Life, Losing a Parent

Losing a Parent Part One: Lessons for the Living

Lib

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