Sunday, July 8, 2012

The living and the dying

Eva & Mom, 10 days ago

"Varda, I think I'm dying" my Mother says when we visit her, pulling me close so as not to scare the children. But "No," I reassure her, "you are not dying."

Not yet. Frail as she has become in these past two months, she is robust, sparkling, clearly still full of the stuff of life. Clearly because we have come from my cousin's childhood house, where my Aunt Eva is deep into the business of dying. And the difference is stark, unmistakable.

At this point in my life I, unfortunately, know full well what a dying person looks like. This is good when it comes time to reassure my mother it is not her, that her mortal coil is not easily shook off. That right now she's just having a devil of a time recovering from her fall and broken hip. (Old people heal slow, that's just the facts.)

But it's not so good when I sit with my Aunt Eva, possibly for the last time. I know what I am seeing. There is a far off look to her eyes, a done-with-this-ness to her body, every movement bought precious from a deep dearth of energy.

She is mostly sleeping, and her sleep is mostly peaceful. Her family have come together to give her a good death. Home. Surrounded by the ones she loves best. Her comfort everyone's foremost priority, no pushing, no prodding. Letting this happen as naturally as possible except for the pain part; minimizing that.

A good death that comes at the end of a long good life. It's what we all want.

And Eva has had a good life - education, meaningful career, family, financial security, community. Not perfect, not charmed, but good.

Yet it was almost one cut short, nearly no life at all. As a young teen she one of the very last Jews to escape Germany, on possibly the very last boat out, allowed into this country only because her father's friends had conspired to find a job for him that could be filled by none other - the Metropolitan Museum of Art was suddenly in desperate need of an expert on unicorn imagery in medieval tapestries, and he happened to be the world's foremost authority, imagine that!

Our trip out to Long Island yesterday was good and hard in equal parts. I wanted to be there for Annette, I needed to say goodbye to Eva, though what I said to her, literally, was: "I love you, I love your daughters and grandchildren, we will always be family."

Leaving her side, my back turned, I mouthed my silent "goodbye" closed my eyes for a moment to settle my heart back into place, then headed out into the stifling heat of the yard where the children were gathered, waiting to launch.

We had come with yet another mission, furthering the next generation's cousinly bonding, as so took Katrina out with us for a local jaunt: hours of fun in the Manorhaven pool, a quick visit to my Mom and then late dinner in the town diner.
Ethan and Trina looking tough after a good swim

Ethan visiting Mom

As we left I peeked back into the room where Eva lay. Her husband, my Uncle Walter, was sitting close by her side, holding her hand, gingerly stroking it gently as possible, the one touch she can now stand.

He was gazing upon her face as if to drink it in for all time to come.  There was nothing in that room but love and tenderness, and leavetaking.

It's how we all want to go, if given a choice.

A good death that comes at the end of a long, good life.

Surrounded by love.

In relative comfort, in spite of a failing body.

With sufficient children and grandchildren to know your genetic legacy will live on, beyond you.

Leaving behind many who will remember you; in whose lives you have made a difference; who hear your voice in their heads, giving advice (whether they take it or not).

I am expecting a call soon.

Today. Tomorrow. Whenever. (Probably within the week.)

We've had a good run, my family, this generation all making it into their 80s and 90s. But every lucky streak must eventually come to an end.

Sometime, probably not this week, but likely within the year, it truly will be my mother's time.

For a while it looked like she and Eva were running neck and neck for the next to leave us, but my mother has flopped up upon the banks of life, while Eva is swimming hard toward that other shore.

My mom is a tough old bird, after all.

Some life left in her.

Enough to appreciate flowers; a beautiful sunset; a hot fudge sundae, and the nieces (and grand-nieces) that bring it to her, before they drive the short mile back home to their dying mother.

I hold them all in my heart.

Our visit to Mom: Trina, Jake & Ethan


  1. she looks peaceful! its never easy to loose someone we love, but it does seem easier when you KNOW its time

  2. Totally agree about having a good death. No one wants to go on forever (unless we could all keep our 50yo bodies). It's just sad when you look round and the family dynamics have changed forever. Lots of love. xxx

  3. Oh my darling friend: how we will lean on each other this month.

    You and me: both on the same path.

    My mother entered hospice 2 wks ago. After our visit today, she wouldn't say good bye to me.

    She brought me to tears when she said, "No. I won't say good bye. I am so sad. So sad. I don't want to die yet."

    Really. You and me: we'll have to hold each other up.

    1. Oh, Alexandra. I had no idea. My heart breaks for you. Yes, we will hold each other up. (Call me, friend.)

  4. Beautiful post about family. Thank you.


    PS. Speaking of family, yours has great hair!

  5. It is hard watching someone you love die.
    And it's true - you know when someone is ready to go.
    Love to all your family and hopes that ypur mum will recover soon

  6. That touched my heart.

    As one who comes from a nursing background, I know only to well what you mean about knowing what impending death looks like.

    Take care.

  7. This must be such an incredibly tough time for you and your family, I'm so glad though that you have each other and still making the time and energy for those moments together. That's a beautiful thing. You'll have no regrets. And what an amazing story of survival! :)

  8. Unicorns. I love that she was saved by unicorns. That's an amazing only-in-real-life detail, beautiful in the middle of heartbreak and loss. You know what else is beautiful? Your words, chronicling the web of your family holding one another together during these unsettling moments. You are all indeed lucky to have one another.


I am so sorry to have to turn word verification back on, but the spam-bots have found me - yikes!