My mom was at the end of her life.
She was 91 years old and suffered a heart attack, damaging her aging heart. After her hospitalization and a brief stint in a skilled nursing facility, she was able to come home. We enrolled her in hospice. She was close to the end of her life and she knew it.
I was fortunate to be able to take off from work, using family medical leave to care for her. I spent most of her last two and a half months sitting by her side, coordinating her care, managing her aides, holding her hand, and giving her morphine in the middle of the night when she had trouble breathing. Her old heart was slowly giving out. Her bright light became more like a flickering candle.
Just a few days before she passed away, she turned 92. I invited her friends to a birthday party my wife and I organized at her apartment. We put away all of the medical equipment, decorated her living room with brightly colored balloons and streamers, and bought party hats for all of her friends. Her buddies were all in their 90s, too, and couldn’t really acknowledge how close my mother was to her end. It was too painful for them.
Toward the end of the party, my mom shushed everyone and said, “I have something important to say to all of you.” She paused for moment, her weakening spirit growing stronger, just for a moment. She looked at each of her friends, gathered to celebrate her birthday and said: “Our lives are all about love. Love is what’s most important. I love all of you.”
My wife and I took note. This was her goodbye speech, short and sweet. She died several days later. I had gone home for a brief trip when she passed away. She told one of her aides that she didn’t want to die while I was there — she thought it would be too painful for me.
It’s so easy in our everyday, busy lives to miss out on what’s truly central in our lives. Caught up in work, racing here and there, answering emails and texts, scrolling through social media, and planning for the future, we can forget what we need to remember.
My mother knew — it’s all about love.
It’s not that other aspects of our life are irrelevant and without meaning. But at the end of the day, it’s love that sustains us, defines us, and brings us into connection with ourselves and the lives we live. It’s what gives us meaning, purpose and hope. Our work will come and go, and eventually we will retire, and our vocation will become ancient history. But hopefully the relationships we have nurtured will support us to the end. And our love will still live in the hearts of our beloved.
My mother’s last months were filled with the people she loved — her children and grandchildren all spent time with her, caring for her and helping her at the end of her life.
She was never without the love she nourished in others.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/health-wellness-library.html.