The Passing

Dear Readers, you have been with me through the whole of the journey of the past few years, with all its ups and downs, and I have so appreciated your thoughts and support. So today, I wanted to share with you the last few days of my mother’s life. I realise that many people are finding this time of year difficult enough already, so please don’t feel obliged to read this if you think it might make things worse.

I got the call to go back to the Nursing Home on Monday. When I arrived it was clear that Mum’s breathing had changed – there was a distinct rattling sound with every breath, and it seemed as if it was shallower and faster than it had been previously. Mum seemed to be totally absorbed in the process of dying, and unaware of what was going on, but I tried to remember that she could probably still hear at least some of what was going on, and could still feel. We all spent a lot of time holding her hand and talking to her. My brother and I took it in turns to be there – there is no way of knowing how long this stage will last, and Mum was a tough, determined woman.

After a couple of hours, I went to speak to the staff nurse.

‘This may sound cold-blooded’, I said, ‘but I want to know what the practicalities are, and what needs to happen once Mum has passed’.

So it was explained to me exactly what would happen in the next few hours and days. One thing that the Staff Nurse said triggered something in me.

‘You need to think about how you want her to be dressed when she leaves’, she said.

Mum was always a splendid dresser. She loved bright colours and it was a running joke that her socks had to match her outfit. I went back to the room and rooted through her clothes, but Dad has been packing and unpacking their clothes and it was difficult to see what was clean and what what wasn’t. And so I found a nightdress that didn’t look too bad, but felt very uneasy about it.

I went back to my Bed and Breakfast, and lay on the bed. It occurred to me that there was no way that I could let Mum be buried in a tatty nightdress. It was pouring with rain outside, the raindrops bouncing off the window. I made a decision, and phoned a taxi.

I went back to Milborne and collected the clothes that Mum had been wearing for her 60th Wedding Anniversary Party. She described the event as ‘the best evening of her life’. I folded the lacy top, the waterfall jacket, the pale blue trousers. Then I jumped into the cab and headed back.

I told the Staff Nurse that I’d got the clothes and that I had another request.

‘I’d like to help to wash and dress her after she’s passed’, I said.

‘That’s very unusual’, said the Staff Nurse, ‘ but of course you can be involved, I’ll write it down on her notes. But if, when it happens, you don’t feel up to it, that’s fine too’.

I had no idea that I was going to make the request until I made it, but this was a lesson for me – this is a time to go with your instincts. Do not override them. Do not delay, and do not second-guess yourself. Only you know what you and your loved one needs at this time, and it will be different for everybody.

I went back in to sit with Mum. I held her hand, and noticed that it was starting to feel cold. I kissed her on her forehead and told her that I was back. And then, she took a breath, and there was a pause before she took another one. I was watching the fluttering of the pulse in her neck. She took another breath.

‘Dad, hold her hand’, I said.

And we waited for a breath that never came. The pulse at her neck slowed. It was like watching a feather gently drift down and come to rest.

Oh the peace in that moment, after the breath has stilled.

‘Should we call the nurse?’ said Dad.

‘No, ‘ I said, ‘Not yet’.

It was good to just take that time to sit with Mum, to feel her presence still with us but ebbing. I opened a window so that she could fly if she wanted to. She hadn’t been able to take more than a few steps for months, but I had a clear, clear picture of her flying free.

Eventually, we told the nurse, and she stood and watched Mum for a few moments. My father was distraught, but his dementia has become much worse, and although he knew he loved the person that had just passed, I am not sure if he knew exactly who she was. My brother took Dad to a quiet room downstairs, and I watched as the nurses examined Mum to ascertain if she had passed.

‘Sorry, Sybil, if the stethoscope is cold’, said one.

‘Sorry, Sybil, I’m just going to shine a light in your eyes’, said the other.

And death was pronounced at 08.50 on Tuesday 18th December 2018.

Two carers came in , and together we worked to wash her and to dress her in the clothes that I had only picked up a few hours before. Mum was still beautiful, in spite of, or maybe because of, her suffering. We talked to her the whole time, explaining what we were doing, apologising in case it was uncomfortable. In death my mother had achieved a kind of gravitas and authority. She commanded respect, and that was what we gave her. I found that I was a little in awe of her for all she had achieved, and all she had been through.

The funeral company came to take Mum to the funeral home. Because Mum and Dad shared a room, it wasn’t possible to leave it till the following day. The nurses and carers lined up to watch in silence, heads bowed as Mum passed. How hard it must be for them, who get to know the people that they look after so intimately, and yet see them pass, inevitably, through those doors and into a hearse.

Mum had always been terrified that she and Dad would end up in separate homes, or that Dad would die first and she’d be left alone. And yet, they were together to the end. She passed out of this life peacefully, without pain, and surrounded by her family. I hope that we all may be so lucky.

Back at home I realised that I still have Mum’s hairbrush, with some long strands of silver hair still in it. It seems like only five minutes ago that I was brushing her hair for the party, and now I had just finished brushing it on her deathbed. We might know rationally that someone is going to die, but It will take me a long time to realise that I will never see that little figure toddling out to the kitchen with her zimmer frame to make me a cup of tea again.

Mum 2012

35 thoughts on “The Passing

  1. Leonie

    Dear bug woman
    So sorry to read your news of your mums passing .
    Solstice …where the sun stands still .
    Much love

  2. rosni3

    My dear Bug Woman, that is the most lovely account and I am full of condolence and admiration for your loving participation and care for your mother right through her dying, death and rites of passage. Thank you so much for writing it. I hope that your Christmas is full of tenderness and pride, and that you will have strength remaining to help your father during the time that he has left. I know your readers will be supporting you from wherever they are, all over the world.

  3. Fran & Bobby Freelove

    We were so very sad to hear of your mother’s passing. A difficult time for you and your dad but a gentle release for her. Your mum will still be with you, just in different ways, you have some wonderful memories to look back on which we know will help you through the coming times. take care xx

  4. Anne Guy

    So so sorry to read this sad but beautifully written post. You did everything possible for her take comfort in that and that she’s now free from pain. Take care…

  5. Kathy Whalen

    Take care of yourself. I am so glad we got to know your mum through your lovely, flower-filled posts. Hope your dad is coping as well as possible.

  6. Liz

    She will be with you forever. My Mam died over ten years but last week I was in floods of tears when one of her favourite old songs turned up in – of all things – a Christmas play. God bless.

  7. Sara

    You have written a beautiful account of your mother and her peaceful death. My thoughts are with you, your Dad and brother. In the darkness shines a light and it never goes out.

  8. Natasha

    You could not have done anything better. I was only 26 when my mother died, at home. and I have always regretted that I was not sitting at her side.

  9. Alyson

    So sorry to hear of your mum’s passing – I only found your blog recently but have been in awe of how much you have done for her over that time. It’s so hard, but you have always done what is best. Beautiful pictures of a lovely lady – So glad you went home to get all her best clothes as what she would have wanted.

  10. Christina

    I have no words to express how sorry I am for you and your family. You Mam’s passing was tender and loving and I am so glad you were able to be with her. Sending love xxx

  11. penthompson

    Dear Bugwoman Condolences . Thank you for sharing over these past months. As you say , knowing what’s coming does not lessen its impact and import . We have had a similar journey of change, release and loss . Our dad died on 13th October on his NH and he received respectful loving care .
    You have done so much I hope that is some solace at this time. My thoughts and good wishes are with you.

  12. Katya

    Thank you for writing this loving account not only of the event of your mum’s passing, but for all those other difficult and tender events and moments you experienced and wrote about while caring for her, and your dad, over the last months.

  13. Jan Drinkwater

    I was always scared with the thought of seeing death but I too found the passing, of my father, to be a special time that cemented the love I felt for him. My thought are with you. x

  14. Sarah

    I’m sorry to read of your mum’s passing – but pleased to know it was peaceful and you were able to look after her till the end. The urgent mission to pick up her party outfit made me smile – I too supplied my dad’s best suit and polished shoes to the undertaker for him to be buried in, struggling with my conscience, which thought it was a terrible waste. But it’s what he would have wanted. Now when I visit his grave I can’t help picturing all the smart clothes gently rotting away under the soil.

  15. Laurin Lindsey

    She was a beautiful woman! I am sorry for your loss. It is good that you were there with her as she passed into the light. How thoughtful of you to get her best clothes and wash her. Thank you for sharing your journey. Blessings to you and your family as you grieve! HUGS

  16. Toffeeapple

    Oh Vivienne, I am so sad for you, and for Sybil and your Father. I cannot write now – I shall come back to this. Be blessed my dear. xx

  17. Veronica Cooke

    That sounds like a beautiful death. How wonderful you were able to be there and to do all that you did for her; I wished I had been able to do the same for my mum.

    Now you have to face the future without her but safe in the knowledge you were with her at the very end.

    May she rest in peace.

  18. Liz Norbury

    You have been in my thoughts for the last week, Viv, and I feel so sad for you now, and for your father and your brother. I’m sure your mum was aware that she was surrounded by love.

  19. ravenhare

    So dreadfully sad to read of your Mum’s passing, and sending you some massive hugs full of kindness and support from the hills. but I’m so pleased that you could be with her. …not to mention make some decisions that might have been taken from you.
    To do things in your own way, and in a way that was absolutely right for you, and for the family must have been a blessing for you.
    What delicate and gorgeous writing about it all. My heart goes out to you, especially at this time. It’s the exact day I lost a grandmother. My thoughts are with you, and I hope you are coping in the first aftermath.
    Much love, xxx

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  21. Julia

    I don’t know how I missed it before now but I’ve only just read this. I had an uneasy feeling that something had happened and I was thinking of you all through the Christmas period. Dear lovely Viv your mother will continue to live through you and these beautiful words you have written. Thank you so so much for sharing this story. It has moved me and inspired me in equal measure to think about what lies ahead for all of us. To face head on that which we all fear the most and to walk through it with you has been truly a privilege. I hope you find solace in small things to help you get through the days ahead. Thinking of you always. Jxxx

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