Is this how death should be?
Mom-in-law Ivalene died this week from complications due to pancreatic cancer. We thought we had six to twelve months left with her. And then the call: “She’s in transition. The hospice nurse doesn’t think she’ll last through the day.”
Photo credit: Unsplash
Crossing the eastern Oregon high desert toward Boise — which I can now do with my eyes closed — and arriving at Ivalene’s home, it was shocking to see how far she had declined. I had just been there. How could she be transitioning already?
Family were gathered in chairs around her bed. We held her hands, stroked her arms, talked to her, to each other. How is it that sorrow and gratitude and heartbreak and joy can swirl around each other so beautifully?
As the night progressed, and as people needed to return to their homes, I sat with my nephew and niece at my mother-in-law’s bedside. Watching. Hoping that my sister-in-law and niece flying in from California would arrive before their mother and grandmother died.
Her breaths stretched out with longer pauses in between. I recognized that breathing pattern.
And then she took what we thought was her last breath. And after an interminably long time, she took another jagged breath, and another, letting the air all the way out. I recognized that sound, as well. It was the sound of Hubby’s final breath on earth.
There are so many deaths that aren’t sweet and holy and family-centered as was my mother-in-law’s. As was my husband’s.
So many deaths occur suddenly tragically unexpectedly. So many take place entirely alone or are self-inflicted. So many happen heroically as military and first responders put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.
I wonder the percentage of deaths that occur with family gathered around a bedside at home, where stories are told and tears well up and laughter bubbles over between people who are connected by blood and marriage.
How blessed is that family when this is how life and death are experienced and celebrated.
The use of the word celebrate is appropriate here because Ivalene lived a long and good and influential life. We—her kids and kids-in-law and grands and great-grands and siblings and nieces and nephews—were loved and influenced by an extraordinary woman. And we all loved this extraordinary woman.
Ivalene and Niece Heidi, just two days before mom-in-law died
I spoke with family members who, for reasons beyond their control and because we didn’t know mom-in-law was passing so soon, weren’t able to be here.
One of my nephews said something to this effect: “Grandma knew they all loved her. All of their last visits with her were good ones.”
What an astonishing statement. Who among us can say that about the people we’re most closely related to?
Even if the last interchange was a year or two ago because of distance or because life got in the way—my daughter from New Jersey, busy pastor’s wife and mother of six children was one of those who expressed her regrets—all of Ivalene’s last interactions with all of her kids and grandkids and great-grands were positive ones.
I took a niece to the airport yesterday morning before pointing my car toward Oregon. She made this comment: “It’s been a good week. A hard week, but a good week.”
My sentiments exactly.
I’m thinking this is how death should be — this sweetly sorrowful family-centered story-telling laughter-filled sacred time together.