Autonomy

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog piece called Loosening My Grip.  In that post, I discussed my need to find a way to let go of my mother’s situation long enough to allow me to take a trip to California.  Lately, I’ve been thinking that the concept is much broader than just leaving my mom to take a vacation.

I need to figure out a way to let go of my mom’s journey.  Everything I read tells me that this time before death is very important to the person who is dying.  The person has internal work to do to feel complete in this life and to be open to whatever God has ready for her in the next, everlasting, life.  The journey belongs to the dying person and it must be whatever is must be for her.  As much as I would like to intervene and make the process “better,” I cannot.  Truthfully, it is better that I don’t try because my idea of “better” may not be what my mother needs or wants at all.  I’ve always been inclined, when given the option, to shoulder the hard job instead of asking someone else to do it.  I think part of me is trying to do that for my mother now.  I want to take on some of the difficulty, the pain, and the work for her.  However, I’m learning that, on some level, death is something that we each have to do on our own.  Besides, the fact that I suffer pain and grief does not alleviate any of her pain and grief.

I also wonder if my mother needs me to let go so that she can feel confident that it is safe for her to let go.  I think neither of us wants to be the one to turn away from the other first.  I’ve had the conversations with her that all the books recommend- the ones in which you assure the loved one that you will be okay when the loved one passes from this life.  I’ve tried to think of all the things she might worry about and I’ve talked to her about how they will be okay.  I’ve shared memories with her and continue to look for things in her current life that I can connect back to our history together.  I can’t think of anything else I can do to help her feel content that it is safe to let go.  Except to let go of her.

I don’t know if I can let go of her.  I don’t want to.  Traveling this path with her has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, but it would have been unimaginably harder to know she was walking this path without me.  I know that, someday soon, my mother will pass and I will have to let go.

The same books that tell me it is important for the dying person to understand that the family will be okay after the death also tell me that the most important things to a person who is dying is for the person to know that she is loved and that her life has had value.  That is really what I have been doing for my mother for the past year.  As long as my mother still understands the concepts of love and value, which she clearly still does, I feel like my attachment is that validation of love and value.  I don’t want her to go a single second of her life without feeling that she is loved and valued.

At the same time, I can see that my mother is just starting to slip slowly away from me as she continues on her path.  She still recognizes me and seems pleased to see me, but she doesn’t feel as attached in some vague, almost intangible way.  It is hard to explain or describe.  It is just something I feel.  I think the time is coming when we are going to reach a fork in the road on this journey.  She will go one way and I won’t be able to follow her anymore.  I will have to stay at the fork in the road.  I won’t be journeying with her anymore, but will only be watching her.  It will be the part she will have to do by herself.

In the meantime, I, too, have to start taking baby steps towards letting go.  The balance between allowing my mother the autonomy she needs to complete this journey and making sure she understands how much she is loved and valued every single minute is going to be difficult.  I think I have to stop trying to think so much about what the right thing to do is and what the right amount of time to spend is. I have to start trusting my gut to tell me what feels right.

What do you think?  It is hard to let a loved one go.  Have any of you had an experience that might help me release her?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Thanks for reading and traveling with me virtually!

Terri

16 thoughts on “Autonomy”

  1. Your post made me very emotional. I see what you are experiencing and I first of all hate that you have had to go through all of this with your mum, and secondly know that one day it will happen to me too. I have worried so much about my mum during the floods in Houston and being in New Zealand all I can do is pray for her safety. I don’t think anyone can give you advice on letting your mum go. I don’t know if we have it in us, no matter our age, we always want our mummy! Just continue to be there for her as you always have! Lots of love and prayers ❤️

    1. Thanks, Shari, for your love and prayers. I read once that sometimes you don’t need to get over something, just get through it. I’m sure I am never going to “get over” losing my mother, but I know I will get through it with prayer and the support of those who love me. 😘

  2. This brought back the memories of these conversations with my dad. (and the tears are flowing) He too had suffered a stroke; he was a fighter and fought back from the stroke to walk again (they didn’t think he would). But, he had aphasia and never recovered the ability to speak. When it got towards the end (with cancer – he kept getting hit with serious medical issues, and he was a fighter until the pancreatic cancer was impossible to fight), we had to continually tell him it was OK to go, that we (mom, his kids) would be OK. Unfortunately, it took the pain to be so bad that he finally had to let go. Yes, he had to be ready to walk that final path. And we had to let him know it was OK to do it when he was ready. To this day (20 years later), I know he is still with me in spirit – I feel him at times, especially when things are tough. Keep letting her know you love her, value her, and most importantly that you’ll be OK. When the time is right, she’ll be able to go without fear for you – that’s your final gift to her.

    1. Thank you, Pat. You help me realize that, as difficult as these days are, there is still a sense that there is something sacred about them. When I’m able to give in to the moment, I do feel a certain peace and blessedness. Sometimes, though, I can’t help struggling against giving in and those times are more heartbreaking.

  3. It’s been more than 20 years now, but I still remember the change that occurred when my husband stopped being interested in discussing ‘we’ things and began focusing on himself, and preparing for his death. That was frightening to me, made it real to me, and something that I had to let happen, because it was good and necessary for him, while making me feel lost and alone and scared while he was alive and before he died. I understand full well this change that you have written about with your loved one. After, I just took things one day at a time, and while not easy at times, I survived. We are all a lot stronger than we think. I’ve never thought about this until now, but I would like very much to be given that same time to focus on me, to prepare myself for my own death, and not feel the burden at that time to talk to my loved ones to make them feel better. I hope my loved ones give me the space to be 100% selfish when my time comes.

    1. Sandy, thank you for this encouraging, heartfelt comment. Sometimes I worry that my memories of this difficult time will overwhelm the happy memories I have with my mother and that I won’t be able to look back on our time together with joy after she has gone. You and Pat make me feel that maybe someday even the memories of these difficult days will bring me joy.

  4. I think the definition of love is very subjective. I am learning to separate love from worrying and suffering. I can care and love without suffering and worrying. I can care for and love someone but I’m not entirely responsible for how that caring and love is received. Sometimes it is rejected. I’ve just come across this affirmation – I now go beyond other people’s fears and limitations. I create my life.

    1. Thanks, Mona. I think I’m sort of starting to see what you mean. Most of the time now, Mom is living in a world I can’t see, but there are times when she just looks at me so deeply that it seems like she’s literally drinking me in- absorbing me into her soul. All that matters then is love.

  5. Hi Terri,

    So sorry you are going through this. Trusting my gut is what worked for me when I had to let go of my mom and dad. Also taking every opportunity to help them feel loved and safe as they transitioned. My father asked us not to leave him alone, so my sisters and I stayed with him, around the clock, for 10 days. We knew my mother was afraid of hospitals, so my two younger sisters and my mother’s dearest friend stayed with her in the hospital for the 5 days she needed.

    I think Pat’s advice is spot-on — keep letting your mom know you love her (words, actions, your presence), that you value her, and that even though you will miss her you will be ok. My father understood his family’s love by our being there, talking with him,feeding him, joking with him. My mother understood our love because we told her as often as we could, we sang with her, acted out little plays with her, kept her entertained and laughing. Once my parents had slipped into complete unresponsiveness, we held their hands.

    You might find the book, “Saying Goodbye to Our Mothers for the Last Time,” edited by Cox and Harrison, very insightful. It’s a collection of over 30 essays about the process of losing one’s mother.

    Hope this helps.

    1. Thank you, Ana. I will definitely order the book. Just hearing you all share your experiences makes me feel less alone.

  6. Oh, this is a hard topic, but so valuable. My father lived with us during his last month as he went through palliative radiation. My mom was with us, too, but she couldn’t bear the radiation department at our hospital, because she had been through it with my late sister. Luckily, I had a job that allowed me to come home at lunch and take him there. It was SO hard, but SO valuable. We all knew it was his last Christmas (this was the month of December) and it hung heavy over all of us. But letting them know you’re OK is important.

    Now it’s 15 years later and my mom instigated a discussion last year based on a magazine article on “having the talk” between parents and kids (well, not “kids”…I’m 64…ha!). I immediately started to cry and said I can’t imagine life without her. But even though she’s a healthy 85, none of us lives forever and a parting will come one way or another. When her own mother died at 93, she was lost for months and said she had no concept of a world without her mother. That perfectly describes my feelings and I dread the day.

    You are really doing all that can be done and I really support your idea of letting her know it’s OK to go. That was really important to my sister and my dad.

    And one more book suggestion, although I’m not sure how it will play out with someone with dementia: Final Gifts by Maggie Callahan. It was hugely helpful to us and I’ve gifted it to several friends since.

    Big hugs!

    1. Thanks for the book suggestion, Laurel. I understand the notion of being unable to imagine a world without my mom. I know, however, that I will never be without her. We’ve shared so much that I will carry her in my heart forever.

  7. Again, having been through exactly what you’ve described recently, I can relate on so many levels. However, my father’s “final journey” was much shorter than what your mother has endured. You have gone way above and beyond your duty as her companion on this journey. You are one of the strongest, most compassionate people I’ve ever met and rest assured your mother is very fortunate to have had you there during this precious time. I will continue to pray that your mother’s suffering be minimal, and that you and she find peace. I’m always here for you if you need to talk, or just need a shoulder to cry on.

    1. Kathy, it is only because of friends like you that I can be strong at all. The hospice nurses think my mom will pass in the in the next few days. Her journey in this life is almost finished.

  8. This is a difficult time for you and your mom. Do you have a church you attend? I feel if you can pray with your mother and allow her to feel free to go, it is important. I have a saying that I use often to “Let Go and Let God”. In other words let your mother know it is okay to go. May the Lord give you peace during this time. Have your pastor come and pray with her too. May you know His Love and caring for you and your mother.

    1. Yes, I am attending a church. The clergy there and the hospice chaplain have been a great help to us. Prayer is part of my every day ritual with my mom and I think it is very comforting. Every time I see her, I tell her I love her and I will miss her terribly, but I’ll be okay and I will make sure my brother has what he needs. I also remind her that I will never truly be without her because we have shared so much that will always be a part of my heart. I’ve done everything I can think of and now it is just waiting. Please pray that she will know how loved she is and that God will bring her home peacefully and quickly. Thank you.

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