Sorting, Stacking and Shredding A Life

Mom’s gone. From entry into hospice to her final breath: thirty-six hours. It was peaceful and I don’t know if she knew we were there.

I’m relieved it’s over. My grieving process started long before now, long before she first became ill in November. Years ago, when the decline began, I knew we were headed for the end we got. The long, slow decline, the insistence that everything was fine, then the increasing meds and pain. The progression from slow walk to shuffle to cane to walker to wheelchair to hospital bed. Then the real decline, from an insistence on getting well, to a willingness to listen, to simply nodding at everything, to no communication at all, except to refuse food and wave away the emergency room doctors while shaking her head “no” as they stood over her with their tubes and IVs and syringes. She had no problem telling them it was time. She also had the legal paperwork detailing her wishes. All I had to do was enforce them.

I “womaned up” and told the doctors, “No more. She’s the mom, and she said so.”

And then the nice people from hospice step in, and make things peaceful until the end. Next you have to sort, sift, shred and tidy up the life that person left behind. Photos, tax papers, receipts, doctor bills, furniture, books, knickknacks, money, credit cards, jewelry, china, dishes, clothes – how did all this stuff fit in this space, anyway? And why is some of it here? So much of it seems so innocuous, so pointless to even store and keep in a one-bedroom apartment. But it all mattered to mom at some point in the past, if not the present.

While working through the apartment, we found a notepad on her dining room table. She had started writing her autobiography, perhaps as a memory exercise, possibly as something to leave the grandkids. She spoke about her childhood: the multi-family Brooklyn home she lived in, her father’s dairy store, her best friends, snowball fights and school crushes. She spoke about her marriage and early life raising three kids. Sadly, the memoir is unfinished. We will never know what she would have said about her long widowhood, or taking care of her aging mother and mother-in-law or her later life as she coped with losing her friends to the ravages of age. In some sense, I’m sorry about that unfinished story, because she wrote very well. But I like the idea of her story “ending” with the happy time, before age and illness and pain took over and brought us to this point.

Rest well, mom. We’ll keep writing the family stories in your honor.



Filed under Aging, death, family, inspirations, Relationships, thought

9 responses to “Sorting, Stacking and Shredding A Life

  1. Malarky

    Thanks for holding my hand on the same day you needed friends to hold your hand.

  2. My father died just a year ago. He had two years of sad decline. I didn’t want him to go on that way, but it was so hard to let him go. My mother at eighty-eight is still doing pretty well. But I can’t bear the thought of losing her. I’m glad you found your mother’s story. She certainly meant for you to have it.

  3. wherethedaytakesme

    My condolences to you and yours. I lost my gran a year ago.

  4. nancymn

    Thanks, everyone. It’s been easier on me, since I started the process awhile ago. Going through her stuff isn’t fun, just necessary. I have to go see the grandkids today, as they are in town. I am not looking forward to this part.

  5. Gramma

    We’re going through this, too, and it’s hard. Gramma Laura is still hanging on; we think it’s because she’s so worried about her sister with whom she shared a home. Her sister has Alzheimer’s and none of her kids seem to be even mildly interested in helping, not even to get her into assisted living either here or where they live.

    Your mother was lucky to have you, Nancy. And lucky that you made the doctors aware of what SHE wanted rather than let them take over and “manage” care that she no longer wanted.

  6. So sorry for your loss — but I wouldn’t want to keep hanging on like that, either. At least she had a daughter who honored her wishes.
    The next part won’t be easy, especially if your extended family is full of people who say “What did I get?” (or “Cousin/auntie/grandma would have wanted me to have this” as they try to steal stuff from the home).
    Think about what you mom really WOULD have wanted, and stick to your guns.

  7. nancy

    I did think aboiut her, and luckily, at least in this case, she thought about herself as well. Odd, considering how she tended to ignore her health for so many years.

  8. Your story could be ours right now. We lost Mom a week ago, thankful for the last day or two when she was visibly not herself so that it was easier to let go of this vibrant, intelligent, wonderful woman. She left us clear instructions for the end and the aftermath, and we stuck to them the very best we could, including Chocolate Thunder from Down Under at Outback Steakhouse instead of a weepy funeral.
    My you. I do understand.

    • nancymn

      We are having a huge deli blowout dinner after mom’s service next month. Mostly New Yorkers and ex-New Yorkers coming, so everyone loves the stuff. She would have, too.

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