My mother writes her own obit

It could be a little quiet here at over the next couple of days. “Could” is the operative word, because I still don’t know what we’ll be facing and how I’ll be coping. If this page isn’t updated for several days, please send along good thoughts.

Here’s the story.

Meda and I cut our Maui weekend short and returned to Honolulu yesterday just hours before a planned early birthday party was to begin. The steaks were in the refrigerator, the cake (“Happy Birthday, Meda” in red letters) on the kitchen counter, when we got word my mother’s condition had taken a dramatic turn for the worse.

My mom fell several days ago when she slid off the side of her bed while returning from the bathroom. It left her with a skinned forearm and a sore back. More than sore. Very painful, probably a broken rib, they say.

The upshot is that it’s a race against time to reach a proper balance of pain medications so that the pain is under control but she’s not left “out of this world”.

My sister, Bonnie, has been at ground zero. She has described the situation in heart-rending detail on her Going on Alone blog.

My mom, who has consistently stated to all who would listen, “I am not dying.” announced yesterday, “I am dying. I cannot do anything.” Pointing to her head she added, “There is nothing there.”

No hearing? No memories? Nothing what?

“Call the doctor. Tell him I cannot do anything. Ask him what to do.”
Had already done that. Doing all we can. Now it is a matter of willingness. Willingness to fight. Willingness to die.

Bonnie said almost all there is to say. I defer to her.

We went directly to the house in Kahala from the airport last night.

Soon after our arrival, Bonnie had my mom sitting up in bed, trying to get her to swallow the next pill in the pain-control arsenal. My mother looked up.

“I’m dead,” she declared.

“No,” Bonnie replied. “You can’t be dead. We’re all here with you.”

But dying had clearly been on my mother’s mind before this latest setback. She recently wrote and then rewrote her own obituary, which we found in a stack of papers on a small folding table that sits in front of her regular chair in the living room.

Born Honolulu. Graduate, Kamehameha School for Girls (before co-ed) and UH Manoa. Former instructor in Food Science, UH Manoa. Also former Secretary, Hawaiian Historical Society.

And so on.

With the obit, her personal instructions on what to do when she dies (“don’t make a big fuss”).

I refer to this area, including her regular chair and its surroundings, as her cockpit. She sits down, mentally straps in, and until just a few days ago, would go to work. The day’s incoming mail is stacked in one spot. Bills to be paid are in another. Piles of ongoing genealogical research notes or references are strewn across another small end table on the right side of the chair. Stacks tend to get out of control, spilling in random directions. Newspapers are shoved down on the floor to the left as they are read. Christmas cards still being savored, notes of things to do, bills with “paid” and the date in my mother’s handwriting, the latest I saw dated January 13. A lauhala basket for papers destined for the trash.

She had one previous episode several months ago when a similar issue of pain management brought her down, but she was able to bounce back. This time, we just don’t know if that rebound is going to occur. As Bonnie says, much of this depends on her decision.

A willingness to fight, and live. Or a willingness to die.

Tough choices just four months short of her 99th birthday.

27 responses to “My mother writes her own obit

  1. Thoughts are with your Mom, you and your family.

  2. Ian and Meda,
    I am sorry. You must feel helpless as you listen to your mother talk about already being dead when she clearly isn’t. Her pain sounds terrible. I hope it subsides soon.

  3. Life is a journey that begins at birth, an event none of us have any control over.

    But we do have some control over our end. And that is the only certainty in life. . . that there is an end.

    When my dad passed away, it was a time of sadness, to be sure. But it also seemed like it was the natural order of life; after all, no parents would want their child to go before them.

    It’s not an easy time for you just as it wasn’t an easy time when your dad passed away. And it may very well not be your mom’s time.

    But the time will come.

    That it will.

    My thoughts are with you.

  4. Aloha. Can’t say or mean anything more than that, can we? So … aloha.

  5. My condolences Ian.

    I lost my mother last month and still have troubles getting over it at times.

    My mom always said “When the pain exceeds the pleasure…. it’s time to push on”.

    I believe our parents are having a great time wherever they may be now.

    • Losing a parent is lie an earthquake, the aftershocks of grief can go on for months before they settle down eventually to smiles of remembrance. Bt it sounds like you has a strong mother. Then again most of them are.

  6. May peace be with you all.

  7. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. When my father was dying of pancreatic cancer I found a book that helped me understand the process of dying. The book is written by 2 hospic nurses: Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying, by Maggie Calanan and Patricia Kelley.

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