Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Good Death

In his homily for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Fr. Louie gave one of his characteristic autobiographical anecdotes. He recalled how his father had received a diagnosis from his doctor that gave him somewhere between three weeks and two months to live. Fr. Louie was able to get someone to take over his teaching duties, allowing him to spend 18 hours a day at his dad’s bedside in his final days.

As I’ve shared in a previous post, my own mother died recently, and the circumstances were similar. In mid-June, she received the biopsy results that indicated advanced stage four liver cancer. Three weeks later, she died.

We had never suspected that Mom had cancer. She was getting forgetful, and she fell a few times, but we all thought that was just due to her age. A week or so after Mothers Day, she developed some gastro-intestinal issues, lost her appetite and stopped eating. A trip to the family doctor was followed by a cat scan, which was followed by a biopsy. The cat scan gave the first dire indication; the biopsy confirmed it. Cat scan – to – biopsy results was about three weeks. By Fathers Day, it was evident to all of us that Mom was mortally inflicted.

There was always someone home during Mom’s last three weeks. During her last week, there was always someone by her bedside. I would drive to Mom and Dad’s every evening after work, and my dear wife spent many nights there. My oldest sister, up from her home in Mississippi, noted that Amy was “very vigilant.” It became necessary for us to rely on our older kids to stay home with the younger ones, especially two year-old Michael, whose proclivity for destruction tended to set my father on edge.

For two weeks, Mom was alert. She received visits from friends and in-laws and all twelve of her siblings. She insisted on standing and hugging each one of them, and she apologized for long forgotten wrongs and told them how much she loved them. In her last week, she received absolution from an ordained classmate and viaticum from her best friend.

Her husband of fifty-seven years and her grown children were gathered around her when, early in the evening of July 11, 2012, her breathing grew shallow, and then stopped.

She had a good death.

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