In her last two years, my mother was plagued with increasing poor health and dementia.
Her move from living in her own house to a quasi-nursing home was swift and dramatic. I bundled her home with me on Christmas Day so I could help her get over a flu bug and by New Year’s Eve she was sipping “champagne” at Victoria Place retirement home.
We whittled her many possessions down to what was most precious to her. We filled her one new room with books, photo albums, vases, some paintings, a chair and a large cabinet. I also stashed many of her endless crafting supplies in the nursing home’s rec room, but my mother never touched them again.
Everything else, including her house and car, was given to family members or charity or sold.
A month before my mother died, I had a birthday party for her and invited all her friends. I brought her mother’s vase to the nursing home and filled it with lilacs. My mother could no longer recognize some of the people at the party, but she exclaimed over the vase and was lost in memories of her mother, of lilacs, of birthdays past, of the vase and of bringing it to Canada.
In her last week, my mother was taken by ambulance to the hospital. The only possession she ever expressed any concern for was her false teeth. Where were they? Could she have them in?
Eventually she slipped into a coma and her teeth were taken out. It was just my mom then – naked under a sheet in a mercilessly sunny hospital room with her family and her dearest friend at her side.
That’s what your life comes down to. You. Your experiences. And the people you love.
… It only changes it. And that holds true whether you believe in life after death or not.
Obviously you’re not going to have the same sorts of interactions with the deceased that you had with them when they were alive.
But the feelings you had for a person in life will not magically vanish just because that person is no longer physically present.
If you had a positive and loving relationship, you will still have those feelings. Things you see and do will remind you of the deceased and make you smile. You may still talk to them either in your mind or even aloud. You might even get a response.
Conversely, if you have a difficult or negative relationship with someone while they are alive, the strife isn’t over when that person dies, as many people seem to think or perhaps hope.
The changes that death brings to these relationships may cause frustration or open a door to forgiveness.
If you have unfinished business with a person who has died, you might be frustrated that you can’t get an explanation or receive an apology.
However, death can also level the playing field.
My father’s death finally gave me a chance to say many of the things I wanted to say to him without being rebuffed, denied or interrupted. It also allowed me to love my father without fear. I could see him as human – mortal, vulnerable, flawed, a child of God – just like me.
I feel closer and more loving to him now than I ever could when he was alive. That is the transformative power of death. What changes it brings for you are your choice.
There I was complaining to my sister again about a certain someone – we’ll call her Daisy – who wore me down with her constant sniping, negativity and criticism. Daisy, my own joy-destroying mistress of pettiness, was driving me nuts!
“It’s death by ducks,” my sister announced. “You know, ducks have those little round bills to peck you with. One duck. No big deal. A couple ducks, a bit unpleasant. But before you know it, the pecking continues and you’re face down in the muck bleeding out.”
I don’t profess to be a duck whisperer, but I do live across the street from a park with a bird-filled lake. I visit the park often and I’ve seen my share of waterfowl activities. While walking by the lake this morning, I pondered my own death-by-duck problem and what to do about it. I came up with three options.
Kill and eat the ducks – messy and probably illegal.
Call pest control and move the ducks somewhere else. But these are creatures with beady third eyes deep in their skulls that let them effortlessly navigate thousands of miles and back. The ducks would return.
Bring in swans. Here was the elegant solution. Swans, beautiful, strong and fierce, keep every other bird in check. Ducks quake and bow before them.
Do I have swans? You bet I do! They’re my good friends and family, caring neighbours, a raft of smart professionals, my faith, my humour, my intelligence and a whole lifetime of experiences and perspectives. What are your swans when you’re in danger of death by ducks?