From a listener...
Great show today Tim, my wife and I are exactly in this situation with her mother. She has recently moved into a retirement home very near to us. She is 93.
My friends this is a very common story and is going to be a conversation that most Americans will be having over the course of the next couple of decades. I know very well how tough it can be to care for a parent who needs constant caregiving. I have had the experience myself. My mother was told in the mid 90's that she had a heart valve that was failing. She was in her mid 70's at the time. Surgery was possible to extend her life another 6 or 7 years, but she was ready to "go home" as she liked to phrase it. With that decision then she was given about 6 more months to live.
We spoke of it openly. We covered the legal issues and the issues of what she wanted done with her body. Hell, she even made jokes about it. "Make sure they cremate me in my blue flower dress. That dress makes me look 10 pounds lighter," she once said. We laughed big about that. She was at peace with her decision, and the family respected and accepted it. And sure enough, almost exactly 6 months later she passed away at my home in her own room in her bed provided by hospice. (As a side note here, I will never stop praising the work of hospice. Neither myself or mom would have managed all that needed to be managed without them.) I felt so incredibly honored to be the family member who cared for mom during her last days and minutes on this planet. Mom and I had our issues with each other through life, but none of that mattered in this moment. All that matter was how loved she felt in her transistion and all I cared about was seeing to it that she felt unconditionally loved.
I have to share this story about her passing though. If you have any take on it's possible meaning, I would love to hear it because it goes against the grain of what I was taught being raised by her. I think it even goes against the grain of what she was taught her whole life. But what do I really know about any of this? So here is the story...
Just before mom died I made a small request to her. I asked her that if there were any way for her to contact me from the "other side" please come and tell me what it's like over there. She promised she would. Now keep this in mind before I tell you what happened. My mother was a preachers kid. She was raised with fundamentalist Christian beliefs. To her, dying meant going to heaven and living for eternity in the perfect power, presence and peace of God. Consequently that was what I was raised to believe as well. And there was never any variation to that teaching at any time in my life. So what happened next still makes me wonder if there isn't perhaps more to the story about life after death. Mom passed away on a Tuesday morning. That Tuesday night I went to bed and fell asleep quickly. I was out like a light! But I had a dream. In the dream I walked up to mom who was standing in front of a black curtain. I could not see behind the curtain at all. But I could hear the murmur of a crowd of people behind the curtain. Plus there were people walking around out in front of the curtain where mom was standing. As I walked up to her we gave each other a very happy to see you smile. In the dream I was aware that I was talking with her in her new cosmic community. She looked well. I sensed that she was content and happy to be where she was. I immediately asked her, "So what's it like here?" She looked at me with a sparkle in her eye and the most pleasant smile on her face and replied. "We have to make choices here too." Then the dream goes dark! But I remembered every detail of the dream perfectly when I woke up, and to this day it's like it happened just last night. It was actually about 20 years ago now.
If nothing else this suggests to me that leaving this life may just be a transition of our being to a new and unimaginable life that could be some variation of this one. Or not! Who knows. And that perhaps this next existence is determined, at least in part, by the love that is present with us, and in us, when we leave this life. But again... what do I really know about any of this? I just happen to think that's a good perspective to take when it comes to helping our loved ones as they make the transition from here to "there".