These words, said by a daughter holding her dying mother’s hand, have been floating around in my head and my heart since she spoke them. In hospice, we use the phrase “actively dying” to describe a patient who is likely to die within 24-48 hours. To those inexperienced with the dying process, it may seem like an oxymoron. How can someone be active, AND dying? As this daughter watched her mother fade between this world and the next, appearing to speak yet unable to make a controlled sound, and gurgling through secretions that sounded worse to hear than they possibly were for her mother to bear, she looked at me and said, “Dying is hard work.” I could only agree, as we watched this gentle lady’s dying body react with twitching limbs, rattling lungs, and shallow breathing.
As we visited and talked about her mother’s life (full of hard work and a “fight-to-survive” mentality), she made a confession. She had come to that point in her vigil where she was no longer praying for God to heal her mother; rather, she was praying for her mother to die and be at peace. She was struggling with telling me that she wanted her mom to die. She recognized that she was ready to let go; that our work together prepared her to reach this point. Yet, she was also concerned with how her wish might seem to people unfamiliar with her situation. I realize as I type these words, some people reading them may be aghast that a daughter would be wishing death upon her own mother.
But there does come a point when adult children are ready to let go of their dying parents. After watching a loved one suffer through years of chronic illness, or uncontrolled pain, or agonizing debility, we are able to look beyond our own grief and pray for their peace. We pray that their suffering will stop and that they will find release in whatever awaits them on the other side.
For those who have had the privilege (yes, privilege) of being with someone they love as they are dying, it can be comforting to watch and listen as they “talk” to loved ones on the other side. It can be consoling to know that there are others waiting to greet our loved one after death claims her. This daughter and I have the shared experience of being with our actively dying mothers. We have both witnessed that dying really is hard work. Each death is unique and tends to take on a nature all of its own. We can only hope to follow one of the paths of least suffering. Their work is rewarded when we are able to say good-bye and let them go.
Caring Choices knows that dying is hard work and talking about death is difficult. We believe that having conversations long before you face an “actively dying” situation will help your family know when you’re okay with them letting you go.
(c) 2014 Caring Choices