On Dying

November 16, 2016

My mom died a year ago. I have been at many births, but this was my first hands-on experience with dying. It was just as beautiful.



14 Nov 2015

Mom died at 4:05 a.m four days ago in her bed at the Memory Care facility where she had been living for the past seven months. Her passing was sweet and powerful. The fact that she’s really gone has not yet hit me, as we are busy gathering family and preparing for her Celebration of Life at the Methodist church tomorrow.

Last Thursday, Mom fell out of her bed and somehow got a deep gash on her upper left arm. It required an ambulance trip to the hospital to get it stitched up. They treated her, checked for other injuries, then transported her back to to the Memory Care facility Thursday night.

All the local family visited her at different times on Friday and for most of the day, she slept slumped in her wheelchair. When I went over in the early afternoon, I wheeled her out into the fall sunshine to get some fresh air. She was very sleepy and non-communicative. She had not recognized me for about 4 weeks and had not been interacting with us lately; I was just another friendly soul trying to get her to do stuff she didn’t want to do. She wouldn’t eat.

Saturday, she didn’t get out of bed at all and was in continual pain. She was not responsive to our overtures and just slept in bed, unless someone tried to turn her or move her, which always caused an eyes-wide-open response that certainly looked like distress. And she was laboring to breathe.

Her Hospice nurse was worried enough to call in Crisis Care Hospice nurses, to be with Mom round the clock. I spent the night on the floor of her room that Saturday night. We all hung out with her all day Sunday. We called Greg to come to Georgia from California as soon as he could. Mom remained in a comatose sort of state and her breathing did not improve.  The nurses who checked her all said, “It will be just a few more hours.”

The hours went on and on and her vital signs went up and down. Her body kept fighting to live, even though it clearly was of no use to her anymore and we all gave her frequent verbal assurances that it was okay to go, that we would be all right. We all felt that this was indeed her time to go. But Mom has had to fight for her health all of her life; it was as if, despite her will to pass on, she had no idea how to let go and release her hold on mortal life.

I had begun by now to sense the family gathering, just beyond the curtain of the veil. I felt her mother’s presence, and Aunt Kathryn, and Grandma Sim. In a quiet moment, I bowed my head and called on all the family to come welcome my mama home. It was one of those prayers that I knew was “right”; I knew that the response would be exactly as I’d asked, even as I called them to come. Other spirits began to gather there in the room then, but I couldn’t tell who they all were. There was a loose sort of milling around the room all through the day as her departed family gathered to escort her home.

Greg arrived Monday morning. I spent most of the day with Mom, stroking her and speaking softly into her ear.  She was completely unresponsive all day and seemed to have sunk deeper into herself. We were all on alert, but Mom was still pretty stable— until later that night.

Her breathing became more and more difficult. They increased the morphine dosage to every 30 minutes. We kept up our continual stroking. We began to sing. Kim sang her song about Artie and George, our intrepid great grandparents. We sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in lovely harmony. We sang all the songs our mama taught us or loved herself: Jesus Loves Me, Jesus Loves the Little Children, You are my Sunshine, How Great Thou Art. I became aware again of the gathering spirits. They had backed off to the periphery of the room. I felt like there was a ring of angels looking on, waiting for their cue.

We took turns at Mom’s head, speaking our last words of love and encouragement into her ear. Her hearing remained very sharp all through her struggle with Alzheimer’s and old age, so we assume she heard all we said. We held her hands and rubbed her feet. About midnight, the nurse showed us that her feet and lower legs had begun to mottle, a sure sign of impending death. She was breathing more and more shallowly and her color was gradually fading. I kept telling her what a great job she was doing. “Well done, mama. You are doing SO well.” The whole process felt very much like childbirth — the waiting, the laboring, the encouraging support, the final passing from one realm to another.

I could still feel the departed family waiting. I was not focused on them, but I knew they were right there. At one point, Kim and I each leaned in and told Mom she could come visit us anytime from beyond the veil. Then Vicky leaned down and whispered, “Don’t come visit me. It will freak me out.” I just laughed. Vicky is a firm believer but had never consciously experienced the presence of angel-spirits before.

By 3:00 in the morning, there were long spaces between Mom’s shallow breaths. She felt cooler to the touch and paler by the minute.  The time passed quickly, unnoticeably. At 4:00, we knew it was time. I was at her head, behind the bed. Papa was at her side, with Kim and Greg and Vicky tucked in next to her. Phillip was sitting quietly just behind. I kept up a constant stream of soft verbal encouragement, trying to help her let go and move on. I told her about all the people waiting to greet her. We watched her pulse and waited for each breath. After one last shallow breath, I felt her spirit moving out of her body right past my ear, seemingly exiting with her breath. I said, “She’s leaving now.”

And suddenly, the waiting spirits swooped. Seriously — swooped. I felt them all come in a great rush of joyous welcome. I knew there had been a couple dozen or so there, but I couldn’t believe how many came swooping down to gather up my mama and take her home. I cried, “There are so many of them!” And Vicky, just beside me at the bedside, looked up and said “I feel them!” I could feel Mom, too, a little bewildered, as if trying to figure out what was happening. It took a minute or two, but all of a sudden, she seemed to realize that she was free, that she was actually in the presence of many, many people that she loved and had missed and that loved and had missed her. I could feel the sudden joy in her spirit and I was sincerely happy when she turned and left, dancing and laughing with her beloved family on the other side of this thin veil between the living and the dead. She didn’t look back; she faced forward, with the rest of the multitude of spirit-angels, and it didn’t take but another minute before they were all gone. I have not felt her presence since, but that last impression of her joy and sense of freedom makes me smile with every remembrance.

I looked at Vicky, who was literally radiating from her own new experience with angel-spirits and said, “It’s all real. It’s ALL real.”


  1. Emily B

    November 16, 2016

    This is beautiful. Reading it had me in tears, good happy tears.

  2. Keegan

    November 16, 2016

    This was very beautiful! I have no close experience with death like this. It makes it seem so much less scary than tradition makes it seem. Thank you for sharing this sacred experience.

  3. Julie P

    November 16, 2016

    What a gorgeous retelling of such a beautiful and sacred experience. Thank you for the reminder that there can be joy in death and transitioning.

  4. Karen Austin

    November 17, 2016

    Thank you for sharing this sacred experience of how death is a transition from one realm to another. Powerfully written. All my best to you and all those who love your mother as you continue to cherish the memories of her earth life.

  5. Valerie

    November 20, 2016

    Just reading this today after a weekend of grieving an unexpected death and it was beautiful and touched my aching heart. Thank you.

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