In the last year of Mom’s life she had become increasingly confined because of emphysema and COPD, until eventually she was living what we call in hospice, a “bed-to-chair” existence. Her oxygen tubing was long enough to stretch across her small one room apartment, while her nebulizer and inhalers sat on her end table within arm’s reach of her favorite chair.
She spent hours in her big, red floral patterned, antique winged-back chair—reading, watching the San Diego Padres, playing with her cat named Blue and crocheting.
Crocheting was probably her preferred form of handwork. It seemed like the click of the needles, soothed her similar to a mantra, calming her anxiety and easing her breathing. I wonder if this activity didn’t also enlarge her otherwise shrinking world by giving her a more expansive purpose, as she held one of her loved ones in mind with each new creation.
She took a certain pride in the notion that every completed piece had at least one mistake in it because nothing was perfect, insisting it was the imperfection that made a doily or afghan unique and special—compared to a factory-run product.
Her lovely flawed creations were special—not just because they were made by hand—but because they were made by her hand.
In the last week of her life, my brother Dave and I were going through her bags of unfinished projects. I thought of the 250 brown and cream granny squares I crocheted as a young adult—an afghan in the making. I kept that paper bag full of squares for years, thinking maybe someday I would finish it. I never did.
Mom’s impending death, like any, had a way of bringing unfinished business into focus, not by choice but by necessity.
As we sorted through a closet filled with all her homey but incomplete efforts, we discovered many loose ends. We didn’t want her precious work to unravel, so we asked her if she remembered how to tie up the ends.
My brother knelt in front of her holding one of her beautiful pineapple-patterned doilies in his hands. Mom was too weak, and her fingers would not cooperate. My brother said, “That’s ok, Mom; we’ll do it.”
In that tender failure, I experienced a fresh illumination of a larger truth. Since there is no perfect life—there is no perfect ending. We do the best we can, but something is always left hanging and unfinished; passed on to the next generation to complete or continue in its own way. In these thoughts, I felt strangely comforted and readied to carry on—as her daughter, and also as a hospice chaplain—encouraging and supporting patients and families in this final spiritual act of letting go.
That same night, in spite of the loose ends, Mom whispered, “I’m ready, I’m ready.”
And I knew what she meant.
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
Hospice of the Red River Valley is an independent, not-for-profit hospice serving all, or portions of, 29 counties in North Dakota and Minnesota. Hospice care is intensive comfort care that alleviates pain and suffering, enhancing the quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones by addressing their medical, emotional, spiritual and grief needs. For more information, call toll free 800-237-4629, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.hrrv.org.
Hospice of the Red River Valley is pleased to offer the 2014 Journeying Home Conference, Sept. 23-24. Douglas C. Smith, professional speaker, trainer, consultant and counselor, will present “Different Styles of Grieving, Different Styles of Healing” during a FREE community event on Sept. 23 from 7-9 p.m. This portion of the conference is free and open to the public.
On Sept. 24 from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m., he will present “Ethical and Spiritual Issues in End-of-Life Care.” This event is for health care professionals, and registration is required. Conference fee is $89 on or before Sept. 15, and $99 after Sept. 15. Continuing education units/hours available at this program. Click here to register.
Smith has worked in hospitals, hospices and social service agencies. He is the author of several books, including The Tao of Dying, Caregiving: Hospice-Proven Techniques For Healing Body And Soul, Being A Wounded Healer and The Complete Book Of Counseling The Dying And The Grieving. He also has much experiential knowledge in the fields of terminal illness and grieving.