If you are lucky enough to meet a friend before they die, don’t make my mistake.
Now, be clear: I’m not regretful of anything big, no, don’t misunderstand me… I did right by my Momma. Let me tell you the story…
To be honest, I feel lucky about it.
The confluence of events which allowed me to be by her side in the final weeks was amazing.
We had many quality conversations. Retold memories, it was great.
Of course, my Mom’s biggest struggle was allowing help into her life. This had been a lifelong struggle for her, and mine.
Seeing her life ebb as she lost her ability to care for herself independently was tough.
She refused meds.
She wouldn’t listen to the nurses.
She stubbornly kept at her carrot juices and homeopathic cures.
Some days she tried to keep me at home…
She’d tell me not to take out the trash, even as it began piling up around her bed. “Don’t bother,” she’d say, “I’ll do that.”
Then she’d struggle to recover her breath, put out by speaking.
Every time I refilled her water.
She couldn’t walk to the kitchen but she didn’t want to trouble an able-bodied man with saving her a 30-minute walker-assisted trek all the way to the other end of the house.
Going to 14-Carrot, her favorite health food store, for some take-out vegetable mix or a fresh cup of carrot juice.
She didn’t want to put me out. She tried to remind me of my wife. Of my business, then failing, which needed revival. She’d say, “stay home.”
Those days I would promise to stay at the dining room table. So I would work. Inevitably, she’d be lonely. Call me back to talk. I knew she would. Then she’d feel guilty for taking my time.
Scold me to go home. Tell me not to come the next day.
I cleaned her bathrooms. I met her caregivers.
They were Human, but better than me.
All women, and they treated her with honor.
They helped me aim to be a good son, better than I had been.
And I did good.
And I could have done better…
So what was this thing?
This sin of mine?
Well, I’ll tell you, finally.
And you might laugh at me. Tell me I’m foolish. I’m OK with that. It’s what I did, and writing this IS therapeutic and as I uncover the wound, this wound, I hope it heals.
And I hope you never make this error, with your dying loved one:
In her final hours, I didn’t play HER music.
I did play music for her…
Yes, on Jolie Smith Moskel’s last night on earth, we did our utmost to make her comfortable.
(And that can be the frustration of caring for someone in this phase of life: sometimes there’s just not that much to do, and you might feel helpless.)
During one of those helpless moments, it came to me: I’d play soothing music.
Not too loud.
Just from my phone.
Peaceful tunes, at a distance.
Ambient. Birds chirping. Slow piano. Perhaps a lullaby, or a note from a flute, or a xylophone.
Always the DJ, I went to my own playlists and pressed “Play.”
Gave it my best.
It was beautiful.
And I felt fine about that bit, that tiny faucet of environment in her home, as she neared the end.
On that day, I was responding to text. On her phone. And I realized,
If ever you are lucky enough to be with a loved one in their final hours, look into their phone for music to play them.
Seek out their playlists. Go to iTunes. See what albums they bought.
Finding her favorite songs in her phone was the punch in the gut, for me. “I’d thought of myself, even in her final hours.”
Yeah, sure, I’d stayed up all that night.
And the night before, all night. I was haggard. I’d put in my duty, done the best I could, and yet, all these things were secondary thoughts, to this one…
It is thus, when a loved one dies.
No matter how much or how little we do, the human mind tugs toward guilt. And when we allow shame to fit in that equation, we resist the natural order of things.
Allow help, and allow humans to give it.
Imperfect, selfish, fellow humans.
From this day forward, I will deny the shame.
Embrace help when it comes…
And try to play your songs, more often.