Kay’s mother is 95 years old. Kay’s mother is in the process of dying. Kay is spending most of her time now, sitting with her mother. They converse whenever her mother is lucid – her mother’s mental faculties are intact and she communicates her physical discomforts as well as her desire for and appreciation of how Kay has been and continues to be a caring companion and caregiver up to now.
Two days ago, her Mother announced that she was “ready to go”, and that she felt she had died twice that day. They had an interesting discussion about whether this actually happened. Kay reports telling her that “Yes, she was still here”, and where here was. They together looked around the room where her mother was lying, to enumerate things familiar there. Look at the wallpaper (check) grasp hands(check) sing a hymn(check).
Kay’s mother then requested that Kay keep her company and go with her to the afterlife. She really thought this was a good idea and would prefer this to happen. (Kay’s mother has, throughout her long life, reinforced and acted on her belief in a strict hierarchy of “Power from the top down” with God at the top, prophets, the Bible, priests and other learned men, Government at all levels, bosses, parents and finally children. She fully understands the importance of her position in the pecking order of “Power from the top down” authorities and what duties she must fulfill and how she must fulfill them. She also has firm expectations of Kay’s duties and desired conduct as a daughter, someone operating from a lower level of power. She dispenses her approval, permission or displeasure in what she considers an even-handed way; she is the arbiter of all matters pertaining to family life.) Kay patiently explained that she had still some of her own unfinished business to complete here. Her Mother understood and approved the need for Kay to finish her tasks, and gave her permission to remain behind.
Today, Kay has reported on the phone that her siblings have all arrived in suburbia to be with their mother in her final days. They spent the afternoon together by the bed, where their mother is lying, now mostly unconscious. They remained quiet, and to preserve silence, they sat on their respective chairs doing cross-word puzzles, each by themselves.
Kay said she has been taking photographs of her mother, whenever she has lapsed into sleep, to have a record of her mother as she is right now. One of Kay’s sisters thinks this is not a good thing to do. Her brother just shrugged. Kay, an artist as well as business woman, expressed to me that she wants to make some artwork using her mother’s image. We segued into a conversation about why it is okay to take pictures of people while they are alive, but is considered less desirable to show them in the stages of dying. Kay mentioned the various paintings that Edvard Munch had made of deathbed scenes. In these scenes, people dying are tastefully depicted, and those who surround them are shown in various postures that can be read as expressions of their feelings of loss. Kay said “Imagine the furore that would have erupted in Munch’s day if he had painted a death scene showing family members playing cross-words”. We considered that Munch would have been considered dis-respectful, unloving and thoughtless, or insane. He would be highly criticized, maybe shunned. Kay ruefully stated that her mother, would react in a similar fashion, and perhaps also with sadness and anger, if Munch had been her son and painted such a picture.. Next, Kay wasn’t sure how to feel about doing cross-words at her mother’s deathbed. She made this candid and thought-provoking observation –
“Mother is beyond caring about this and I guess I’ll have to live with the consequences that result.”