aging in place, Caring for a parent, Death & Dying, Dementia, family caregiving, Mental health, mother daughter relationship, Self-care

Oh, Those Noisy Geese: Migration

Sunday morning when I got Mama up, she said, “Those geese were sure noisy this morning. There must have been three times as many as last year!” Her ability to compare and quantify between now and a year ago is astounding. As is her ability, without her hearing aid, mind you, to hear the geese. Even if there were geese.

In the past when she has mentioned hearing the migrating birds, I’ve denied that there were any, or said what a lovely thing to hear geese in your head. Still trying to keep her bound to reality. This time I just said, “Mmmm.”

Mama has been discouraged and depressed since she broke her arm, and has spent a lot of time in bed. Rebecca and I have been trying to encourage her to take on a positive attitude, telling her she can choose how she deals with this setback. To be honest, I’m not sure she can choose; I’m not sure she wants to. It could be that she is choosing death. But while I can withhold medical intervention to help her cross the divide, it’s against my nature to “let” her die of depression. Perhaps, however, it would be a gift to let her choose even that.

She has been talking about dying a lot in the past three weeks, or rather about how to achieve it: taking a pill (“hospice can give me something”), entirely stopping eating and drinking (something I believe she is incapable of choosing to do, though I have told her that is an option, really the only one), saying “just shoot me.”

She has also been talking in her sleep regularly, something I have never known her to do. Sometimes we can understand bits of what she says. They aren’t nightmares, more calm conversations with people that perhaps she needs to have but can’t bring herself to have in a wakeful state.

I wonder if difficulty going to bed, getting us up at night and keeping us there by asking for something to drink and not being able to get comfortable, and talking about “planning” her death are all expressions of fear of the unknown next. None of us know how dying will come to each of us, but one thing she knows is that she will be aware of it in one way or another. I suspect she is afraid of lingering, of watching death’s approach for too long. Afraid of being alone when it creeps in. Maybe even afraid of being asleep and missing it.

Last night at 2am, she asked me to bring “juice, Gatorade, or Boost” to her while she sat on the toilet. I broke my resolve not to speak—certainly not to challenge her—in the middle of the night. “Why do you need juice or Gatorade in the middle of the night?” “It’s the only way I know to keep from dying, I guess,” she said.

I’m taking my friend Joanna Powell Colbert’s Gaian Tarot for Beginners online course. (I don’t think it’s too late to join the course, BTW. She uses the tarot not as a predictive tool, but as an interpretive one, in which the user explores their life.) The first exercise was to draw a single card from the 78-card deck. I drew the death card. I see a boat that can no longer traverse the waters, but beautiful in its colorless crumbling form. It is surrounded by life in the living waters, the blooming flowers, the waiting vulture (that I thought was an eagle). Death includes life.

Death post image

The sunrise Sunday morning, as I studied the card I drew, was one of the most beautiful I have seen. I sat in my chair, holding the card, and wept at its beauty; and for the first time, grieved the loss of my mother, even while she lives on.

dscn7891The big news is, we have found a new home for Mama, a smallish assisted living facility with all levels of care. We have talked with her about it, she is—at least in theory—agreeable. We are under no delusion that the transition nor the ongoing care of her will be easy for anyone. But it’s time for a new thing.

Today, before I left for the cafe to write this post, I drew another card: Explorer of Air. The young boy (me) climbs above the fray to clear open air, birds of many varieties, new perspectives. The peregrine falcon—a nearly extinct bird—at the bottom represents to me my mother, staying in place as I rise above her to begin exploring a new, less-encumbered life. The end includes the beginning.

Explorer of Air post image

We have made an intermediate transition to more care at home, a time for Rebecca and me to step back and let Mama learn to depend on others. Our hope is that the next step out of the house will allow us to just be her daughters, and to preserve our health and our lives. Perhaps she will do better there, perhaps she will decline more rapidly. It will be her choice, and we will need to respect it, to stand with her, to hold her hand either way.

The fog and gray skies returned after Sunday. Loud/quiet. Warm color/cool gray. Clarity/mystery. Living/dying. All beautiful. All the cycle of life.






12 thoughts on “Oh, Those Noisy Geese: Migration”

  1. “… for the first time, grieved the loss of my mother, even while she lives on.” —–
    I’ve experienced this several times, too. It’s almost (almost) as hard as the actual passing – and it has always stayed with me.

    Gretchen, you sure are dealing with very basic and very profound aspects of life/death. I admire you for grappling with the, at times overwhelming, enormity of it all.

    Wishing you peace, strength and support in your continuing journey,


  2. This is beautiful…tears.

    I’d never heard about the end-of-life sleep-talking until I experienced it with my parents. Would love to hear some kind of scientific neurologic explanation, but I have a feeling the experts have no idea why it happens….And my dad was like your mom in treating days and nights as almost the same. I just thought of it as coming full circle to the newborn experience. ❤


    1. That’s interesting. I wondered if it was a “thing.” I will revisit some of the books I’ve read about end of life–and find more. I know one talked about dreams. You are very right about the sleeping cycles, I love the full circle concept. The hospice nurse told her last week, when my mom was lamenting all the time in bed, “You are old, your body needs to sleep.” I thought then, so much like an infant. I’m sure she is afraid to “waste time” in bed or sleeping, knowing there is so little. She will not embrace this natural part of life gracefully, that is for sure.


      1. Likewise I think my mother thinks staying in bed is slothful (even though no matter what, she does no work…) and will make her look bad in the eyes of the various people who see her during the day (even me). My dad was the opposite…though a hard worker, he loved to luxuriate in bed (reading, talking on the phone) whenever he had a break and thus taking to his bed at the end felt safe and comfortable for him.


      2. My mother definitely thinks it’s slothful. “Lazy,” is her word for accomplishing nothing. And unless it’s housework, anything is lazy. I don’t think she cares how it looks to others, she is just disgusted with herself. I love to be in bed too.


  3. Like many others here, I will continue to lift you up in spirit as you navigate this next phase. I’m moved by the morning you describe. A touching moment of your long goodbye ♡
    I wish I could give you a hug.

    I hope you and Rebecca are proud of your willingness to be along for your Mama’s journey. I am in awe of your patience and commitment.


    1. Thank you, Bonnie. It’s good to have you along for the ride. It feels right to be here, even when it is so hard. When she is gone, I will be glad to have been here. I will wish I could have done it better, and be content that I did my imperfect best.


  4. You wrote: “… for the first time, grieved the loss of my mother, even while she lives on.” I know that part so well. Caring for two husbands and a boyfriend as they died of cancer, I experienced each time that grieving of the loss before the passing occurred.


    1. That is just too much. Perhaps it’s a gift to be able to grieve before they are gone. I don’t know. I do know this leave-taking is very different from my father’s unexpected one. I grieved him mightily, still do, 21 years later. Maybe because it all came after.


      1. I think that might have something to do with it. When the death is unexpected like my brother’s was, the grief seemed to linger longer in some ways. Of course a husband’s passing especially after many years of marriage is another whole thing in itself. Length of years and closeness to the deceased play a huge part in the grieving process. We are all different and strangely similar in our handling of grief and loss.

        Liked by 1 person

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