Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Good Way To Go

Patricia Anne (Danner) Bokan 9/8/31 to 4/8/15

Death is not an ending but a chance to leave behind the body, that has been ravaged, worn out, and failing, releasing the mind, or the very essence of our life, into the continuum of the universe. Dying a "good death" means to leave this earth in a calm, positive and perhaps even happy or satisfied manner that allows the mind to separate from the body, and to be free of all pain and suffering. 

Recently, my mother passed away, and I made it my mission/purpose to allow for her to truly die the "good" death. She had suffered physically for close to 5 years with COPD, congestive heart failure and stage IV kidney disease. Her daily medication regime was daunting and required detailed lists to show each medication and its allotted time of day to take it. She took pills almost round the clock from early in the AM to midnight. She was cared for very faithfully and lovingly over these last years by my father, and than my sisters Patty and Terry, after Dad passed suddenly last fall. All three gave her tremendous support in the midst of a most chaotic and difficult time.

Prior to these last 5 years,  mom was not someone I would consider to have been a happy person. She spent a great deal of her spare time, as do many of us, living in regret and wishing things had been "other." Mild to moderate depression was her constant companion through most of her life as a mother, and as a result she was quick to anger and in general was unable to see the pain she brought upon herself. Never wishing to seek professional help or imagining that her life may have indeed been better over the last 50 plus years of her life, she remained stuck.

The years past were not always tinged with sadness. In fact the one saving grace to mom's maladies was her amazing sense of humor. Her love of laughter was not just focused on the trivial or more comedic aspects of life, but was present in her love of practical jokes, puns, and riddles. She had a deep, infectious laugh that as child I wanted to hear and be privy as to its cause, as much as I could.....and did! When you heard mom laugh, it was like a bright, shining beacon a lighthouse guiding ships safely to port, her laughter made you feel safe, and loved. I always wanted to be in on the joke, and went to great lengths to make her laugh as it elicited a feeling deep within my core that was indescribably wonderful.

One such instance was when I was very small...possibly 4 or so. Mom loved to sew and she could do it with such amazing skill and patience. Sitting for hours at her sewing machine, cutting out patterns and carefully stiching the most lovely of things! I loved to be near my mother so much when I was small. She was the center of my little universe and she was fun to be around and watch in action. I knew she loved when I made her laugh, and I loved when I made her laugh as well. So, I would sit underneath the cabinet that held her sewing machine and when she paused in her sewing, I would wait for the perfect moment to let my tiny hand lift up through the small metal plate in front of the sewing needle, and pretend I was "Thing" from the Adams Family TV show. She never failed to laugh heartily at my silliness....and caught onto the joke right away. It felt so good to make her laugh and it resonated inside everyone around her when she did so. She laughed with every fiber of her being, and that is a gift she passed on to me that I will indeed treasure, above all else,  until my last days on earth as well.

So, despite all the emotional drama of living with my mother when I was young, there were indeed many bright spots that shone through her gloom: her infectious laugh, the truly beautiful clothes she made for me and my sisters, her love of all things Native American, so much so that she choose to be called Ooma, a derivative of the word Hooma meaning Granny in the Leni Lenape language, her love of nature, birds and all things wild. Mom introduced me at a young age to eating lobster and steamed clams with butter, and to this day they are a favorite treat of mine. I loved when she sat up with me all night in HS when my friend Oscar was killed in an accident, not really knowing what to say, but sitting with me in my deep sorrow. My mother never failed to delight in my school successes and took my failures as her failures. She was a tough task master with school work, but to this day I have a deep appreciation for her ability to teach to me to read and to speak clearly so that people understood me.  My love of scary movies all started with nights spent in her room with bowls of fresh popped corn with gobs of butter watching the original movie "The Haunting" with Mom and still feeling it is the BEST supernatural suspense movie of all time. I loved her artistic drive that showed up in me as well. She crocheted, knitted, painted, sewed, gardened, crafted, cooked, and lived much of her life in a constant pursuit of some creative outlet to channel her varied passions. She was someone who should have been a teacher or an archivist, as she had a natural ability and a calling to do both. She choose to make raising her family her life's mission and did so in the unflappable style of most homemakers from the 50's and 60's. But she was not the empty headed variety displayed by Betty Draper on Mad Men...although mom was equally as pretty,  a dark haired beauty, and so petite, weighing only 98 pounds when she was married. She was a force to be reckoned with and had a drive to keep going that was unstoppable. 

When it came time for this "force of nature" to die....she was not ready. She simply refused to admit her body was failing. Mom's ability to think and reason, while clouded by grief after my father died last October and muddled up by all the medication that caused her to feel blue,  was intact and sharp.  She still knew every medication she needed to take and at what time, and trust me when I say, this was NO easy feat.

It was a difficult thing to see my mother, late this past Easter night, after we got word from my sisters that she only had at best, one or two days to live. We drove rapidly down from our home in NH, to her home in NJ, arriving around 11PM or so. My sisters kept my arrival a surprise. She was so glad and amazed to see me, and wondered why we were here when we had just been down the week before to see her. I knew it was time to let her know that her body was giving out. Mom refused dialysis over these last 5 years, not wanting to prolong a life that was not healthy or happy for her, so it was only a matter of time until the kidneys and the heart gave out.

I told her that it was time and that she only had a few days to live. She looked directly at me and said " I don't feel like it is time yet " while her eyes held an uncertainty that her words did not convey. I put my hand to her forehead and said "this part of you is strong" then placed my hand on her heart and said "this part of you wants it to be so," "but this part of you, " placing my hand below her lower abdomen "is giving out due to the kidneys mom and your choice to not have dialysis." She asked how long my sisters knew and I said they just learned it that very afternoon from the hospice nurse.

It was these words that perhaps helped her to rally a bit the following day, wanting to beat the odds and live, and even helped her to stay awake through some of the NCAA Championship game, a beloved past time of hers since we lived in North Carolina and saw Jim Valvano and his Wolfpack defeat Duke (and Michael Jordan) to win the title in the classic underdog story that still rings true today!

Tuesday, mom grew weaker, and weaker and it was apparent that the brief rally from the day before was not to be, and the hospice nurses words were indeed prophetic. I went out and purchased some cordless speakers so we could play music, sing, dance and laugh together as a family. Something that brought her and my sisters, great joy when we were younger. I also asked her if she wanted some steamed little necks and ice cold beer and her eye brows shot up as she nodded a slow but emphatic yes.

Mom singing at Ty's 1st b'day party....and having her FAV drink....a COKE
  So, clams were purchased, beer was set to chill in the fridge, and the family started to gather to say their goodbyes to mom. Grandchildren arrived, coming to give her a smile and share a laugh, letting her know she was loved, each in their own way. We laughed, danced, and sang around her bed to all manner of tunes from our past. She ate but one clam, drenched in browned butter as she liked them, which she savored but could not swallow and asked for a bit of an onion ring that she enjoyed but could not finish. But, the beer, ah the beer, was another story! Contained in a small juice glass with a straw, was ice cold Bud, which got sucked down with gusto until it was all gone. This, she savored most of all, and it made us all laugh!

It was/is an amazing thing to observe a loved one passing away at home. Mom went through each and every final stage of dying, and in the end, even reached acceptance of it, the avoidance of which probably kept this strong-willed and tenacious woman going through these last 5 years of illness. She turned to my sister, at one point in our party-like atmosphere of her dying, and said "this is a good way to go." And you know what,  she was right!

Love you cheeseburger, strawberry shortcake, beach, summer, books, sweet tarts, milkshake, cherry cheese cake, pickles, sauerkraut, ham, pot roast, root beer and the myriad of other things I loved, that I would call out to her each night before I fell asleep....we would call back and forth to each other until mom finally said "OK Ceil, you need to go to sleep, so GOOD NIGHT!"

So, good night, good life and good death and may the adventure never end. I know you and dad are indeed dancing on the beach, eating steamed little necks and laughing! Listen.....I can almost feel it.......
Pat and Joe 4 Ever!!!