Healing Stories

Achieving Peace and Acceptance

Beth’s Story:  A Little Bit of Heaven

I had no plans for taking care of my mother at the end of her life.  My life situation just put me in the place to be the only one of four siblings who had the freedom to move in with Mom.  She wanted to stay in her own home but couldn’t unless someone stayed with her.  I said, “I’ll just relocate for as long as I can.”  I ended up staying with her from the time she was 80 until she died at 92.

When I made the decision to stay with her, one of my daughters-in-law said, “It must be difficult to put your life on hold.”

It was one of those times when you hear yourself speak without thinking, and know it is the truth.  I said, “My life isn’t on hold.  This is my life.”  I hadn’t planned it this way.  Yet I realized that my life was about being with my mom at this special time and allowing her to live these final years in her own home, as she chose to live them.

Mom was a perfect model of aging gracefully and just being happy with the simplest things.  She was a joy to be with.  For instance, she loved her breakfast.  Every morning, she’d come out and say, “I just can’t wait for my breakfast.  I just love my breakfast.”

During the last five years of her life, we vacationed for two or three weeks each summer at a lovely little place on Bailey Island overlooking Harpswell Bay in Maine.  She would sit on the deck in the sun and watch the waves break just below us.  One day, as she gazed out at the ocean, she sighed, “This is a little bit of heaven.”

In the summer of 2000, halfway through our three-week vacation, she surprised me.  We had a ritual of saying, “Good night.  I love you,” and going off to bed.  That night when she told me she loved me, I replied, “I know that, Mom.”

She said, “No, I want you to hear it because I may not be here in the morning to tell you again.”

I said, “You’ll be here, Mom.”

Morning came and she toddled out with her walker, in her fuzzy pink bathrobe.  I said, “Good morning, Mom.  How are you?”

She responded, “I have a little pain in my tummy.  I think I’m really hungry.  Can I have an extra-big breakfast?”

She went out on the deck while I made fried eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee.  She ate every mouthful of her beloved breakfast.  After I’d cleaned up the dishes, I went out and asked Mom about the pain in her tummy.  She said, “I still have it, and I feel a little bit dizzy.”  Half an hour later she was quite dizzy and soon passed out.

The neighbor and I got her into bed and called the Emergency Medical Technician.  The last thing he did was check her eyes.  I’ll never forget what he said, and I’ll be forever thankful to him.  He looked up at me and asked, “Are you ready for this?”

I thought, “Oh!  My God!  This is not a digestive upset.  This is it!”  Then, out of nowhere, I said, “Mom, Mom, today is the day you’ll be with Daddy and Michael again!”  (Michael was the four-day-old infant she’d lost.)  The words and the joy with which I said them, were completely spontaneous.  That is not my belief, but it was hers.  Some part of me wanted her to hear those words, if she could still hear, and I believe that she could.  I was able to be by her side, caressing her and telling her how much I loved her as she died gently and peacefully, a blessing for both of us.

Appreciative Questions

Marcia’s Story:  What Else Do You Want to Know?

Using some of Healing Conversations Now’s suggested questions, I just had an incredible visit with my dad for his ninetieth birthday.  He had never really responded to me.  He always let my mom be the communicator for the family.  He usually spends most of his time in a lounge chair flipping TV channels.  this visit was different.  I walked around his chair so we were face to face.  Then I asked him what he remembered about some of his childhood friends whom I’d never met or heard about.

He came alive, and suddenly it was as if he were ten years old, and on the baseball diamond.  He told me which buddy was playing which position.  Each time he spoke of a boy on the team, he was more animated.

My mother was dumbfounded.  “Alan, you never told me you played in a championship game.”

He responded, “No one ever asked.”  With this, he turned off the TV and asked me, “What else do you want to know?”  He was so energized he did something he hadn’t done before – he got out of his chair, went into the kitchen, and joined in conversation during dinner preparation.

Joan’s Story:  Discovering Vibrant Elders through Questions

(As Joan visited her aunt’s retirement community, she began noticing certain residents and became curious.  She asked some of them appreciative, energizing questions, and a connection was created as they shared.  Here is an example.)

Maxine and Dennis invited my aunt and me to join them for dinner.  He was bent forward, walked extremely slowly, and wore oxygen tubes.  He barely had the strength to speak above a whisper.  Although he was quiet, his eyes and face indicated that he was involved in the conversation.

I asked him about his work, and he came to life.  He gave many details of his life as a Ph.D. chemist and an administrator.  His mind was still sharp.  He remembered lots of details.  He resounded to questions by telling tales of favorite activities.  The couple began sharing stories of their trips to Egypt and England.  Maxine inquired, “What year did we to to Egypt?  Did we also go to the Holy Land on that trip?”

Without blinking and eye, Dennis replied, “We went to England the first time in March 1967.”  He followed that up with many details.  His eyes twinkled.  As the conversation continued, he smiled and became animated.

Almost two months later, when I was back at the retirement community for another visit, Dennis called me by my first name and engaged me in conversation when he saw me in the hall.  His actions were intriguing, considering that I’d never seen either one of this couple initiate conversations with anyone else.