Final Gifts for Mom

January 26, 2009

Since mid-October, my family has been commuting to a hospital palliative care room to visit my mother-in-law. Over the years I have told many stories about her, and this may be the final one.

Mom Froese has a terminal illness, we thought she would not make Christmas. We celebrated Boxing Day by boxing up her apartment contents. The article that I wrote on “Who gets Grandpa’s Tools” was put into practice. Mom liked my stories about her, in her stuff, I found a Grainews clipping that mentioned how I want to cherish her relationship with me.

The book “Final Gifts” encourages folks to communicate openly and freely with the dying. Final gifts are the things the dying give us as they prepare to leave.

What gifts can we give the dying? Many folks are not comfortable walking into a hospital, let alone a palliative care room, here are some hints for giving care:

  • Show up. Your presence is your gift. You don’t have to talk about much, just be pleasant, patient, and share your life. Being it is huge for folks who never leave their beds. We’ve made some 6 hours round day trips and mom’s response was “I am so proud of my children.”
  • Listen. The dying have many things they want to communicate, and it may be in story form with familiar word pictures. One favorite phrase in our reminiscing with mom has been, “that was then and this is now.” She knows her life is ending.
  • Laugh. We’ve had lots of funny incidents that still make us chuckle. The pain medication may also cause some funny scenarios that everyone can take in stride, and make light of. The laughter from our room is also an encouragement to the hard-working staff.
  • Rearrange the flowers. I love to arrange flowers. I also love to give roses to the living. Mom’s favorites are roses, and their scent fills the room with hope. I am the self-appointed re-arranger of the nurse’s desk flowers also, and they don’t mind at all.
  • Drink tea together. Much of a farm family’s life and breath is shared around the kitchen table. We’ve eaten meals together in the field, at picnics, and now in the hospital. Sharing tea, even through a straw is a gracious act of bonding with loved ones. Make sure the tea is lukewarm, bring cookies. I happened to meet an old-school teacher acquaintance while making tea, and we encouraged each other to appreciate the gift of each day, even in the hospital.
  • Read and write cards. Words have the power to soothe and heal. The word of God tucked into a short note gives hope and peace. The cards become a decoration to a standard dull room and remind us that we are not alone in the journey of letting go.
  • Sing. I happen to love to sing, so on Boxing Day, I gave Mom her own private concert, Acappella. I think the staff enjoyed it because they really wanted to be somewhere else that day, too. Mom told me early on what song was playing in her head, and then I would sing it to her. “Be still and know that I am God” resounds in our heads, giving hope in our grief.
  • Claim promises. As a godly woman who loves the scriptures, my mother-in-law asked me many times to read God’s promises to her. As I read I could gently rub her arm or hold her hand. The tears that flowed were signs of deep thankfulness and deep sadness mixed in the reality that the hope of heaven was what really mattered.
  • Phone. Hearing the voice of a faraway loved one brings joy to the dying. When my own mother was palliative, and comatose she was given the phone call of a close relative. After we hung up the phone we saw a lone tear roll down her cheek. That single precious tear was the solitary sign of any response from my dying mother in days of waiting for her to pass. Phone calls to the family who are on constant watch at the hospital show that they are not alone, and your emotional support over the telephone lines will mean more than you ever could know. If you are not comfortable being physically present, maybe the phone is the next best thing to being there.
  • Be silly. The snapping and crackling of Christmas crackers around Mom’s bedside brought delight to her great-grandchildren and a touch of silliness to our surroundings as we wore our party hats. What! Party with the dying, you bet. They are about to embark on the best party ever when they meet their Saviour and loved ones in heaven. We embrace the simple joys of being together in celebration, while there is still time to be together.

This story is not finished. We are waiting for Mom to be released from this world. It is my hope that these few words of our current scenario will encourage you to say the words that need to be said, listen to what you are being told, and embrace the richness of a loving family who is preparing to let go.

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