Death Scenes and Life with a Personal Tribute by J Vincent

Death scenes are not what I think of as common fare in writing.  But since my books are centered during the Napoleonic wars and cavalry officers, spies and villians I write a fair share of them.  Some are violent, sudden, a shock.  But the one I have thought of a lot late was expected after a lengthy illness with the entire family gathered by the gentleman’s side.  Everyone had a chance to make their farewells.  It was sad.  I cried as I wrote it and even when I edited some time later.  In writing that scene I drew on my experiences of confusion, sadness, grief, and anger as I watched family members and friends go through terminal illnesses.  But I have never been at a bedside at the moment someone died.  Would it make a difference at how and what I write in such scenes?  What influences do you use if you write such scenes?
You may wonder why I would chose such a topic when we write so much more about life but death, an antonym of life, is also part of living.  What follows is a personal rumination on my mother's life..

 Life--existence, being, time, living, days, years.

In the early hours of September 24th I received a call from the long-term care unit that my mother was unresponsive and had entered the final stage of her journey here on earth.  I went in and sat by my mother’s bedside as she lay slowly slipping away.  It was the first time I had seen her serene and peaceful in some time and I considered that a great blessing.  I held her hand and prayed and said my farewell aloud, just the two of us in the hushed hours of the early morning.  I am very grateful for the quirk of fate that gave me those hours alone with Mom.  When I said my final goodbye and left after my brother arrived it was with a sense of profound peace.  When she passed away an hour later while I was taking my morning medical treatments I rejoiced with her that she was now free of suffering and in a far better place.

For the past eleven months Mom had gone through a series of falls and infections that took more and more of her ability to communicate from us.  By August she could hardly see, barely hear, and we couldn’t understand most of what she said.  Pain kept her restless but she was unfailingly gentle and undemanding.  As these last months crept by, I saw Mom stripped one by one of everything on a physical as well as medical plane.  I realized she was giving us a profound lesson in living and how to face death.  She lost her independence, her home, and all of the things she had made or acquired.  Never once did Mom complain.  It has made me think about possessions in a far different light.  I saw that we truly go out of this world with what we came into it.  Some may judge us for what we accumulate or what we lose.  But what we do and have done seems a far better scale on which to be weighed.

Mom tipped those scales wonderfully in her favor.  She was an ordinary farm girl, an ordinary farm wife but those she touched are numberless.  There were over 350 people at her funeral.  The mortuary personnel said they had never seen so many for someone over 90.  But for many many years Mom had given a baby blanket she made to any baby born in a twenty mile radius and took food to almost every home that suffered a death.  She sang in the choir until well into her eighties, she could out embroider anyone and most of us in the family have quilts she either embroidered or hand appliquéd.  She made strip comforters by the dozens and gave them to friends and strangers.  She gardened, canned food, sewed, worked ground, milked cows--there is little I can think of that she couldn’t or hadn’t done at some time in her long life.

So Mom existed, she was a being known by many who lived her days and years as well as she could until she faced death with grace.  I pray I do as well.


Carol, your friend from Urbana said...

Joan, I've been thinking of you and your family frequently over the past week or so, and send you my deepest sympathy for your loss. I also lost my mom just about a year ago, and was privileged to be at her side. You are right, it is a profound experience that touches us in ways we never anticipated. My mom's body had been failing her in ways I still cannot speak or write about, and she had been in so much pain until I changed her status to hospice. Then, even though she stayed in the same hospital bed, she was finally given pain killers that removed all suffering. To hear her breathing change from a whimper of pain to a soft rhythm slowing gradually until it was no more was a gift to me beyond all gifts.

God bless you and your family as you come to terms with missing your mom.

Joan Vincent said...

Thank you so much Carol. Knowing what you went through with your mother makes this mean even more to me. God bless you.

Penny Rader said...

{{{Hugs}}}, Joan. What a beautiful tribute to your mom. Thanks for sharing with us.