Reaching the end of life with grace

More photos from Hawaii… this is my friend Rick and his aunt Dorothy, 99 years old and much of the reason we were in Hawaii. Rick is managing her affairs as she approaches the end of her life, and there is a lot to do just now.

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Aside from all that paperwork and occasional trips to the beach, maybe one of the most interesting parts of the trip was our talks with Dorothy. She’s in assisted living now, a really nice place on the windward side of Oahu, basically a little house with only eight residents, looks brand-new with live-in care. She’s lost much of her short-term memory and really isn’t sure how she got there, though she can reason it out – she hasn’t lost any of her smarts or personality.

She was really glad to see us, Rick especially, as she always seems to remember who he is. Mostly she was just happy to have someone to ask questions of and get straight answers, even if she couldn’t always remember the answers from one conversation to the next – although it may not be through conventional memory, I had the strong feeling that on some level, she was gaining a sense of calm from the discussion. We spent most of the first visit explaining how she got there and why she was there, what was happening to her condo in Honolulu, what her physical and mental health were like, and where she would be living from then on.

On the second visit, she seemed to have progressed from those issues to end-of-life issues. She told us many times that she didn’t expect to be here long, and she was ready to go. When Rick asked her how she felt about that, she said it felt natural, that she didn’t feel any anxiety or fear about it. Her main concern was being buried on the family farm in Oregon, together with the rest of the family and with her family name displayed. She enjoyed being out in nature and in the sun, as one of the few things now that were really worth spending time doing. Both of us were struck by how important this was, as she lives in the moment now, to make sure that as many of her moments that are left are spent outside enjoying nature and beautiful surroundings.

She knows her life is not what it used to be and doesn’t see much purpose in remaining, but it seems she’s taking that in stride – since it is what it is, she’s ready to accept it. There was a grace and naturalness to her thoughts that I appreciated. I hope very much that I can be of that calm and natural state of mind when I approach the end of my life, with grace and acceptance. I hope it comes easily to her, quietly in her sleep, when she chooses to move on. There’s a lot to admire about this woman’s life, not least exemplified by its ending.

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3 thoughts on “Reaching the end of life with grace

  1. Judith B says:

    Thank you for posting this, Teresa. It is important to have role-models for the end of our days, and Dorothy sounds like a good one. I’ve read suggestions that people with memory loss do understand more than is apparent, almost as if a part of themselves is outside watching. Am sure she appreciated the visit from you and Rick. Am sending her love . . .

  2. Coppermoon says:

    The older I get, the more I think about this – my feeling is that all life deserves to end with dignity. Quality not quantity matters most. A lovely piece which prompts me to also send love to this beautiful woman….

  3. Rick says:

    What a lovely and loving tribute, Teresa. I always benefit from the way you see things … from hearing your perspective. Thank you.

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