A Difficult Gift
By Dr. Bill Long
My three brothers and I made the decision to move our 88 year-old mother to Assisted Living and then, to Memory Care. Though the decision was taken after due deliberation, I was ill-prepared for
the bundle of powerful and conflicting emotions I felt in accompanying my mother in this last chapter of her life. While wallowing a bit too deeply in those emotions, I met with a friend to talk about it. Rather than joining me in my self-pity, he looked straight at me and said, “Bill, I wonder what final gifts she will bring to you in her new situation.”
I wasn’t ready to receive his kind words immediately, but as the weeks went on, I increasingly recognized the strange but real gifts that my mother is still bringing me—though unintentionally. First, through her final illness, we four brothers have had to work together as never before. We have had long conversations, traded emails, pursued different options and strategies, and realized the way that each of us is valuable not only for our mother but for each other. In a word, we have learned to love each other in new and special ways.
Second, through her final illness, I have gotten to know caregivers, mostly women, whose selflessness, patience, insight and compassion have been so evident that all I can do is marvel and express my gratitude. The true saints in my world now are hospice nurses and counselors.
Finally, through her final illness I have developed a deeper appreciation of my mother’s life. As I see her fading away from us, I see her also trying to hang on, to recall life in Connecticut in the 1930s, to tell me things that are of little value to anyone but her alone. And I am so grateful for those little moments of human connection that I never knew were still left for us.
As others unwrap their presents big and small this year, I feel mine is already unwrapped for me, and it is a gift that I never thought I would appreciate.