Things I Learned From My Mother’s Death

mothers death

I had a really rough August into September. The day we took my only child to college and became empty nesters, I received a call from my stepfather’s sister. Both he and my mother were in the hospital. He was having complications after a heart valve replacement, and she had been brought in after an acute COPD attack. The next day I talked to both her and him. That evening I received a call from a surgeon that started with “We found a mass in her abdomen,” and ended with “She won’t survive the surgery so we are moving her to hospice. She has a few days left.” She died later that night.

My husband and I made the drive to Wisconsin and spent a week there for the funeral and going through things. I came away with some profound lessons. These are things that I am trying to incorporate into my life.

(Although this is very different from the type of thing that I normally write, it is something that is causing a lot of change in how I am choosing to approach life).

Share the Information

I don’t know why my mother was so adamant about not giving phone numbers, but she always put me off when I asked for my stepfather’s relatives or the neighbor’s phone numbers. If one of my stepfather’s sisters hadn’t hung onto my home phone number from 20 years ago and been able to give it to the sister in my hometown, I would never have known that my parents were even in the hospital, much less been able to talk to my mother before she died.

I didn’t even know any of my step-aunts’ last names, so I wouldn’t have been able to find them if they hadn’t reached out to me first.

I took a picture of the list next to my parents’ phone when I was there. And I made sure that my daughter, husband and best friends have the phone numbers for my core family as well. This also applies to passwords…more about this in a Patron article this month.

Do Things Ahead of Time

My mother had made all the arrangements almost 20 years ago. The funeral home came to the hospital to talk to my stepfather. They took care of the body, death certificate, notifying social security, calling the church, printing up memorial cards, programs and thank you notes. All my stepfather and I had to do was pick out flowers and show up at the church.

I cannot tell you how much easier this made things.

Now I am trying to do as much as possible ahead of time so that I don’t end up stressing as events approach. (There will be more about this this month’s first podcast).

Share What is Shared

Back at the same time that my mother prepaid her funeral, she gave me an envelope that said, “open on death”. So I didn’t open it until she died. Inside was a healthcare power of attorney and durable financial power of attorney.

While it was good that she had drawn up these papers, both of these ceased to have any power when she died. Had I known what was in the envelope I would have been able to talk to the doctors before she passed to find out more about what was wrong.

It made me realize that many times I will write things down but not tell people why it is important. This is especially true at work, where I am still the primary documentation person. I will write things down because I don’t want to lose the information, but then either not tell the team what was written down or where it is. They’ve actually created a directory on our share called “Laura’s Holding Out On Us” to put things I forget to mention.

I am making an effort to inform the team every time I update the documentation, and it is inspiring them to start documenting as well.

Relationships Require Effort

The past couple of years have been ones of isolation as the world battles the pandemic. Everyone I know has drawn back from life to one degree or another. My parents, both of whom had health issues that put them in the very high risk for death from COVID, only left the house for doctor appointments and grocery shopping. As my mother became more frail, she didn’t even do the grocery store.

The funeral was sparsely attended. It was my stepfather’s family and a close couple from the neighborhood. My mother hadn’t kept up with anyone, even by phone, and so she was forgotten.

I have a tendency to isolate as well. I’m an introvert and I have enough projects I do on my own that it plays right into staying at home. But I know that I need to put in effort to keeping relationships up. When I expressed this to my two best friends, they agreed, and admitted they hadn’t been good at it either. So we are all making effort to talk, text and meet up for meals and coffee.

Enjoy and Use

One of the saddest things I realized is that my mother saved things “for good”. She didn’t wear her “good” clothes. She didn’t use the “good” dishes. Her “good” jewelry was locked in the safe…dozens of pieces of jewelry that weren’t enjoyed.

She specifically left me all of her jewelry, so I pulled all of it into a case and brought it home to sort. I took about half of it – including the whole bag of “good” jewelry – to a gem show at the convention center and had them do stone identification for me. It turns out that I am holding dozens of real diamonds, sapphires, rubies and a spectacular 15 carat natural blue topaz that I had thought was glass. It made me sad to know that she never wore these things.

I will be turning a lot of these stones into pieces I will wear. But it made me look at my own things at home.

Working from home, there are many things I don’t use. Working from home has left me living in athletic wear with no jewelry. I even have an entire room that is used rarely (the formal dining room). Our guest bedroom was always closed off.

Since coming back from the funeral, I have started using the guest room for podcasting, and found there is less echo and more room than my writing studio. I have started having a few meals in the formal dining room, including my lunches. And I have started wearing nicer clothing and putting on my jewelry.

Life Is Not Infinite

One of the tasks given to me by my stepfather was to go through the closet where my mother kept her unread books. My mother was an avid reader and passed that love onto me. He wanted me to take the books with me. But when I started going through them I realized the books numbered in the hundreds.

The last time I had visited, she had told me she would read them when she had time. Sadly time ran out. And all these books that she had looked forward to enjoying would not be enjoyed.

I packed up the books to be taken for selling. But I only took one home with me…a Christmas-themed mystery I want to read in December.

I am prone to a lot of “someday” thinking as well. I will do projects “someday” and I will finish the books “someday”. Life is not infinite. I need to do these projects and not put them off. So I am making a effort to work on them, and to keep my project list low so that I can close them out.

My mother’s death has affected me profoundly. And I am still learning from her in death about how to live my life as I learned from her in life.

1 Comment

  1. Pat Marinelli

    So sorry for the loss of your mother. But thanking you for this post. You are chaning the way I think about things also.

    I lost my twin sister to COVID in the spring of 2020 so I know things should be done, but I’ve put them off. Now I will change that. I have jewerly I want to go to people as well as other things to leave to have. Sad how death makes us rethink our own lives.

    Take care and thank you

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