Many people of the baby boom generation have lost one or both parents as I have. Others soon will and are trying to figure out how to provide them with the best possible end of life experience while still struggling with long-standing, unresolved issues. Regardless of your age, I highly recommend doing all you can to work through any unfinished business that weighs heavily in your heart.
We all experience problems in childhood that are the source of most dysfunctional relationships later in life. These patterns tend to intrude in one way or another, impacting our current relationships because they are the result of emotional wounds and unmet needs from those early years.
The willingness to work on ourselves is the key to interpersonal freedom and healthy love! This includes learning how to forgive our parents for childhood injuries – real and perceived. When it comes to the end of our parents’ lives there is a great pay off from this work for them and for ourselves.
As essential preparation for my profession, I have done the work I speak of. Allow me to share a glimpse into my own experience with my mother’s recent death and how my work paid off for my mother and me.
During the last year or so since my father’s death, I visited my mom multiple times per week to help her grieve, feel assured that she was loved and see to her well-being. One afternoon about six months ago, our visit began as usual. On this day however, we started sharing feelings about what really mattered in life – mainly love based relationships – including our own! Like almost everyone, my relationship with my parents had not always been rewarding for any of us, so I recognized that a very special moment was at hand.
Realizing there would not be many more opportunities to capture such an intimate conversation with my mother, I began video taping it with my phone. Mom was 90, had Alzheimer’s, COPD and a history of cancer. Remarkably to that point her physical decline remained slow, but I knew time was running out.
The purely loving nature of the relationship we shared, apparent in the many hours spent together during the past year and obvious in that conversation was my reward for learning how to love my mother unconditionally. My mother’s reward was having a son who was able to dedicate himself to her with a full heart, making sure she felt loved and cared for till her last breath.
The opportunity to learn about life, to grow emotionally and to love, continues for each of us until the end of life. Whether it’s an experience like I’m sharing with you now or one where either we or someone we love becomes negative and defensive, it is precisely in such challenging moments that we may mature. While working on our emotional selves is the hardest thing most of us ever learn to do – nothing pays bigger rewards!
Late in May my mother’s health took a serious downturn. I arrived to find her near death. I sat next to her stroking her head. She could no longer speak and her eyes remained closed, but when I said “Mom I’m here,” her fragile hand found mine slowly taking it to her lips.
A couple of days later, sitting alone with her, I saw the signs of her dying accelerate rapidly. “Mom, I love you, Karen loves you, Ellie loves you and we will love you forever! We’re OK – so when you are ready, you can go.” A few breaths later she died peacefully.
I am so grateful for a lifetime of shared love and all the lessons learned from our unending commitment to each other despite the human imperfections we both brought to the table.