A Good Death

My Mother, Kathryn Whitlow, has courageously struggled with frail health for the last 6 years. During her many close calls all I could think to ask in prayer for her was that she have the gift of a good death. The idea that she might be alone, or frightened, or in an ambulance, or in great pain, confused, being fussed with by strangers or any such scenario while she made her crossing was too hard to imagine. Please, God, just let her have a good death. During rituals and prayer times, this was a constant wish.

The wish was granted today. Mama had a massive stroke last Monday. I left North Carolina the same day, my sister left Vienna, Austria, my daughter Josi and nephew Michael left New York; we all arrived at Mom’s home in Dubuque, Iowa. We got her home from the hospital on Thursday. She was in her own bed, unable to communicate except a little bit through the eyes and a tiny bit through a squeeze in the hand, but we knew she knew we were all there. We read to her, listened to music, told stories, stayed with her, laughed, cried, told her how much we love her and how much she has inspired us with her strong character our whole lives. All day yesterday she didn’t open her eyes, she seemed to have retreated a little further from us while she labored to birth herself to the next place.

Today the hospice nurse was with us as my daughter Josi was about to leave for the airport to fly to California for her cousin’s wedding. Josi was sad to leave prematurely, but we all told her Grandma would want her to represent us at the wedding. Minutes before she was to leave the nurse said, “You all should gather around her now.” She noticed a subtle change. My two sisters and I held our faces right above Mother’s face, my nephew and daughter had their faces right over her heart, a constellation of 5 faces right above her. Mom suddenly opened her eyes and looked slowly and carefully at each one of us, back and forth and around, the look of eternity in her eyes. We all told her how much we love her, that we will take care of each other, and think of her every single day. Mama closed her eyes and calmly took her last breath. We all felt that she chose this moment as she didn’t want Josi to have to miss it.

When my Father crossed over 23 years ago, his best friend Fran O’Connor walked in the hospital room that very moment. He knelt by Dad’s bed and prayed. When Mom crossed today, Fran’s son Jock, who has taken care of Mom lovingly for years, walked into the house. He knelt and prayed with us. Full circle. Too miraculous and amazing, all of it, for words.

Native American’s say that one of the best prayers you can say for a loved one is that they have a good death. I now believe a good death is one of life’s finest gifts. Mother’s death leaves us missing a grand lady, but astounded by how it all happened, more grateful than we can possibly say.

I was writing a bare bones obituary, thinking we can look at it more carefully and fill it in together later. The last line I threw in just for fun for the family was “Kathryn will be remembered as an ornery little thing with a heart of gold who inspired love and devoted admiration in everyone she met.” To my surprise they all like it and want to keep it in.

Kathryn Whitlow was a force of nature, a feisty lady who spoke her mind with frankness, without editing, apology or regret. Honest to the bone. As tender-hearted as any human I have ever known. Witty, fun, full of generosity and joy. In our last conversation, the day before her stroke I asked her how she was feeling, which I knew wasn’t too good. She said “I have nothing to complain about, only things to be grateful for.” That was her philosophy. She will remain as large in death as she was in life, a model of strength and goodness. I have been the luckiest daughter. I am unspeakably grateful.

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4 Responses to “A Good Death”

  1. Jim Obermeyer Says:

    Sorry for your loss, all will be well.

  2. Marilyn Dansart Says:

    What a beautiful reflection! Thank you.

    Thinking of all of you with prayer in my heart.

    Love,

    Marilyn Dansart

  3. Joy Parker Says:

    Tayria: I am so sorry for your loss. It is a great challenge to lose our mothers because we only have one and it is one of the most special and unique relationships in our lives. I rejoice with you, however, that she died in the presence of great love and comfort, surrounded by her family. It was a good death and I know it eased her rebirth into her new state of being. She is on to her next great adventure now, and freed from the weakness of her body. My heart is with you.

  4. deborah lazar Says:

    Beautifully written for a beautiful woman. Thank you for sharing so deeply – allowing me to recall my own losses and remember the kindness of your mother. Thinking of you all.

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