No matter how many times you tell yourself you're ready -- when the moment comes for you to say your final goodbye to your parents, it can be a kick to the gut.
For many of us, our parents are everything. They were the ones who gave us life, nurtured us, loved us, picked us up when we fell, soothed our tears when we cried and so many more small gestures that shaped our childhood. And at some point, even as we grew older, we lived in the bubble that they would always be around... until reality hits us and we realize that they too face their last days. It's a heartbreaking feeling, one that we can't escape from or change. Sher Bailey was experiencing this very agony.
Watching her beloved mother give in to her final moments, Sher did not want to spend even a moment apart from her. When talking about her last few days with her mother, she wrote, "This will be a painful post to write, and it may be painful for you to read. But it’s an important conversation to have with yourself before it happens." Your parent may be gone but you'll still be here and you have to find a way to move on without them.
In 2014, Sher paid a heart-warming tribute to her mother in a blogpost titled Her name was Sybil. She thanked her mother for all the things she had done, including giving birth to her at the young age of 19. After sharing her gratitude for all the small moments in life, Sher said, "But, more than anything, thank you for sticking with the whole parenting thing and doing your best to figure it out when you were just a kid yourself. It must have been wicked hard, but you put on a brave face and a little make-up, and kept being my Mother."
But there was one moment that changed the distraught daughter's life. She recalled the last words her mother said, “I wish I’d been happier," and that affected her. Keeping that in mind, Sher narrated her personal experience to help you get through the pain when you have to do the same for your parents.
Your parents did a lot for you growing up and now the tables have turned. "The circle of life is never more evident as when you become the one your dying parent looks to for comfort," she said. Whether it's spoonfeeding them, calming them down, soothing them with gentle words, or bathing them, it is your job to take on. "You can’t get this wrong if your choices come from a place of love."
No matter the difficulties you may have faced with your parents, they have been there for as long as you can remember. And to suddenly see a life ahead without them can be a lot. "Be attentive. Listen to their stories. Commit their words to heart," she shared with Kitchen Fun. "There will be things your parent says or does during this time that will come out of nowhere and break your heart. It could be a sweet story they remember, or it could be something completely honest and raw..."
When you know that they don't have much longer, you just want to be by their side as they sleep. And it can be comforting for them as well. "She liked knowing I was there, I could tell by the look in her eyes," Sher recalled. "...It was as though I was back at my daughter’s crib in that respect. Watching her chest move up and down was comforting to me."
Old age brings plenty of illnesses and cognitive decline is bound to happen. This can take a toll on your parents, both physically and mentally. They can be there in the room with you but miles away too. And as much as you might want to say to them, understand that they might not actually be listening as their minds become slower and less sharp. Sher said, "If she was talking to my brother who hadn’t yet arrived, I confirmed to her that he was in fact in the house. I never tried to correct her." She added, "Dying is work, and Mother had a lot of work to do. I would see and hear her talking to people not meant for my eyes. And then she’d be present with me again, but only for brief interactions."
Inevitably, there will be conversations and choices you regret. So when they have to go, it can be heartwrenching. "When an estranged parent dies, they get to leave the demons that haunted them on Earth behind," Sher said. "Ours stay with us, always at the ready to come out and force remembering."
"We were born to die" might seem like a casual statement but as you watch your parents fade right before your eyes, it suddenly gains a lot more depth. "When a parent dies you can’t help but think of your own death someday," Sher shared. "You wonder if this is how it will go for you, and what will happen with your own children if you have any. Will they be there with you? What can you do to make it less traumatic for them?"
While some of you might aspire to be like your parent, some of you might not. But no matter who you are, when they're in their last days, it will strike you, just how much you inherited from them. "Her nose was my nose. Her smile, crooked on one side so that lipstick never looked quite right, was my smile. Her small hands were my hands, although hers were painfully gnarled by arthritis and were adorned by a single ring she wore on her thumb," Sher remembered.
"How could I sleep? What if she looked over at the chair beside her bed and I wasn’t there? Even worse, what if she passed away while I was in bed?" were the questions pounding away in Sher's head when people tried to get her to eat or sleep. While it may initially feel like a betrayal to leave their side, she also says that occasionally, it's best to just heed the advice of others when they say it for your own good.
Whether you realize it or not, sometimes just your presence can do wonders to bring them solace in their final moments. "You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. Your dying parent will feel your spirit beside them and know they are in a safe space and well-loved," Sher stated.
But you're not. That one day can be so painful you may feel your heart thundering away while a numbness takes over your body. You may have spent plenty of time with them but it'll feel like you haven't had enough. And the smallest things will be your biggest reminders. Sher said, "After two years I can still hear the way she said my name. I worry I won’t be able to hear it forever."
The grief of losing them will most likely be constant and it'll be up to you to figure out a way to push the pain away to just remember the good. But you don't have to do it alone. Sher said, "There is no shortcut to get through this pain. If you can get to a therapist, I encourage you to do it. Lean on your loved ones as much as possible. Accept help."