The Final Journey
A collection of short stories
about people and death and dying.
copyright 2000, Susan Peticolas Lahti
My mother died of cancer. She had been told of the cancer about 7 months before her death. During that time we called in hospice and I read every book or pamphlet that I was given to prepare myself for what lay ahead. I believed if one tried hard enough any death could be peaceful. Hospice could control pain and our job as a family was to meet her needs. But I wasn't prepared. There was so much that no one ever told me. And because there were components of her death that were not peaceful I was left feeling as if I could have done better.
When my mother's death was at hand, things happened not described in any of the materials I had been given to read. The experience was not peaceful. She didn't see people who had already died or talk of feeling ready. We did not have that one last wonderful talk. Instead she was agitated, restless, anxious, and spoke of nightmares.
One evening I located a support group on the internet for people who were going to lose or had lost a loved one. Groping to make sense of my mother's suffering I told the group of my mother's death. They shared their experiences with me. I can't tell you why or when my healing began but only that hearing others' stories did this for me.
I came to believe that my mother's sudden fight to live was a defense mechanism that we all are programmed to have. We are programmed to survive. If you throw a person who can not swim into a pool they struggle to stay afloat. If you put a pillow over a person's head they struggle to take it off. Even if the person was terminally ill they would struggle. So even though my mother was ready to die, she struggled in the end. It was her last ditch effort to survive.
I remember several months before my mother's death she said she had been thinking that birth and death were similar in some ways. She said she bet if you asked any unborn child if they would like to leave where they were and be born into a new world they would all choose to stay right where they were. Perfectly happy with life in utero. She said that she did have some fear about death but thought it was natural fear of the unknown.
Birth and death have some similarities. They both are monumental occurrences that change your life forever. Megan Cooper, an acquaintance I met when trying to make sense of this experience, mentioned if we talked about birth like we talk about death we'd say something like: There is a baby inside you. It will come out. The way it comes out is different for everyone. We wouldn't talk about long labor, pain, cesarean section, episiotomies, aspirating meconium, circumcision. But of course we do talk of these things and that way the family is better prepared to deal with the event and a crisis should one occur. It is time we start talking about death. We need to hear about pain control, agitation, delirium, hallucinations, restlessness. That way if one of those arise when you experience a death you will be better prepared.
I started collecting stories of people's experience with death. I wanted to know what actually happened at the time of death so that I could see if my mothers experience was typical. What I found is the more I heard these stories the more my mother's death seemed less traumatic. It seemed more like a part of the way we live and die. I have come to believe that witnessing my mother's death allowed me to experience something holy and that reading about other families deaths have brought me peace. Because of that, I wanted to put together some of these stories in hopes that you will be better prepared for your own death or the death of a loved one. All of the stories have been written by the authors. I have combined and edited letters they wrote to make a complete story but the words are theirs. Some have been changed considerably to respect the privacy of the families who shared their stories. I hope that all of them help you prepare for death. And I hope that you too experience the holiness, and find the peace of death.