QUESTION: After many years of suffering through bad health issues, my mother is in her last days/weeks of life. As with my father, so many years ago. I have been preparing for her death emotionally for a long time, and even secretly hoping for it these past several months as I've watched her suffer while her bodily functions started slowly shutting down. Again, I suddenly find myself completely unprepared emotionally with the reality of her death only days/weeks away.

I pray for strength and guidance to make her final days her best ever, which is a pretty tall order, or even just special in some way. All of that seems impossible while she is scared and in pain, and I feel so helpless and scared myself.

I also pray for guidance on how to help my daughter through this experience, as it is her first experience with the death of someone close. She says that it scares her as much to see me caring for my mom, as a mother would for a sick child. Of course, she acknowledges that it brings up fears for her of me dying and leaving her. 

I know that you have a special gift for helping people and their loved ones through their final days, any guidance and/or words of wisdom to help me through this would be greatly appreciated.

ANSWER: Dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy and can be painful, as all losses are. Losing someone you love just plain sucks. We can wrap the experience in all kinds of flowery terms, but at the end of the day it is brutal business. The grief is part and parcel of this realm and the meat suits that we inhabit. The fear is something that we put on it by not having examined our own lives. The biggest gift you can give both your mother as well as your daughter is to examine your own fears. Always remember that we are helpless in manipulating the fear of others. But by addressing our own fear, we can help calm those around us. This is not a mental exercise, but rather an emotional one.

We live in a culture that is incredibly adept at denying death, so we do not push up against it until it comes upon us. After our experience, we once again are encouraged to push it away. The common reaction to big emotions is to try to control them. Hence your desire “to make her final days her best ever” or “special in some way”. This intention does not leave room for either her experience nor yours. You are all scared. That is okay, make room for the fear instead of trying to deny it or overcome it. Learn to just be with it. The being present in the moment is powerful medicine. Much wisdom gets revealed when we can do that. Allow yourself to embrace the whole experience: the fear, the grief, and the tender moments that will all be a part of her last days. Stay in your body and feel your feet on the ground when you are with her. The wisdom you are looking for will flow from that space.