When you get to be my age, you are less afraid of death, than you are of dying alone. Most of my close family and my husband are now dead, but along the way, I have become practiced at giving loved ones what I call, a “Good Death”.
About ten years ago, one chilly January afternoon, I was sitting in my office with a happy smile on my face, because I was leaving next morning for a trip to the Caribbean.
Then the phone rang. It was my sister, Susan in England,
“Mercia, I am so sorry to call but Dad is dying. He doesn’t have long to live. The hospital have withdrawn all food and water. I felt I should give you a choice about coming now, or waiting until the funeral”
My father had late-stage Parkinson’s. To me, there was no choice to be made.
“I will be on the early flight tomorrow, and tell Dad, just to hang on and wait for me.”
I landed at Heathrow and sped over to the hospital. When I entered his hospital room, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw. My father had already shrunk like a skeleton. He was sleeping. I tiptoed over to the bed and whispered
“It’s Mercia. I am here now”
His pale blue eyes immediately flew open, and he clutched my hand. I was at a loss for words and found this huge lump welling up in my throat. What on earth do you say to your father when he just has just a few hours left to live? I laid my head down on the bed, sobbing saying
“Oh Dad, I am SO sorry”. I felt his hand patting me on my back to comfort me. We both knew why I was here.
I looked up to see a tear rolling down my fathers face, amazing after 48 hours of no water. I told myself that I was here to comfort my father, and I needed to do something other than just weeping- but what?
I decided to recall happy family memories, and over the course of the next 24 hours, I recounted over 50 stories and one I will share with you tonight.
The Chocolate Mousse
There was the infamous chocolate mousse story.
When I was young, the family went camping in France. We ate out every night.
In the evening in question, after the main course, my father and I chose chocolate mousse for dessert, a real treat after World War 2. Madame, the restaurant owner, proudly presented the mousse in a large copper bowl, and we were given two smaller bowls and told to help ourselves. Oh, chocolate bliss! My father and I and dug our spoons into the big bowl and helped ourselves, until only a couple of spoonfuls were left.
“Let’s not offend Madame by leaving any chocolate mouse behind,” said my father, to which I cheerfully agreed!
When Madame came to clear the table, we thanked her profusely for such a magnificent dessert! But wait, did she look a bit startled? Surprised? Then my mother exclaimed
“You two greedy pigs have just eaten a chocolate mousse destined to feed the entire restaurant tonight”.
I hung my head in shame, but confess to giggling a bit. Over the years, my father and I, without an ounce of remorse, would relive every glorious mouthful!
By 10 pm next night, I was exhausted, and I had no more memories left on my list. I told my father it was time for me to leave. He gripped my hand with extraordinary strength, he did not want me to go. I gently disengaged my hand and walked over to the door, the night nurse greeted me and said
“See you in the morning. They can last many days like this”
I shook my head
“No, he will be gone in a few hours.”
I turned and looked back into my father’s room. His eyes were still riveted on me.
“Dad, you can leave us now. I will love you and carry you in my heart forever.” I blew him a kiss.
He died 4 hours later.
And that is how I learned to give a loved one a “good death”. It is the greatest act of compassion and selfless love that you can give another human being. Of course, your heart is broken into a thousand pieces. But know this, when you escort loved ones to the gates of heaven, you will see the face of God, and you are reminded that you are NOT alone, and you WILL have company when your time comes. Your family will be waiting for you.