A Life Well Lived

My mom died a couple of weeks ago—about 5:20 pm, July 7, to be exact. I don’t write this to ask for sympathy. Yes, I’m sad, but I’m also filled with gladness. And, yes, I just feel a need to share. It’s part of saying goodbye, so thank you for sharing with me.

My mom, Pansy (Pam) Dillard Coates, in her late 80s. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a smile like that?

Mother was three months and a couple of days shy of her ninety-seventh birthday. She lived not just a long life, but a full one, full of joy and wonder. But in the last year or so, it was clear her body was letting go. She had been losing weight, had little appetite, had more trouble getting around with her walker, didn’t have much to talk about. Still, the end came fairly unexpectedly.

And that, in my mind, is a good thing. She was an avid reader. She started early and never stopped. It was one of her very favorite activities. Her room was filled with books. In the last few years, she said to me numerous times that she was so glad she loved to read, was still able to read, couldn’t imagine life without reading, and that she felt sorry for all the people around her who didn’t seem to care that much about reading.

Mother couldn’t keep up with the number and names of her great-grandchildren—after all, some of them she had rarely seen—but she knew us children, and still recognized the sound of our phone voices, even before we announced ourselves.

Mother lived in a small assisted living facility for the last seven years. I wish that could have been different, but it wasn’t. Yet the folks who work there gave her a new lease on life. When she first arrived, her health, both physical and mental, were in rapid decline. Regular and healthy nourishment, keeping to a medication schedule (and the correct one), and socialization got her back on track within days. It was a miraculously quick transformation.

Because of the pandemic, I had not been able to visit Mother in person for the last five months. From the first days of the shutdown, I feared I would never get the chance to see her again. That has been the case with so many people these last few months, and my heart weeps for them.

But when Mother called out for help, she was rushed to the hospital, and the hospital allowed visitors—just one per day. My brother spent the first day with her and I got to be there the second day. Of course, our first words to each other were, “I love you,” as we grasped hands and looked into each other’s eyes. Those were close to the last coherent words she said. A few hours later she started receiving morphine and she was moved to a hospice facility the following day, where visitation was a little more relaxed. I got to spend the night in her room. My brother and I, our spouses, and a couple of friends all had a chance to touch her, to tell her what we needed to say whether she heard or not, to hold her in the light, and to say goodbye. Yes, it was sad. But it was beautiful, too.

For all these things, I am grateful. I’m grateful for much, much more, too—Mother’s love of nature, her happy outlook on life, her smile, her laugh, her guiding light, all the skills she taught me. I’m grateful that we had a happy, healthy family life where she and Dad showed us children how to adult, how to parent, how to maintain healthy relationships with our own spouses. I’m grateful she was an adventurer, always willing to try something new. I’m grateful she always supported us in our endeavors, both when we were children and as adults. I’m grateful that once we grew up and began living on our own, Mother continued to support us but that she knew better than to ever once criticize or interfere in our lives. I’m grateful for her warmth and her love.

The best l can do to honor her is to model the life she lived, and I will thank her every day of my life for giving me that.

16 thoughts on “A Life Well Lived

  1. Carole, Am just back into facebook after a long hiatus. The first thing I see is that your Mother, my Aunt Pansy, is now living in Heaven with God and the saints. She is now on her forever journey – something I am glad in my heart I am looking forward. Sadness comes because we no longer can see or interact with loved ones, but my heart sings for her. She and your Dad are reunited and one day all of us will be reunited. Love Marcia

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  2. Carole, I had worried that you had not been able to be with your Mom for months. I am so happy that you had time with her, time to touch her, and time to say things you wanted to say to her. Blessings on you.

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    • Thank you, Kathryn. Given her age and that she was in an elder care facility in these dangerous times had me so concerned that we would never see each other again. I’m so glad that hospital had the visitation policy it did and likewise for hospice. Not sure my heart would ever have gotten over the heartbreak otherwise.

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  3. Nice tribute. very accurate description of Pansy. My father didn’t want my brother and I around the last couple of days of his life and though we honored that I also resented it and was hurt by it so Pansy’s handling of her ending was much more fitting and caring of a parent to have.

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    • David, I have read that it’s very common for people to not want family around as they are dying, that it’s all part of shedding this life. Doesn’t make it any easier for those of us left behind, but apparently it’s natural. Mother didn’t actually have much of a say since it all came on so suddenly and then she was on morphine the last couple of days. But she died once the staff had turned her to the side of the room facing away from me, so I kind of wonder if it was the same thing–that she needed to feel alone.

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  4. Carole, what a wonderful tribute to your mom. It is so very, very special that you, Ron, and others got to spend some time with her in the hospital and while she was in hospice. Thanks so much for sharing her with us through your writing.

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  5. Carole, a truly beautiful tribute for a dear and special Mother from her beautiful loving daughter. Thank you for sharing her life with us through your fine words and wisdom. My thoughts continue to be there with you and Ron as you reflect on such a fulfilling person’s life.

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