In the last year of Mom’s life she had become increasingly confined because of emphysema and COPD, until eventually she was living what we call in hospice, a “bed-to-chair” existence. Her oxygen tubing was long enough to stretch across her small one room apartment, while her nebulizer and inhalers sat on her end table within arm’s reach of her favorite chair.
She spent hours in her big, red floral patterned, antique winged-back chair—reading, watching the San Diego Padres, playing with her cat named Blue and crocheting.
Crocheting was probably her preferred form of handwork. It seemed like the click of the needles, soothed her similar to a mantra, calming her anxiety and easing her breathing. I wonder if this activity didn’t also enlarge her otherwise shrinking world by giving her a more expansive purpose, as she held one of her loved ones in mind with each new creation.
She took a certain pride in the notion that every completed piece had at least one mistake in it because nothing was perfect, insisting it was the imperfection that made a doily or afghan unique and special—compared to a factory-run product.
Her lovely flawed creations were special—not just because they were made by hand—but because they were made by her hand.
In the last week of her life, my brother Dave and I were going through her bags of unfinished projects. I thought of the 250 brown and cream granny squares I crocheted as a young adult—an afghan in the making. I kept that paper bag full of squares for years, thinking maybe someday I would finish it. I never did.
Mom’s impending death, like any, had a way of bringing unfinished business into focus, not by choice but by necessity.
As we sorted through a closet filled with all her homey but incomplete efforts, we discovered many loose ends. We didn’t want her precious work to unravel, so we asked her if she remembered how to tie up the ends.
My brother knelt in front of her holding one of her beautiful pineapple-patterned doilies in his hands. Mom was too weak, and her fingers would not cooperate. My brother said, “That’s ok, Mom; we’ll do it.”
In that tender failure, I experienced a fresh illumination of a larger truth. Since there is no perfect life—there is no perfect ending. We do the best we can, but something is always left hanging and unfinished; passed on to the next generation to complete or continue in its own way. In these thoughts, I felt strangely comforted and readied to carry on—as her daughter, and also as a hospice chaplain—encouraging and supporting patients and families in this final spiritual act of letting go.
That same night, in spite of the loose ends, Mom whispered, “I’m ready, I’m ready.”
And I knew what she meant.
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or hrrv.org.