How to Learn The Final Lesson of Life – How to Die

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It was Monday afternoon when I got the call. Our mother was in hospital and I needed to be there. The next morning my plane landed in Toronto and while I was being driven to Oshawa General Hospital I was being updated on the events leading to this latest hospitalization. I was numb.

The next thing I remember was walking off the hospital’s elevator at the 6th floor, palliative care. My sister met me outside our mother’s room and sternly whispered: “Don’t say how good she looks”. With this in mind I went into her room and we exchanged our traditional hello kiss and hug.

A close family friend, Dorothy, was visiting and seeing I was the third of four children to arrive she cut her visit short and left.

Understand the Illness
July 2003 our mother was diagnosed with cancer and given 18 months to live. June 2006 she passed on, having outlived the doctors’ prognosis by an additional 18 months. During these 36 months I learned as much as I could about cancer, the signs of its progression and the signs of the last moments of a terminally ill patient’s life.


Whether you are visiting by telephone or in person I learned to start each conversation with “so what’s new mum?” It is then imperative you listen to whatever your loved one says and you make a conversation around it. Let them change the subject when they’re “damn good and ready”.

The only time she confided in me she was scared to die I told her what I knew. I said: “You are in the hands of the Good Lord now. And there is no better place to be. Let Him take care of you. I’m still here whenever you need me.”


It doesn’t matter if you believe in prayer or not, it has been scientifically documented that prayer by others for a terminally ill patient does help. I firmly believe prayer was the reason our mother far outlasted her prognosis and passed less than 24 hours after I arrived in the country. Of course it’s your choice to believe in prayer or not.

Take Action

If at any time you feel your loved one is not getting the care they deserve; say something! The first time she went through chemotherapy it burned her body from the inside out. Later she would joke that she was famous because she was now in a Medical Journal. I smiled at her when she said this and kept my mouth shut. When we met with her oncologist I stood behind her and stared him down. She never went through that experience again.

Help In Your Own Way

It amazed me how people fell into different roles. I know the Good Lord has given every person different talents and blessings. Our mother relied heavily on those around her for help and support. There was no way I could help change our mother’s ileostomy dressings. My sister, being a nurse, did this for three years. Our mother’s dear friend Helen is a very spiritual woman in whom she found great solace in their conversations. It got to the point our mother would comment about something and it’d show up in her room the next day – anonymously. It is crucial helping is not turned into a competition!

Be There

If you are one of the people closest to a terminally ill person, it is vital to be there at the end. I know it was a true blessing that I should be at our mother’s side at the end of her life here as we know it.

And how appropriate that the woman who taught me how to walk, run, and so many other of life’s lessons be the one to teach me one last one – how to die with dignity and grace.

Her last conscious moments were spent in great anxiety. With my two sisters at my side our mother told me to hold her and I held her hard, letting her back rest against my arms. She was crying and I was crying. We all cried. Her arms and legs were moving a lot as the anxiety became greater and greater. As we were face to face the last thing she said to me through our tears was that she loved me and I told her I loved her too and couldn’t have asked for a better mother.

She was still in a lot of pain because medication can only do so much. I prayed in my mind from a scene in “The Greatest Story Ever Told” – “Devil, leave her!” It was at this exact point in time when all of her vital signs returned to normal and she slipped away into a peaceful sleep. My two sisters and I were still crying and we waited as our mother slept. Eventually we decided we would take shifts to ensure she didn’t wake up alone. Karen volunteered to go first and my other sister took me back to where I was staying. Six hours later at 5:00 a.m. the call came that our mother had passed on to the next life.

Deliver the News

My sister and I arrived at her room within 15 minutes of that call. We waited in silence and tears until it was suggested I call other family and friends to let them know the news. I remember being outside, the sun was coming up and it was a new day. The first day our mum was cancer-free.

Being of a strong English background it was expected of me to deliver this news in a warm but emotionless manner. This was one of the hardest things I have had to do – but I did do it.

Find A Quiet Place

Everyone should have a geographical place to go to when times are tough. Other people should realize this and leave them alone – for a while. There would be plenty of time for funeral arrangements later. For me it was very comforting to be alone in prayer while the sun was coming up in one of my favorite places where our mum had played with us as children. Call me crazy but I could feel her there with me, smiling, telling me everything was going to be all right.


Grieving takes time. Please realize there is no time limit on grieving and different people grieve in different ways.


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