I’m ready to go

My mom’s dying.  Well, she’s been dying for 10 or 15 years, in a dilettantish fashion, saddled with COPD and teasing death with bouts of pneumonia, ICU camp-outs and similar viral adventures.  But then last month she received a diagnosis of metastasized lung-cancer, and it’s taken a lot of the guesswork out of the process.

She’d been living in our childhood home in Perrysburg, Ohio, the one my parents built and moved into so proudly in 1961, and heretofore she’s insisted that she was leaving it feet-first.  Last spring she had a pneumonia episode that convinced her that, contrary to those assertions, she’d like to “have someone to hug me” when these episodes occur.  She’s had great neighbors on both sides who shoveled her walks when it snowed and looked after her and in general were model children, but I guess it started to matter that they weren’t HER children.

So in July we, my two younger brothers and I, began work to move her out of the house and into, eventually, a nice adult independent living facility near my youngest brother in the north Atlanta area.

I moved from northwest Ohio to Seattle in the fall of 1974, not necessarily to sever ties to the place or the people, but to establish my own ecosystem unburdened by expectations and close observation, but I always felt my parents’ place in Perrysburg as an anchorage.  Not a place that I would return to live necessarily, even in extremis, but something more archival, a memory that I could always illuminate with a visit or even a phone call.

The physical act of going through the house and saying goodbye to familiar stuff was filled with angst, but not unexpected angst.  My mom had resolutely pruned dunes of stuff in the attic and basement.  What really drove my emotional response was the fact that Mom and her house was the last link to a geographical and cultural touchstone that five (or more?) generations of my forebears had inhabited.  There were fields that my great-grandfather had hunted with my dad, places where my dad found Indian arrowheads and artifacts, generations of headstones with my surname displayed prominently, and the more distinctly-layered experience of my personal recollection - the swimming pool, places where Betsy and I had parked the car for sweet intimacy.  And once Mom moved, I’d have no concrete reason to return to northwest Ohio, and that tribal presence, which I still in some way felt after 40 years away, would no longer have its physical anchor.

We did Herculean labor and got the house ready for a furnishing auction and property sale over a 5-day weekend, and my SIL drove my mom south to Atlanta as the rest of us dispersed.  The movers arrived in Atlanta with the furniture that Mom had chosen to keep, and her new life of bridge and books and conversation seemed ready to begin.

Then, a couple weeks later, she fell ill, and a trip to a hospital hinted at, then proved, her cancer diagnosis.  Since then, we’ve been stepping through this journey of dying.  She’s still hanging in her independent living facility, aided by my brother and sister-in-law, hospice angels and home health-care folks.

Betsy and I flew here last month to ostensibly say goodbye, and she was able to walk to the car to go out for dinner and reminisce convivially.  It’s not easy to engage in a frank conversation with someone about their certain death, but Mom was kinda philosophical and said, perhaps to reassure me that I could talk about it, that she felt she’s had a good life, and that, in her words, “I’m ready to go.”

I flew to Atlanta today, as she had said she’d like to see me again, and things have deteriorated, as you might expect.  She has little energy to engage me, but her mind is as sharp as it was when she was fleecing her friends playing bridge.  She sits up for 15 minutes or so and gamely talks sports or whatever, then flags and has to lie down.

This will not be news to many, but it’s the first time I’ve been exposed to this granular process of dying.  My youngest brother and his wife will be doing most of the heavy lifting due to their proximity, but I’m glad I decided to allocate one more trip, both to cleave to my mom in her humbling decline and to give my bro and SIL a weekend to hang at their Lake Hartwell redoubt before the harrowing time ahead.


  1. Phil, I’m so very sorry to hear about your mom. I cannot say anything of consequence, except to remind you that you have many friends…some like me who’ve never met you…who hold you and your family in our thoughts and wish you well as you deal with a very difficult time. Best wishes, my friend.

  2. betsy:

    Oh my dear…

  3. Phil:

    Thanks, John. I’ve actually been delighted to feel the erosion of the boundary between my online friends and “f2f” friends, and the phenomenon that I’m more attached to legions that I haven’t met.

  4. Oh Phil. Inevitable though it is, this is so very hard when the time does come. It means the world to your mom to have you there. So tough to overlay all the happy memories with these final sad ones though. Big hugs to you, my friend!

  5. Kathleen:

    So sorry, my friend. We are sending hugs to you and your mom, and your family.

  6. dianne:

    I’m so sorry Phil, thought you were in Atlanta so often because of regular business, not what you have been dealing with. I lost my Mother inJune of 2000 and spent much time in Mt. Blanchard, OH south of Findlay, then had to return in September to deal with my stepfather’s death. My two brothers could or would not be involved so it was all up to me to take care of everything. They had modest worldly things to dispose of but it took me a couple years to finally let go after probate stuff. Mom had everything from our childhood years, so it took time to “digest” it all and come to terms to let the material things go.

    Just know I am with you during this process that you must share now with your Mom and siblings. It won’t be much fun, but just know we learn from all of this, and we become much stronger to face what’s ahead for us who are left behind. God bless you and your family.


  7. Phil:

    Diane, it’s winnowed down to a situation where I treasure each sentence she’s able to enunciate. Still,
    I’m hoping to rally her for the Buckeye game tomorrow.

  8. cate:

    Phil, I’m so sorry to hear this. Thank you for your shared eloquence.

  9. John Ritchie:

    Phil: Oh my goodness…I had no idea your mom’s health had taken such a terrible turn. My heart breaks for you, Brian, Larry and your wives. I have such wonderful memories with your mom! I remember alumni weekends in Columbus with all of you and listening to your mom analyze the Buckeyes like an ESPN reporter. She’s always had such a great heart and treated me like one of her own. This has hit me like a ton of bricks.

    I’ve experienced, unfortunately, what each of you are now facing…twice. With both parents, the end came slowly and in each case it was very difficult, not because of the known outcome but more because of the fact that both were a mere shell of themselves. To me, that was the most difficult part of the process. Ironically, it were the memories and the reminiscing with each that gave them peace. It was almost like our recollections gave validity and closure to the tasks set before them by God as parents. My mother passed with a smile on her face - a final gift among many provided over a lifetime - to her kids.

    Chris and I love you and your family like our own. Please know that you are all in our prayers and that we are here for you regardless of the need. Carol will soon be in a place reserved for her in Heaven along with your dad. Somehow I am pretty sure she’ll be tracking down Woody soon after her arrival.

    We love you guys!

  10. Many of us have walked this path before with our loved ones, Phil, but I don’t remember reading as eloquent or heartfelt post as this during the journey. Your eloquence is profound and so deeply loving. I hope your mom’s path is an easy one, and I know she will be surrounded by the kind of love that will help to provide the gentle wings of departure. I send you and your family my deepest sympathies.

  11. Brian McDaniels:

    Phil, so sorry to hear that, it is amazing actually the shared experiences we have had, I went through the same thing with my mother in 1991, same insidious disease as well, and she, like your mother, wanted to be in her home with her familiar things, we had moved her from her apartment to our house, she only stayed 2 days before insisting on going back to her place. The hospice people are angels really, mom ended up passing in a hotel room in Monterrey with one of her best friends, but that is another story. Mom and I were always close, she actually did like me more than my little brother, but the final six months of her life, we became very close, take the time to really talk to your mother, these memories will be all you have left of her.

  12. the other Betsy:

    Phil, your words are so profound. It sounds like you are exactly where you need to be right now - just being with your Mom. I was much younger when Mama left us but I still cherish the final days when all that could be done was to sit and hold her hand. Blessings to you and BETSY and your family.

  13. Phil,

    I’m not sure which is harder, if it comes swift and harsh or degrades a loved one by degree, but if given the choice I’d take whatever lingering there were to be had. Though we’re tied physical places we come from or call home, maybe a web of life serves as well or better as we prepare for our diaspora. You are doing the right thing, and have written the right thing. May the gods grant you sweet memories and your mother dignity and freedom.

  14. Mary Bell Meyer:

    Phil & Betsy,
    My hearts go out to you! I just came back to Perrysburg this week to visit my mom, who will be 98 in November, God willing. She has to be fed, bathed, dressed, the whole works. My brother Roger is doing the lion’s share of the support work since I moved out west in May. It was wonderful to see her but she is quite confused quite a bit of the time.
    I really enjoyed getting to know your mom at Way Library. She was so much fun and so intelligent and friendly! I can just imagine her grace in the face of approaching death.
    Your sentiments about Perrysburg are shared!

  15. Ginger:

    Phil, I am sorry to hear that another depression era American is leaving us the hard way. They are “The Greatest” generation that I have ever interviewed. I’ve been where you are twice. Mom had COPD and heart issues (no doubt caused by the COPD)- she had yearly “tune ups” as she called those stays to adjust her meds and her oxygen. In 1995 she called to say she was in the hospital under oxygen, couldn’t talk. I packed and left for her digs in Macon. When we moved there 30 years before I hated the place after one year. I still hate it. But ‘home’ Dayton/Kettering/Greenville, Ohio, has always remained that place deep in my heart of hearts. It will always be so. You will find that the memories of biking around the neighborhood or town will come back with great ease. All your favorite haunts are still there in your memories. I went through this again when my father died. It was difficult because he had either dementia or Alzheimer’s (not sure which). He faded so gradually but quickly - at least he wasn’t in pain. I hope your visit is full of hugs, in fact hugs all round. Be sure and tell her you love her, even if you just whisper it in her ear.

    Hugs to you,

  16. Kathy Rogers:

    Well said, as always.

    Been there. The second parent to go is harder/easier/stranger.

    All good wishes to you and your family.

  17. Marge Gallagher:

    I am so sorry to hear about Carol. You boys have been such good sons. Please know that you and your family are in my prayers. Your mom and dad were such good people. It is tough for us “old guys” to see our friends leave us. You and Betsy have certainly been wonderful children to both of your parents. My best to you all and hugs to the moms.

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