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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Last Gift

"To comfort all that mourn... to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness..." Isaiah 61:2-3

By Lois Barton

Posted on Oct 1, 2004

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"Mother at ninety-three years"

At age 88 my mother moved 2000 miles away from Ohio where she'd lived most of her life to spend her final days with me, her 62 year old daughter, and a grandmother in my own right. After I outgrew my sense of superiority as a teenager, Mother and I became friends, enjoying and respecting each other. We had an understanding at that time that if the need ever arose, she'd come and spend her last years with me.

When she got here Mother was accustomed to taking a valium pill each morning because they had been prescribed at some time for her to have available when she was upset about something. She'd forgotten what they were for but presumed she should use them. This meant that she was groggy most of the time. I took her to our family doctor who checked what she was using, and got her off that pill first thing. She then became a pleasant companion ready to engage in family activities.

"You and your mother had better be very good friends," Marjorie told me when she learned Mother had come to live out her years in our home. "It's no easy task to see a parent through those declining years," she said. Of course she was right but I felt great confidence in my ability to handle the situation. Mother and I have been best of friends for many years.

During the first years after she arrived, we had good times, both pursuing her interest in making quilts and in canning and preserving food for the winter months, and traveling around the country to visit family in Texas, Illinois, Virginia and Ohio.

When she was 93 year old she began to fail rapidly. I learned some of the deeper meaning in my friend's warning. As Mother's health declined, and most particularly her mental state, I had to deal with intense anger, disgust, resentment and accompanying guilt feelings.

In an effort to sort things out, I sat down the one morning and put my feelings on paper. I wrote, "I'm angry and disgusted with Mother most of the time. Her behavior rubs me the wrong way and I seem unable to accept her confusion and infirmity. I can't stand to look at her when her false teeth are out of her mouth. Her groans of pain evoke anger, not sympathy. The way she dawdles over her food is both disgusting and frustrating. As she dozes all hunched over for hours on end, I want to force her to straighten up and sleep like a normal person.

"Mother's last weeks"

"Mother is well into her 94th year, has had a full life and is ready for transition. She lives with pain and frustration as her body gives out. Why has her decline affected me so negatively?"

As I wrote these words I began to understand that the child in me was grieving and rebelling over losing my mother. I was becoming that child again. It seemed not so long since she used to chide me by mid-evening for still reading in the other room where she could see reflected light through her door. "It's bed time. You better go to bed or you'll be tired in the morning." My look at the clock revealed 9:00 p.m. As a grandmother I had years of personal experience about a necessary bedtime for me, but still understood a mother's concern about her child. Now, in her place I find a dying old woman whose brain is clouded with morphine and I'm committed to caring for her.

As I wrote, I wondered whether I could call on another aspect of myself to take over, asking God to comfort the grieving child in me while I channeled compassion from the Universal Mother. Maybe I could rise above the sneaky impulse to avoid every possible demand from her. Maybe my scornful disgust could be transformed into sympathetic consideration. It seemed unlikely, but maybe God could help me to accept this new insight and find ways to disconnect the filial ties that trigger such emotional reactions.

To my surprise, the process of writing out these feelings brought a change. That next morning Mother awoke quietly with an unusually peaceful expression on her face. I actually felt more compassion and detachment, and realized I could care for her with little of the emotional turmoil which had made me want to strike her when her behavior was undignified or irrational. It was sobering to recognize that my body English had been affecting her when I supposed it was hidden.

I wrote in my journal: "I will be relieved and thankful for her sake when she is released from her pain and incapacities, even though I understand the loss I'll face.

"Now that I'm less agitated within, my mind and spirit are more free to make their peace with her inevitable passing. I see how much I have enjoyed constant association these past years with one who knows my childhood. We have a common base of experience which allows us to recall and enjoy events and people unknown to anyone around us.

"I better understand her loneliness. For years she's had no one left who shared her early experiences. So often she wakes with names of childhood associates on her lips."

Her befuddled awareness included a constant sense of impermanence in this setting. She talked of going away, and when questioned always said we are going "home." I was able to say calmly to her, and she to accept in the same spirit, that God was preparing her to go home to him.

"Both Mother and I are better off now. It's hard to realize that the simple technique of writing out (acknowledging) my heavy feelings has brought such a healing perspective. I was chagrinned when I saw how my negativity was disturbing Mother and feel blessed by the peace this change has brought to both of us."

I slept in her room on a roll-out bed the last six months of her life, because she had reached a place where she could not turn herself in bed, and needed to be turned every few hours to prevent development of bed sores.

She was ready to go and to be at peace, but in considerable pain at the end. She slipped into a coma on a Thursday, and left us by Sunday morning. The visiting nurse had left lemon swabs with which I rinsed her tongue from time to time. The night before her passing, I sat beside her reading aloud favorite underlined psalms from her Bible for a while, believing that she could hear me, even if unable to respond...

My youngest daughter and I sat by her bed Sunday morning for an hour or more, keeping her company. Since she seemed quiet we decided after a while to wash the breakfast dishes. The kitchen was next door to her room and we thought we'd be within hearing if needed. Five minutes later, when I looked in at her door to check, she was gone. We had the feeling that she had waited till we were gone to ease the passing for all of us.

Mother died peacefully here at home a few days after her 94th birthday. It was my last gift to her. It was her last gift to me.

"To comfort all that mourn... to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness..." Isaiah 61:2-3

Copyright © 2004 by Lois Barton

An earlier version of this article was published in the Quaker's woman's journal Friendly Woman and a caregiver's guide several years ago. It was published under the title "On Caring For Mother."

You may also enjoy Reflections: To Live with Abandon by Paula Sanders McCarron, concerning living with death, another original article at West By

Now Available on Compact Disk: Stories from The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte

Three and a half years of years Lois Barton's stories–so you can read them without going online!

Lois Barton's Selected Works
Volume I, Chanticleer's Tales
Send $10, plus postage of $1.50 to
84889 Harry Taylor Rd.
Eugene, OR 97405

Writer and historian
Lois Barton

Lois Barton is an 85 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Visit the Sunnyside of Spencer Butte Section in our new format for more of Lois' stories. See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery
Sauerkraut and All That
Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?
The Midwife- The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.
The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.
Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

And follow the links of the Voices of Spencer Creek for the most recent articles by Lois Barton, including The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Endurance Riding and The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Butterflies and Community Development

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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