Dear Ms. Spiritual Matters,
My mother is dying. She is just 62 years old, so this is an unexpected event for all of us in the family. She battled cancer once when she was in her 40s. Now a different form of cancer has occurred. She refuses chemotherapy. She is having radiation to shrink tumors and lessen the pain. She told me she wants two things when she dies: to be comfortable and to have her children by her bedside. She was moved to a hospice last week. The nurses keep her pain under control.
When I held her hand the other night, she told me she regretted she hadn’t the courage to live her life differently. I know she was not happily married to my father, but she remained in the marriage to be true to her religious beliefs. Each of my parents did their own thing−walking around each other rather than taking part in each other’s lives.
I wonder how many other people die with regrets.
How wonderful that your mother is experiencing the comfort nurses and family can provide at the end of life. I am sure this brings her happiness. Some artists work with paint and clay. A nurse’s art is caring for people. Family members can bring happiness to their loved ones by responding to each other’s end-of-life wishes.
I am sorry your mother did not get to have the life she wanted because she conformed to what others—in this case the church—viewed as her obligation. The doctrine of many churches has become more forgiving.
As you look around you, do not despair. We all hope to have wonderful, happy lives. But, circumstances often get in the way. That our lives do not play out in alignment with our wishes does not mean we cannot experience beautiful moments of happiness.
Your mother is not alone in voicing regrets. Many, like your mother, were afraid to tell others how they really felt and to change the direction of their lives. Another common regret people report is that they worked too hard. Another widespread regret people report when they are dying is not having taken the time to do things that bring them happiness, such as keeping in touch with friends and family.
Your mother was able to tell you the two things she wanted when she was at the end of life: being free from pain and having her children at her bedside. Right now you hold your mother’s hand. The nurses are supporting her comfort. In the end, she is living her life as she wishes. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor, stated that people find meaning up to and through the death event. Today she has happiness.
Susan Schoenbeck holds Baccalaureate and Master’s degrees in nursing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is an experienced educator and teaches nursing students at Walla Walla University — Portland, Oregon campus. She is an oblate of a Benedictine Monastery where she learned centering and contemplative meditation practices. She is author of the book, Zen and the Art of Nursing, Good Grief: Daily Meditations, and Near-Death Experiences: Visits to the Other Side.