"When an estranged parent dies, they get to leave the demons that haunted them on Earth behind," Sher Bailey said. "Ours stay with us, always at the ready to come out and force remembering."
Editor's note: This article was originally published on September 5, 2019. It has since been updated.
Sher Bailey knew very well that the days she was spending with her mother were the last ones. And even though it brought her unimaginable pain to watch the woman who gave her life slowly inch towards her final moments, Bailey did not want to spend a minute away from her. Talking about her last few days with her mother, Sher Bailey writes, "This will be a painful post to write, and it may be painful for you to read. But it’s an important conversation to have with yourself before it happens." From simply finding comfort in just being by their side, to being reminded that death, too, can be as real and tangible as life itself, can leave a huge impact on you.
In a 2014 blog post titled Her name was Sybil, Sher Bailey paid a beautiful tribute to her mother, thanking her mother for everything she had done, right from bringing her into this world when she was just 19. She wrote, "...thank you for sticking with the whole parenting thing and doing your best to figure it out when you were just a kid yourself. It must have been wicked hard, but you put on a brave face and a little make-up, and kept being my Mother."
Even though she described her relationship with her mother as complicated, she wouldn't have done it any other way than to care for her mother during her last days. And here's what she learned from it.
Your parent may have been a part of your life for as long as you can remember, and to think that they will one day no longer be there will change you. "Be attentive. Listen to their stories. Commit their words to heart," Sher Bailey shared with Kitchen Fun. "There will be things your parent says or does during this time that will come out of nowhere and break your heart. It could be a sweet story they remember, or it could be something completely honest and raw..."
All the things your parent did for you when you were young, you will start doing for them. "The circle of life is never more evident as when you become the one your dying parent looks to for comfort," Sher Bailey said. You feed them, give them a bath, put them at ease when they're afraid, run your fingers through their hair as their head is on your lap, and say things you're not sure of just to calm them down. "You can’t get this wrong if your choices come from a place of love," she went on to say.
There's nowhere else you want to be apart from your parent's side while they're asleep. "She liked knowing I was there, I could tell by the look in her eyes," Sher Bailey said. "...It was as though I was back at my daughter’s crib in that respect. Watching her chest move up and down was comforting to me.
Old age and the treatments that come with ailments can take a toll on your parent's mind and body. Sometimes, they are right next to you but their mind is miles away somewhere else. Sher Bailey said, "If she was talking to my brother who hadn’t yet arrived, I confirmed to her that he was in fact in the house. I never tried to correct her."
"Dying is work, and Mother had a lot of work to do," Sher Bailey said. There might be things you wish you could say during your last moments together. But conversations with them can be a bit of a struggle when their mind is not what it used to be. Sher Bailey added, "I would see and hear her talking to people not meant for my eyes. And then she’d be present with me again, but only for brief interactions."
You might be ready to do anything just to see the blush back in their cheek or the glint in their eyes. But there's not much you can do when their body grows weaker and their mind becomes slower. "When you sit with your parent as they are preparing for their journey, there are almost imperceivable little changes that happen to their physical body," Sher Bailey writes. "And then suddenly, you see what’s happened in its entirety and it takes your breath a little."
There will always be conversations and mistakes that you regret, and their last days can sometimes be a painful reminder of them. "When an estranged parent dies, they get to leave the demons that haunted them on Earth behind," Sher Bailey said. "Ours stay with us, always at the ready to come out and force remembering."
The idea of your own death may have always been at the back of your mind. But seeing your parent die brings it to the forefront and reminds you that nothing lasts forever. "When a parent dies you can’t help but think of your own death someday," Sher Bailey shared. "You wonder if this is how it will go for you, and what will happen with your own children if you have any. Will they be there with you? What can you do to make it less traumatic for them?"
When you know that it may be the last few times you get to see your parent, you start looking at them more closely than you probably did before. You see their wrinkled face, their weak smile, the creases around their eyes, even the veins on their hands, and you see so much of your parent in yourself. Sher Bailey remembers how her mother would hold her little fingers as a child. "Her nails were always long and manicured and I loved running my fingers across them. I dreamed of the day I’d have long, red nails, too," she said.
"How could I sleep? What if she looked over at the chair beside her bed and I wasn’t there? Even worse, what if she passed away while I was in bed?" was what Sher Bailey used to think when people urged her to eat and sleep. But she also urged people that it's best to listen to people when they say so, even though you are so hesitant to tear yourself away from their bedside.
It may fill you with agony as you wonder what you can do during their final moments. But "you don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. Your dying parent will feel your spirit beside them and know they are in a safe space and well-loved," Sher Bailey shared.
Even if their death is something you saw coming, you may still feel like your world has just stopped turning when their heart stops beating. No matter how much time you spent with them, it will still not feel like enough. After their gone, the little things will still remind you of them. Sher Bailey said, "After two years I can still hear the way she said my name. I worry I won’t be able to hear it forever."
During times of loss, it's perfectly okay to share your grief with anyone you are comfortable with. Sher Bailey advice included, "there is no shortcut to get through this pain. If you can get to a therapist, I encourage you to do it. Lean on your loved ones as much as possible. Accept help."