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After-Death Care for Mom by Akhila Murphy
As a trained end-of-life doula, I have been doing end-of-life care and after-death care for about ten years. Sometimes this has involved helping people prepare for the death of a loved one and sitting bedside with the dying. But I must admit, I wasn’t completely prepared for my own mother’s death. I am deeply grateful for the help of my dear friends, End-of-life doulas, Amanda Kenney and Linda More of Full Circle of Living and Dying. The comfort of having end-of-life doula support with mom’s after-death care was invaluable.
My mother came to stay with me and my husband in November 2021 when she became very ill due to a urinary tract infection. She made a partial recovery, but we knew she could no longer live independently. We moved her out of her beloved apartment in midtown Sacramento and into our home in Penn Valley. We became her 24 hour caregivers. Eventually we added two loving caregivers for mom’s care.
By mid-March mom’s decline made her eligible for in-home hospice care. Her Lewy Body dementia made it difficult for her to perform activities of daily living. She had difficulty speaking, and she no longer knew who I was. Eventually she declined food, and she was kept comfortable with meds and closely monitored by hospice nurses. Within about ten days the nurse advised us mom was transitioning (headed toward active dying). We informed our people of her transition. Many friends and family members came to visit or just sit with her at bedside.
On April 2, 2022 our family gathered and we learned from the nurse mom was now actively dying. Family sat with “Granny” at bedside while her favorite music played in the background. It was a comforting low key family gathering. Mom died in the early morning hours April 3, 2022. I wasn’t expecting her to leave so soon. I thought she’d linger awhile, but I’m glad she did not linger. She took her leave at just the right moment -when the house was quiet and peaceful.
Her body was still warm when I came to her in the morning, and her face was cool. A wave of relief washed over my body. She left the body that no longer served her well. I sat with her, held her hand and kissed her forehead over and over. I thanked her for her life and giving me life. I told her how pleased I was that she was able to find her way home. I told her we will now take care of her body and there will be no more pain. Then I phoned my end-of-life doulas.
I had kept my doulas informed of mom’s active dying process, and so when I called them in the morning, they were ready to come help us hold ceremony and wash mom’s body. My husband and sons were there, my brother was en route, and my daughter and her family created an altar for Granny in their home.
To prepare the room we removed medical equipment, lit candles, and set up washing bowls, towels, wash clothes, body cleanser, lavender oil, and a change of clothes. We then played music, opened the window, and shared stories about mom. We took our time. This time with her body offered final tactile moments that brought a sensation of knowing that this is the final loving care of my mom’s body. There were times when I wasn’t quite sure what to do, but my doulas were there to offer gentle suggestions, and professional assistance. Nothing was rushed. The room filled with love.
We dressed her in her favorite cozy pajamas for a peaceful permanent rest. We adorned her with flowers and greenery from the garden. We gathered in circle and took turns speaking and reading poems to her. When this honoring care was complete, there came a sense of what I can only describe as joy. A feeling of relief, love, completion, bits of sorrow, and deep connection with family and doulas.
We didn’t want mom to be taken away so soon. Instead, we kept her in her bed overnight. We placed ice packs under and around her body for preservation. This extra time with her at home allowed me to walk past her room and know she was there, but not there- to begin the process of realizing her death was real. Family stayed too and had the opportunity to choose to go sit with her in private. This was precious time that one will never get back. I sat with her body in the dark hours in meditation.
Mom had chosen cremation of her body, and the following day she was to go into mortuary care. We planned a shrouding ceremony for her that morning. A friend of mine whose husband died recently had made a beautiful shroud for him. I asked if she would make one for my mom. She agreed and was honored to do so. Mom loved the ocean, so we chose fabrics that reflected this theme, with shades of blues, greens, turquoise, and purple.
My doula friends arrived in the morning to help with shrouding. Together with family gathered, we spoke some tender words, and each of us helped wrap mom in her special shroud. To me this wrapping takes me full circle to the beginning of life and the swaddling of a newborn. This process of shrouding mom/granny was another way of honoring and offering a beautiful good-bye.
We took turns tying her shrouded body with scarves, which added security more color. Then adorned her once again with flowers and greenery. All of us gathered to carry her out of the house to the awaiting mortuary vehicle. At the time, it was not easy for me to let her go. But I can look back now and recall the beauty and love we all created and shared during these sacred moments with mom/granny.