A farewell meeting with my mother, Dorathy Adele (Landis) McFarland
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On Mother's Passing

On Friday 24 October 2003, I flew to Phoenix with my daughter Diana, at the suggestion of my brother Brian, who called to say that our mother had become very weak, and would probably not live much longer. Brian met us at the airport in late morning, and we stayed at his house that night.

Mother was awake when we arrived, but I barely recognized her, in spite of having seen her in late August, 2 months earlier. Tears rose immediately in my eyes, and Diana saw this, touched my arm, and left the room. Mother could move only her head, eyes, and mouth, and initially did not speak. Her skin was quite thin, and though she weighed about 140 pounds, she appeared to have little fat. When someone moved a part of her body, she would wince in pain, after which Sue (Brian's wife) would put a bit of morphine in her mouth. With morphine, she could be moved, turned, and her diaper changed without pain.

I sat with her for a half hour or more, telling her stories of her sister Jeanne, her old life, my own life, how Diana was doing, how Pat was. For much of the time, she did not speak, but after a bit she uttered a few words, which I could not understand. Speaking and staying alert seemed to take a good deal of her energy. At one point, I asked her if she recognized me, and with a bit of her old spunk, she said "of course", which I understood. She had said this the day before in answer to Brian's question, "Do you want to live?"

It was hot outside, but not uncomfortable, so I then walked about 2 miles to Maria Calendar's Bakery, and brought back a blueberry pie, to conclude a meal of Chinese food which was planned for the evening. Mother was still awake when I returned, but she went through cycles of wakefulness and drowsiness, when her eyes would close. While I was there, an oxygen enrichment pack was brought in, which fed air with higher oxygen content to mother's nose, and her breathing was then easier. I brushed her teeth a bit with a lollypop-like sponge, which contained water. Mother had lost her upper incisors a while back, but the dental bridge she had worn had been removed, giving her upper mouth a sunken appearance which contributed to her looking so different from 2 months earlier. I told mother a few more stories, and showed her several pictures which were in the house, including one of her with my father, Thomas F. McFarland, her own parents (William and Adele), and a movie-like sequence of photos of herself when she was about 4 years old, which Brian had brought from Dorathy's State Avenue home. She looked at each picture for such a long time that my arm tired of holding it, as I described the picture's contents. I asked her who was in her father's picture, and she replied "that's daddy". She did not speak when I held up her mother's picture.

I brought some leaves from the Maple tree outside our Wisconsin home, and laid them on her bed. I had expected that she would be able to move her arms, but she was too weak. We gently removed her right arm from under the bedding : up to then, mother had been covered in blankets, from the neck down. She touched the leaves, but could not pick them up ; after a bit, I removed the leaves and left them with Brian. I held mother's hand for a while, but though her eyes were open and alert, I could not feel a pressure of movement in her fingers. Her hand joints were very arthritic, and arthritis throughout her body apparently contributed most of the pain for which morphine was used.

At one point, mother bore an alert and challenging, almost aggressive countenance, and asked me (quite understandably) "Why are you here?" I almost panicked in my mind, since I had indeed come to say "goodbye". But Brian had cautioned me to avoid saying "goodbye" (lest mother become afraid), and therefore my response to Mother's question, which were her last words spoken to me, was "I came to visit you". From this last question, I gather that while mother's body was failing, her mind was largely unaware of the crisis and was as sharp as ever. An attending nurse took a final picture of mother and me, which will be kept for my memory only, and will not be part of the family album.

Later, Brian gave me two cameos to return to Jeanne ; these apparently had been objects of disputed ownership for years. Also, Mother apparently had two engagement rings : Sue gave Diana one of them, and Brian's daughter had the other, perhaps in the spirit of friendship rings.

Early on Saturday morning, Diana got up for the return flight to Madison. Mother was asleep, and breathing comfortably. I gave her a kiss on the forehead, said goodbye and "I love you" tearfully, and quickly left the room. Diana also had a short last moment with mother.

Brian said that after Diana and I left Phoenix, mother appeared to have had a sense of "closure", and stopped speaking and taking fluids.

Six days later, Brian called late at night to say that Mother had passed away at about 4:30 PM Friday, Halloween, 31 October 2003, at the age of 90 ; she would have been 91 on 6 January 2004. I had written an obituary a week earlier, excerpted a picture of mother from one taken in 1986 showing her and my father at Christmas in their Phoenix home. Brian slightly edited this wording for the Arizona Republic newspaper.

On the flight back to Madison, I resolved to write a short story or poem on the theme of the 5 goodbyes which each person must say during life.

[1] Goodbye upon leaving home as a young adult
[2] Goodbye to one's child as that child leaves her home for a new life
[3] Goodbye to one's parents when they pass away
[4] Goodbye to one's spouse during any kind of separation or death
[5] Goodbye to one's child when one's own death is near.

I have now said 2 of these 5 goodbyes. For my own last goodbye, I have prepared a short letter attached to my will, in case I cannot speak.

Tom L. McFarland
Friday 7 November 2003

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