Commemorating All Souls' Day

My mother has congestive heart failure. For the past couple of years she has been ready to die and join my father, two of my brothers and a stillborn sister. Last year, a social worker told her she could add "Do not hospitalize" to her "Do not resuscitate" order. It's posted above her bed with instructions that her body goes directly to Cardinal Stritch Medical School for students to learn anatomy.

Her right rotator cuff is gone (luckily she's a lefty), and two weeks ago, she had six days of uncontrollable pain. We five living sibs and my sister-in-law have been taking turns staying with her. I've been bouncing back and forth between St. Louis and Chicago.

But my mother is not about to lie in bed and wait for death. She is a doer. General Genevieve, my dad called her.

Now she's back up, considerably weaker, but playing bridge again. Her first day out of bed, I took her back to her apartment so she could make sympathy notes for the families of two friends who died while she was out of commission. She told me the furniture she wants in her skilled nursing room.

It's a huge diminishment, but she's giving up her apartment without a complaint.

Today is All Souls' Day and I remember how in second grade my friend Anne and I popped in and out of the back of church, making microsecond visits to free poor souls from purgatory. I pray today for all the dead and for the living who, like my mother, are conscious that they are near death. I watch my mother and I try to learn from her.


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