The Body Fails Us


First your mind, then your body. Bit by bit, painfully gradually, faculty by faculty lost forever. I watched as everything faded until you were a mere shell of your body, limited to laying in bed, being spoon-fed, washed and changed by a husband who adored you until the very end.

I remember not long ago, you sang, “Da-da-doo-da-da,” with a smile on your face, playing a creepy crawly finger game with my three year old son, your grandson. He laughed, delighted in it, loving it. Loving you. We all do.

That’s why, three weeks ago, we decided to let you go. It was your request, before the disease hit, back when you worked at the old folks home, feeding people who no longer wanted to be fed. “If I ever get to a point where I can’t feed myself, don’t feed me,” you told us emphatically. We did feed you, for a long time, until we faced the fact that you weren’t going to get any better.

You had already lost most muscle tone, were constantly curled up in a fetal position. Retraction, the hospice visitors called it. Battling ongoing seeping wounds—bedsores, fever sores, not-getting-better sores.

For three painful weeks, we took turns sitting vigil with you, holding hands, rubbing your head, reading, talking to you. I told you how much I love you, how you gave me the greatest gift of all—life. I hope you heard. I hope you understood.

They started chopping the towering eucalyptus trees in the green space surrounding your back yard, making way for development. You sank deeper and deeper towards death.

“She’s going down with the trees,” my sister said.

Your husband leaked tears day in and out, falling into pieces and grabbing on for an anchor as he washed your hair, your body. Some days he felt too guilty to eat, wanted to join you in your fast.

As you faded into dreamland, a skeleton emerged, a husk that once housed your luminous warmth. The displaced birds crowded your back yard fence. A hawk visited one day, cawing and cawing for home.

Your cousin went on a shamanic journey and found you. “Get me out of here,” you demanded of her.

Yesterday you went.

Today we bathed you, anointed you in oils, and covered you with rose petals. We stood in a circle around the vacuum of your body and wept.

“Mommy, mommy,” I want to curl into a ball, and scream. Devastation of the severance of that primal bond. The first connection to this world—gone.

You are in a better place now. That is a cliché for a reason, because  it’s true. Your suffering is over. No more debilitated mind, no more failing body. Your spirit was displaced, flying in circles while your body anguished. Now you are home, in a place that can never be chopped down.

There is no tree. There is no nest. There is no body. There is no you.

Yet you are all around us.


36 thoughts on “The Body Fails Us

  1. Thank you for this. My dad died three years. I wish for you to journey well through grief. I there is one thing in life to learn to do well it is grief. For it will visit. By sharing your grief you are giving a gift to others.

  2. This is beautiful. It reminds me of my grandmother. You are all brave to let her go. My aunts made her hang on for far too long, years, in fact. She would have been horrified to know she spent so many months laying in bed being taken care of because her mind and body had failed. Thank you for sharing in such a descriptive manner.

    • Aww, what a journey dementia is. My mom got it really young (age 62), so we really got to see the full process. It is a horrible disease. I think the process of dying is so much harder than the dying itself. I wish you well and much support with your parents.

  3. Bless you for writing about your mom. It has inspired me to work on an article about passing on. My experiences have bee so comforting to me, I would like to share the comfort and sympathy and inspiration they have given me.
    Your mom’s trajectory is only lifted by letting go. She soars onward.

  4. I was very moved by your post. My mum had dementia in the last couple of years of her life, whilst also being crippled by rheumatoid arthritis. Losing her just over two years ago was a life stopping moment, as was losing dad five months later. Be kind to yourself over the coming weeks and months. I’m adjusting to life without parents. Just be what you have to be, when you have to be.

  5. What a beautiful way to describe the suffering one goes through when we lose someone of immense value to us. I’m finding very little else to describe my experience with my Grandfather who has passed two months ago now. Thank you for writing this. I hope that you find some peace if you are currently experiencing this too. Thank you again

  6. Thanks for your like on my blog — and for this piece. I lost my mom when my first son was 6 months old and I still miss her. Especially now that he’s a teenager and I can’t remember *ever* being as snarky to her as he is to me … hah. I’m sorry for your loss, and I know she is grateful you let her go. Have you seen Amour?

    • I can imagine I will be missing my mom for many years to come as well. Thank you for your kind words. I haven’t seen Amour, no, haven’t been able to bring myself to see it as the reality has already been in my face. Do you recommend it?

      • I recommend Amour only if you’re in a “space” where the hard choices our loved ones must make at end-of-life won’t trigger additional upset in you …

  7. Pingback: Super Sweet Blog Award | So many right ways

  8. This is so exquisitely written. I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but your mom must surely be so proud of her beautifully talented child for this, and everything else you did for her. Take good care.

  9. Oh my. This is stunning. And courageous. We had a flowering red bud tree fall down in the back of our yard during full bloom. I guess it’s roots had rotted away or something, and it just fell over. The very next year a little sapling sprouted up where the tree had been. It is the way of nature. It happens all the time, all around us.

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