When Death Wins

When we lose someone dear it affects different parts of our life. It teaches us a thing or two. It shifts our perspective on life. It might even change who we are.

The last two months I accompanied the slow death of my mother. I saw her slowly fade away, and had to take decisions that challenged all of my courage and strength.

My own life  came to a halt as I navigated between job, clinic and the home for the elderly where my mother lived. At night the sorrow if she was taken good care of often kept me awake, and if I slept my sleep was troubled and haunted by dreams.

Every time I visited her I faced fear. I always searched her face for traces of pain, knowing my mother who grew up in Nazi Deutschland where she learned to be tough and strong would not complain. Every time I left her I wondered if this was the last time I saw her, if the sentence she just spoke were the last words I’d ever hear from her.

I understood how strong that spark of life is. How much it struggles and fights. And that in the end death always wins.

I sat at her bed, my hand on her arm when she finally died. I watched her labored breath for hours, how it became more and more irregular. How in the final minutes she opened her eyes once again, and in the long spans bewtween the last few breaths life slowly left her, how her face grew ashen, then a mask.

I felt a part of me go with her, and knew I had lost more than my mother.


Now, two weeks later I still feel strangely detached, as if I’m not myself. A friend told me that’s part of the insulation that is involved when we experience grief. She is probably right. It will pass I’m sure, it just takes time, and I’m willing to give myself as much of it as I need.

What I wasn’t prepared for was that with losing my mother I, despite having left the nest decades before, lost my home. I say this, sitting in my flat surrounded by the life I built for myself. It sounds surreal and very real at the same moment, and I don’t really have the right words for it. It’s a feeling, a strong one, a real one, no matter how absurd.

But where there’s dark, there’s also light.

I have lost. But I have gained, too.

A neighbor who turned into a friend by feeling with me and showing it. A new perspective on life. Convictions that we have to embrace death to be fully alive. Courage. Strength.

And less fear regarding the death that will await me sometime.



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