It turns out we die from the feet up.

[Disclaimer: Don’t read this post if you are sensitive around the topic of death and dying up close.]

It turns out we die from the feet up. Well, that’s not strictly true in every circumstance, some people die from a bullet to the head,  but it has an element of truth to it. As I noted in a previous post, my amazing mom died last week, on the 13th, very near midnight. She would have been 94 on April 4th. I wrote before that she died a good death, but that’s not what this blog post is about.

For three days or so before mom died, we held a vigil by her side. I have many siblings but two of my sisters were especially attentive towards our mom and visited her virtually every day at her care facility in Coquitlam. They were especially present during this vigil, but most of my other siblings showed up at one time or another as did some of their children and even grandchildren. We spent many hours in mom’s room and out in the hallway. Some of my sisters (and a brother-in-law or two) spent nights by my mother’s side too.

My mother was 93 when she died. Her story is really astounding and is one of sacrifice, caring, selflessness and dedication. She married my father on January 28th, 1946. He had 5 daughters from his first marriage. His wife died in childbirth as she was giving birth to her first son. Because my father had to work to support the family I assume he put out the call for help and my mother, 21 at the time, answered that call. She moved into dad’s house to look after the 5 children and to do all the housework too. Long story short, my mom soon after married my father and they proceeded to have 10 more children, I being the oldest. I’m 71. I was born in 1947, a year after my parents were married. My eldest sister from dad’s first marriage is about to turn 83.

Well, it turns out that although we are a loving and caring family we are also prone to irreverence. We love to laugh and tease each other but we also care about and respect each other, despite our differences. As my mother lay dying, we got to wondering just how the staff knew that she was in fact near death. We asked questions and the nurses and care aides responded in very matter of fact ways. How can we tell when someone is near death? I had heard that when the kidneys shut down that’s a sure sign that the end is near but in this case, mom had not had food or liquids for 2 or 3 days. It would be difficult to tell if and when her kidneys shut down. All this time, mom’s pulse appeared to be quite strong and although her breathing was irregular, it seemed to be consistent.

One of the nurses then told us that it’s possible to roughly assess how long it will be before someone takes their final breath by looking at their legs. When the toes and feet get cold and a line of blotchy skin appears, that means that it won’t be long. Now, nurses and care aides have a lot of experience with having people die on their watch. It would be foolish to ignore what they have to say.

After that, we proceeded to periodically lift the blankets off of mom’s feet to see how her toes and feet were doing. We didn’t notice any special coldness at first. Even on the day of the 13th, it didn’t look as if her feet had changed much in colour or temperature. We often checked on mom’s feet to see if they were getting colder or if the line of blotchy skin was going up her leg. The nurse said that when the line gets to the knee, that’s it. Death slowly creeps up our legs. Of course, there was no question of mom coming out of this crisis alive, so it was just a waiting game now.

I left the care facility around 4:30 PM on the 13th so I could have dinner with my daughter and her family in Vancouver. We half expected mom to still be alive in the morning when we returned to the care facility. I was getting exhausted too and needed a good night’s sleep. As it turned out, that day was the last one I would see my mother alive. In the early morning minutes of the 14th I got calls from one of my sisters and a brother-in-law telling me that mom had passed away, but my phone was on vibrate and I missed their calls. At breakfast, I learned that my mother had passed away a few hours earlier. Within two hours of her death, the people from the funeral home came around and took her body away. Shortly after that, some of my family members cleaned out her room of all of her personal belongings leaving no trace of her ever having been there.

I called my sister and we talked about what happened as mom got closer and closer to taking her last breath. It so happens that the nurse was correct. Mom’s legs had indeed gotten cold and blotchy as her heart became too weak to pump blood to her extremities. By the time she died, her legs were cold up to her knees and her legs were blotchy.

So, along with the grief and sadness that we all felt as we watched our mother/grandmother/great grandmother/mother-in-law die, we learned about how the process evolves.

Right up to her last moments our wonderful caring mother had something to teach us.

Sign my petition against petitions!

Well, it’s not true. I don’t have a petition to stop petitions so the title of my post here is fake news. Why not post some fake news. Everybody else is! Well, that’s not true either, but you get my point.

In any case, I’ve signed many petitions in my day, and I continue to do so, but it’s getting tedious. SumOfUs, Change.org, etc., etc., etc. There’s a petition for everything. Sometimes petitions are aimed at government, sometimes at businesses like Nestlé’s, Monsanto and a thousand others. In my email today there was one about the palm oil business that’s currently raping and pillaging rain forests in Indonesia, destroying orangutan habitat as it goes along. At the end of each email there is always the plea to donate money and share their campaign with others.

The thing is that the vast majority of the causes that come across my email accounts with petition solicitations are really quite worthy although sometimes a little heavy on the hype. I agree with most of them. Still, I’ve started just deleting their emails without even looking at them. I’m feeling a little guilty about that. Partly it’s because I’m not really engaged in the good fight on the streets or in any other way, not anymore at least, so this is one small way to still contribute, I suppose. Oh, I was out there for decades, but fatigue has set in and I’m retired…from active employment and now,  maybe from other things too. I’ve long been an ‘activist’, but I can’t say that my activism has accomplished that much. There’s still no shortage of ‘evil’ in the world. In fact, it may be getting thicker, denser and more widespread than in the seventies although it’s hard to top the evil things that occurred all over the world in the first half of the Twentieth century. There’ll always be things to protest against, I guess. I’m just finding that the saturation of my email account with petition requests is getting a little ‘old’ as they say. So what is an old, tired guy to do, especially one with an autoimmune disease that saps my energy as efficiently as a spider saps the life out of a hapless fly caught in its web. Maybe it’s time for the youngun’s to take the lead. It’s tough though, because I still care. I can always unsubscribe to petition sites, but then I really feel like I’ve completely withdrawn from the social world. I know, it’s not rational, but it’s the way I’m feeling these days.