Taking It Down

I recently looked at these photos taken of people before and after their death and it affected me profoundly. I remember my mother’s face at the moment of death and am struck by the similarities, the peace, the last smear of expression, a final thought imprinted in a sideways mouth, a furrowed brow. I’m struck by the completeness of the leaving. Even in photos, you see it.


During her fight to live, my mom and I never talked about her dying. In October, when it’d become clear she wouldn’t leave her bed again, I lay next to her most of the time. We stared out the plate glass window in front of her bed, looked over the bay and she told me she wished she were a bird. A seagull that could take flight, leave the bed and soar away from the duty to keep her dying from us. One afternoon, she would ask that I label her jewelry with my sister’s or my name. It seemed a game then, a faraway prospect, but two weeks later, I gave my mom’s engagement ring to my sister to wear to the funeral, the ring covered by paper, with “Lisa” pencilled on top.


Still, even after the dividing of my mom’s precious things, the “I’m sorry’s” and the toilet that we had to slide under her in bed, the one I cleaned for her as she laughed, surprised I’d actually do it, I believed she’d be able to walk down the stairs again. I envisioned her making her way to the kitchen, weak as if just over a cold, famished and thirsty. As it was, the last thing I remember about those stairs is the mortician carrying her body down them, her leg hitting a wooden post on his way out, and his whispered apology.


Not an hour before, right after she passed away, I crawled into bed and huddled next to her. For some reason, we were alone, and whether that was by design or chance, I don’t know. I sensed her soul leave hours before her body died and I was glad for that, but I wanted to feel some essence of her, to draw it from the shell that lay beside me. She looked peaceful, but I remember having to close her open mouth, left gaping by her last gasps for air.


And now it wasn’t my mom, not anymore. She lay still next to me, in her blue nightgown, red toes and white face. She looked lovely. She really did. Like a doll, but I left her after several minutes. After all, she was gone.

I tried to absorb her again, a day later, at the funeral home, to keep her with me, pull some life, something, anything, a talisman. But the room stayed empty. And I remembered how I felt at the very moment of her death. How life was a gong, a clanging, a ringing, and that when it was over, there was no reverberation, no echo. The gong enveloped by some larger sound wave, a complete extinguishment.


I’ve written before of her dying, but no matter how much I relive it, the memory is a hand that grabs. It’s been more than 10 years since my mom died, but the enormity of her death stays, like a dot of dye dropped into a bowl of water: the dye spreads and settles, but the water is forever colored.


I often wonder if my mom’s death touched me so because of my unresolved feelings, or because I watched her die and you never quite mend from that most hideous and beautiful moment, or because daughters don’t recover from their mother’s deaths. I don’t know. But even now, if I give in, I’m sure I could cry forever.


14 Responses to “Taking It Down”

  1. Melissa says:

    That was beautifully written and expressed. I’m sure being there at the time of her death was momentous, as it not only affected your relationship with your mother, but also your relationship to all of life. Once you’ve witness death, you can never be the same.

  2. god, i love the way you write. i can’t even type… i am literally bawling right now.

    becoming a mother has made me think about my owm mortality. that, i can handle. the fact that motherhood has made me realize the mortality of my parents. THAT is hard. my mom is my best friend, and losing her is a thought i can’t fathom. not until it actually happens. and then i will be a different person… forever.

  3. Jamie says:

    the beauty and honesty in which you’ve shared is love, pure, pure love.

    i hope she is the seagull flying over and around you each day as you move through time. i hope when she lands nearby, you’ll feel her peaceful spirit.

  4. aaryn b. says:

    Exquisitely told.
    Really honest and beautiful.

  5. Mommyrella says:

    I loved how poignant this post was. It’s odd, in the Bible it talks again and again how such and such person has “fallen asleep.” It never says “died” or “dead.” I wonder about the etymology of that word. When did we start using it and why? “Dead” sounds like a harsh thump, something that fell heavily. I have never seen a dead person before, so these photos and your post made me understand, and in fact prefer the phrase “fell asleep” a little better. It’s much more accurate, isn’t it? Thanks so much for sharing that part of yourself!

  6. Cheri says:

    Well, here’s the thing: I started feeling emotional and sad, deeply so, as I read. And then I started to feel awed by how much you love her, and what a wonderful thing that is.

  7. thordora says:

    A good friend sent this post to me, knowing that April is hideous in it’s memories for me, 19 years later, 19 years in which I have felt the cold room, heard the lingering noises and suffered my own torments as my mother was turned off and forever gone.

    I relieve this every year. And I think you’re right. Daughters never recover-how could we? A piece of heart, of marrow, of brain is hacked off. We are altered forever.

    I love her today as I did as a lonely 11 year old pre-teen on the day she died. How I wish I would have had the presence of mind to climb up on that bed and truly share her last moments with her.

  8. Sophie says:

    Your writing and your love for your mom is both beautiful. I understand the feelings; I can surely relate:


  9. Your post makes me want to hug my mom. Then my kids. It’s beautiful.

  10. Carol says:

    I’m speechless. Just completely speechless. I experienced so many of these same situations and feelings when I “helped Mom die” four years ago, and for some reason I can’t stop writing about it!

    One thing that is just baffling to me is that so many of the people in the pictures had a straying left eye — just as Mom did in the week before she died!



  11. Clink says:

    That was heart breaking.

  12. mommypie says:

    Oh Deb. I spent a lot of time looking at the beautiful, peaceful photos you linked to, and reading your post the other day at work. I had to take a day or two before leaving a comment because I wanted to … digest. Your words are pure artistry, and a testament to the love you have for your mother. Each time I’ve read this it’s brought forth a flood of emotions I’ve needed to deal with myself. Thank you :)

  13. […] Diego Momma wrote another touching post about going through the dying process with her mother. The portrait of humanity she paints is […]

  14. Remarkable expression of emotion and amazing story –

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