Grief, nutrition, and really good beef bone broth.

December 3, 2014

Grief and nutrition are intertwined, we need to eat, we don’t want to eat, nothing is appealing – or, all the wrong things are appealing. You know that you should shop and cook, but you arrive at the grocery store and everything looks foreign, or there are too many memories. Cooking can be the same way, I would open the refrigerator and stare, open the cabinets and stare, be hungry, but clueless what to do next. Grief and stress take so much energy, the body needs nutrient dense foods that are easily digested and absorbed, that soothe the knotted gut, and tend to the soul also. Beef bone broth has been that soul food for me. Easily sipped, warming, soothing, and it makes the very best soup. Many people have asked how I make my bone broth, and the blog is the easiest way to share my method. Please, this is not the only way to make bone broth, might not even be the “right” way, it is the process that has evolved for me. Perhaps you will find this a starting place and discover your own methods, your own tricks and special touches, that is really what it is all about, making it your own.

Start with good bones, marrow, knuckle, shin, ox tail, a combination of all of them. No worries if you can’t get ox tail, but do try to treat yourself to some shin bone. I use grass fed beef bones, they cook cleaner, I have no foam when simmering the bones. I always roast the bones first, this is not a step to skip. Roasting the bones gives you great color, flavor, and aromas. I roast onions and carrots with the bones, organic onions are the best, I throw the skins in for more caramel color. I often give the entire lot a rub down with tomato paste, it will caramelize in the oven and add to the color and flavor. Good sprinkle of kosher or sea salt, I do not use iodized table salt in my cooking or baking.

I line a sturdy half sheet pans with sheets of aluminum foil to aid in clean-up. Roast for an hour in a 350 degree oven.

I line a sturdy half sheet pan with sheets of aluminum foil to aid in clean-up. Roast for an hour in a 350 degree oven.

Your house will start to smell wonderful and this is what they will look like after an hour.

Gorgeous. Roasting makes all the difference.

Gorgeous. Roasting makes all the difference.

There was no way all those bones were fitting in one pot, so I did two pots of broth. Fill a crock-pot or two and let them cook all night. Fill one crock-pot, one soup pot on the stove and keep an eye on both. Or let two pots merrily bubble away on the stove all day. Cook them for at least 12 hours, overnight is tremendous. Fill your cooking vessel of choice with the roasted bones and veg and then with filtered water of your choice. The water you use is important, water is 99% of your product, if you would not drink the water, don’t use it for your broth.

Heavy bottomed stock pots are terrific. I have them both filled with roasted bones.

Heavy bottomed stock pots are terrific. I have them both filled with roasted bones.

Happily simmering away.

Happily simmering away.

The most important step in bone broth is the straining of your broth after it has simmered. You aren’t going to use the veg that you have roasted and simmered, they have had all the goodness beat out of them. I usually fish the veg out first and place them in a large colander over an even larger work bowl, squish all the good broth out of your onions. Don’t squish the carrot. Clean your colander of the onions and start scooping out the large bones. The marrow and shin bones I place on a platter so that I can rescue the marrow and pick the meat off the shin bones. I will show you what I mean in pictures.

Straining the chunks of veg and bones.

Straining the chunks of veg and bones.

Straining catches all the bits of bone, or whole peppercorns if you like to add those to your broth.

Straining catches all the bits of bone, or whole peppercorns if you like to add those to your broth.

Marrow bones and bones with meat go on a platter.

Marrow bones and bones with meat go on a platter.

These are marrow bones that have already shared their goodness.

These are marrow bones that have already shared their goodness.

The marrow. Can seem a bit scary, but it is full of goodness. Once you blend it in with the broth or soup, you will never know its there, but your body will thank you.

The marrow. Can seem a bit scary, but it is full of goodness. Once you blend it in with the broth or soup, you will never know its there, but your body will thank you.

 

Meat picked off the bones ready to be divided between containers of broth.

Meat picked off the bones ready to be divided between containers of broth.

Once you have all the large chunks out of your broth and your colander cleaned, pour the contents of your stock pot into the colander that you have nested in a large work bowl that can take heat, I use stainless steel bowls. You are going to see why this step is so important, there are all sorts of little bits left in the bottom of your pot, you don’t want those in your broth. You are working with piping hot broth, so use care.

Rich broth is hiding under that fat layer.

Rich broth is hiding under that fat layer.

 

I rinse out my stock pots and if I am feeling particularly obsessive, I will strain the broth again into the stock pot from the work bowl. It usually is not necessary.

I rinse out my stock pots and if I am feeling particularly obsessive, I will strain the broth again into the stock pot from the work bowl. It usually is not necessary.

I adjust my seasonings once the broth is completely strained but still hot. Use a spoon to clear a bit of the fat away and taste the broth. Add kosher or sea salt to taste, the heat from the broth will help dissolve the salt. I sometimes add a tablespoon or so of organic Better Than Bouillon beef base, sometimes I don’t.

Your broth is too hot to be placed in the refrigerator or containers for freezing, this is where the cold weather comes in handy. I put my pots right outside on the porch. I cover the lids with foil for extra protection and let nature chill my broth. If the temperature outside is too moderate, create an ice bath in your kitchen sink to quickly cool the broth. Once cooled you can divide the broth up in containers and tuck the marrow and meat in those containers. You can leave some in your refrigerator for sipping, it is very good for breakfast, or make wonderful vegetable soup. Bone broth freezes beautifully and it is nice to be able to pull a container for a nourishing meal.

Two 13 cup containers ready for the freezer.

Two 13 cup containers ready for the freezer.

Cooking for me has been a way to reinvest in our lives, a healthy channeling of energy and love. I cry when I cook, I think of Justin and picture him walking into the kitchen and telling me how amazing the kitchen smells. I miss Ryan, I wish he was close enough so that I could feed him. I think of Doug working hard as Bob Cratchit for Marley, and all of a sudden the dishes are nothing. The trail of mess, and trust me, Doug does not call me “Mrs. Make A Mess” without just reason, but the trail of mess is a trail of love. Soup made with bone broth has become a favorite meal for the brew crew, the aromas of grains steeping mixed with soup simmering, crusty bread, all signs of life and love.

I hope the above is helpful for those who want to make their own bone broth, just jump in, it will be better than anything you have ever tasted, your house will smell wonderful, and you will feel a certain contentment that comes from being creative in the kitchen and nourishing those who sit at your table. They are priceless you know, those faces around your table, nothing else truly matters in this world except those we are given to love and care for, their time with us can be so fleeting.

May your kitchen be filled with all good things,

Love, Terri

 

Categories: Brothers, Doug, Family, Justin, Nutrition, Recipes, Ryan.

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Damn Good Molasses Cookies

December 2, 2014

As I promised yesterday, here is the recipe for those damn good molasses cookies. They are a culmination of our favorite things drawn from four different recipes. I have tinkered with this recipe for years, changing flour ratios, mixing spice blends, swapping one sugar for another, never seeming to get it just right, producing a good cookie, but elusive of that sigh of perfection. I remember texting Ryan a couple of weeks ago with a picture and telling him that I thought we had the “one.” I quick made him a batch and sent it off to the “burgh” for final testing. “Fantastic” was the response, the texture finally right. Ryan has been key in honing the texture, I knew I could count on him for an honest answer. Doug would simply tell me that he needed to try just one more and wander off with a handful of them for further study.

I am a visual person, so I am including pictures to help my words make sense.

Damn Good Molasses Cookies

3 Cups Bread Flour
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 tsp Baking Soda
2 1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
2 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Cloves
1 tsp Allspice
1/4 tsp Cardamom
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup Spectrum Shortening
1 cup brown sugar – light or dark
1/2 cup white sugar
2 whole eggs, plus one yolk
1/2 cup plus a smidge of robust molasses – no more than a smidge though

 

I take out the butter and eggs and let them come to room temperature, cold stuff does not play well together. I prep my dry ingredients first. Mom taught us to sift our spices, baking soda, and salt into a single cup of your flour first, that flour with the sifted spices will be the first cup of dry ingredients introduced into your wet ingredients.
Measure one cup of bread flour into a small bowl to sift spices into.

Measure one cup of bread flour into a small bowl to sift spices into.

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We always lined up our spices on the left, when measured out, the jar went to the right, that way we knew we had added it in.

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Whisk flour and spices together until you have a nice blend. This will be the first cup of dry ingredients that you add to your wet ingredients.

 Cream the butter, shortening, and sugars together until they are light and fluffy, scraping down frequently, especially down at the bottom of your mixing bowl. Add eggs one by one, never all at once. I use eggs from a local farm, so I crack one at a time into a separate bowl before adding to my main mixing bowl. It is a step that can save your entire batch, just in case you get a bad egg. Plus it is easier to pick out a bit of shell just in case. Remember we are only using the yolk on the third egg. Reserve or freeze the egg white for another recipe.
Beautiful eggs from the farm. I use chicken eggs in cookie recipes.

Beautiful eggs from the farm. I use chicken eggs in cookie recipes.

Once the eggs and egg yolk are incorporated, add the molasses, the batter should be a lovely creamy caramel color.

Molasses in, ready for dry ingredients.

Molasses in, ready for dry ingredients.

Scrape down the mixing bowl, making sure you have scraped all the way down to the bottom. With the mixer on low add the single cup of flour that you sifted and whisked the spices into, I add it a tablespoon at a time – you don’t want to overwhelm all that lovely creaming that you have done. Add the rest of the flour slowly, don’t dump it in by the cupful. Take your time. Hopefully you have measured out the rest of your flour, fluffing the flour a bit before measuring, and leveling off your cup – it does not take much extra flour here and there to alter the texture of the cookie. With that said, the recipe is pretty forgiving, extra flour will give you a more cake-like texture, it will still be a very good cookie.

All the flour added in, ready to rest overnight.

All the flour added in, ready to rest overnight.

Once all the flour has been incorporated, scrape down your beaters and give it a stir by hand with a sturdy mixing spoon. Scoop the cookie dough into an airtight container so it can rest overnight in the refrigerator, it can even rest for two nights. The resting allows good things to happen to the dough.

I cover the dough with wax paper and then put the lid on the container. Place in the refrigerator for an overnight rest.

I cover the dough with wax paper and then put the lid on the container. Place in the refrigerator for an overnight rest.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. I use parchment paper for baking, and prefer half sheet pans, that rim has saved many a batch of cookies from sliding off. I use a #40 cookie scoop, which is 1 1/2 tablespoons. Makes the perfect sized cookie. Scoop out a portion of cookie dough, give a quick roll to shape it, dip the top in coarse sparkling white sugar and place on parchment lined baking pan. I usually get 3 1/2 dozen cookies from a batch. Your numbers may be different depending on how large or small you make your cookies.

They make me smile.

They make me smile.

12 to a sheet

12 to a sheet

I bake mine for 10 minutes, then rotate the tray and bake them for two more minutes. I check them after two, it can be a little tricky. I touch one gently, there should be some resistance, but they should also look slightly underdone in the center – you don’t want too much give, that is undercooked. But to keep them chewy and wonderful, you need to pull them at just the right time. I sometimes let a tray go another minutes, sometimes 30 seconds. Once you have deemed them ready, let them cool on the baking pan on a cooling rack for at least 10 minutes.

They should look like this. All crackly and wonderful.

They should look like this. All crackly and wonderful.

I keep my dough refrigerated between batches and if I prep a tray to bake and the oven is occupied, I put that tray in the refrigerator. If your dough gets warm, you will get too much spread when baking.

Transfer them to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely.

Transfer them to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely.

These cookies get better the next day and the day after. They are wonderful the day they are baked, but even better given some time to rest in a cookie tin.

Snuggled in a cookie tin.

Snuggled in a cookie tin.

These cookies are a tribute to the Norsemen in my life, my brothers, and to my mother. Thank you for the endless sampling and answering strange questions like “would you call the spices aggressive or assertive?”

May your homes be filled with peace.

Love, Terri

 

Categories: Christmas, Doug, Family, Recipes, Ryan.

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My first anxiety attack and the “Damn Good” cookie that…

December 1, 2014

My Facebook from December 15, 2010 read like this,

So, our first Christmas without Justin was probably not the best time to rework the gingerbread recipe. Was unprepared for the evocative qualities that the alchemy of molasses and spice possess, ghosts of Christmas past crowd the kitchen. Despite the haunts, I believe we have a pretty good cookie. Not great for intricate cutouts, but its got that warm and spicy, crisp yet soft thing happening.

Such a calm post, this is what I didn’t write, the reality of that afternoon.

Cookie baking defined our Advent and Christmas preparations. My mother was of German descent and we grew up with gingerbread houses and boxes of cookie cutters, intricate cutters that required the dough to be just right and endless patience to paint and sugar the designs. We grew up with the three cardinal cookies of Christmas according to my mother, Lebkuchen, Pfeffernusse, and the queen of the three, Springerle. Many children do not like deeply spiced, not overly sweet traditional recipes, but for us, they were

Our mother's favorite cookie book.

Our mother’s favorite cookie book.

Christmas. We ground our own Cardamom, that first whiff of fresh Cardamom takes me right back to a table filled with flour and spices. Mom was very particular about sifting and blending, she could feel with her fingers if the texture was going to be right. She allowed us endless hours at the dining room table with egg white, paint brushes, and colored sugars to decorate the cut-out cookies. I dreamed of a houseful of little ones, so that I could do the same thing for my children, to give them a love of the magic of cookies.

The boys did and still do love cookies. Justin has recipes handwritten in his notebooks, he would sit and ask me questions, always asking did I happen to write down what I did, I always meant to, the little changes, the tweaking here and there of a recipe. They both could be left with a batch of dough and could roll out and bake them as well as I.  As they grew older, my greatest joy was to box up cookies and ship them to wherever they may be, college, a Naval base, I hoped that they could feel the love that went into each cookie, that it reminded them of good things.

That first Christmas, after Justin’s death in September, is a blur. I only remember moments. We were still very underemployed, using up our retirement savings, humbled by the gift cards we would receive anonymously in the mail. Charity can be an extreme burden I found. The weight of proper stewardship weighed heavily, I splurged on molasses and brown sugar. I learned a very important lesson, charity is not just about meeting the needs of the body, the soul must be fed also. The instinctive drive to bake was overwhelming, I look back and understand that it was a survival instinct, the kitchen is my safety zone, a refuge. Which made what happened all the more frightening in a way, for grief breached walls that were supposed to be safe.

I had heated the molasses and added brown sugar, few things smell more wonderful than gently warmed sugars, except for when the spices hit that warmth and bloom, the heat releasing the oils and intensifying the aroma. Cinnamon, ginger, allspice, notes of cardamom, crashed around me and my heart took off. I could not breathe for the weight on my chest, compounded by a racing heart, unable to take a deep breath, shallow breathing only makes it worse, panic sets in from not being able to get a breath from the bottom of your lungs, your legs feel like jelly, your head is pounding, and anxiety crushes you. I can remember screaming internally that Justin would never come home again, the scent of the spices and his empty chair, realizing he would never be home for Christmas, there would never be any grandchildren and stories, no dark curly head hanging over the couch with a book. I slid all the way to the floor, panic had now set in and I had no where to go with it. Pride prevents you from calling  anyone, fear keeps you from honesty. I had been told I was so strong, strong people don’t melt down over cinnamon. Fear of being told that I should call my doctor, they have a pill for that you know. So I sat on the floured floor, with the pup, and the cats, sobbing and wheezing, thinking that if I died from a heart attack, it wouldn’t be the worse thing, death could be release from the pain of loss.

Eventually your breathing slows, your heart stops pounding, exhaustion sets in, the toll that the chemical dump takes on your system is huge. I thought of my mother, she made the most beautiful wedding cakes. We would often tease her about her “tier” cakes, for

Damn Good Molasses Cookie

Damn Good Molasses Cookie

there were always real tears involved, as the cakes grew more intricate, there was always something that proved challenging. She would meltdown, swear, cry, and maybe go to bed, but she would get back up and conquer whatever problem had crossed her. Not one cake ever beat her. So I wrapped my arms around the ever vigilant Micah and got up. I cried the rest of the day, but the dough got made, nothing was wasted. I remember the waves of anxiety that hit me as the cookies baked, that aroma even more intense than the dough, warm and spicy, how that scent would always bring the boys to the kitchen. How paradox that a scent that generated so much comfort and security, could evoke such panic and sorrow.

We have hit the perfect recipe this year, I will share it tomorrow. I am grateful for what this cookie has taught me, that it is important to take notes and change only one thing at a time, you cannot hurry the process. Grief is a lot like building a recipe, one step at a time, change one thing at a time and see how it fits, and that it takes years to get to a place where you can breathe. Most importantly I learned that we need people willing to sit on the floor with us, to be helpless, to just sit with the animals and flour, to not fear the mess of life. I think God very wise in not giving animals the gift of speech, Micah had no suggestions, no recommendations, he could only offer his presence and be faithful to his offering.

I still get panic/anxiety episodes, not as frequent. I try to step outside myself to see where and why it is happening. Often is because I have erred in proper self-care. I have not been true to my needs for rest and quiet, skipped my vitamins, skimped on protein, all those things play a role in our balance. I reach for my lavender and aromatherapy blends, steep herb tea instead of “just one more cup of coffee”, I ignore the “I should’s” and jingle the leash and go for a walk with my good friend. And I breathe.

Our Micah

Our Micah

Categories: Christmas, Dark Night, Grieving, Justin, Recipes.

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Not quite ready for Swedish heavy metal…yet.

November 20, 2014

I am cleaning today, sort of, catching up from having the small furry guest for four weeks. I am still smiling over a text I received from Ryan, our surviving son, I had shared with him that I was madly cleaning in preparation for our book study. He shared that metal was good listening music for cleaning. I laughed and said I wasn’t sure I was up for that, yet, we keep such a quiet house. I thought I could put on some Christmas music though, oh the scandal right? Thanksgiving still a week away and me thinking of listening to Christmas music. The shame of it all.

I don’t get all wound up about the calendar, the seasons, shopping, or holidays. Life since Justin’s death has the flavors of one long Lent. And there are themes of Advent in grief also, the waiting. Waiting to be reunited one day, hopefully. Waiting for a quiver of excitement to come back when the calendar turns to November and December instead of a shiver of dread.

I think it all nonsense you know. This bickering about what is appropriate before Thanksgiving, after Thanksgiving, whether we should “allow” shopping on Thanksgiving Day, what do you suggest, more legislation that dictates when businesses can be open? We don’t need one more law. I can only speak for myself, but as a bereaved parent, I really don’t care that you are indignant that some big box store is open on the Thanksgiving evening. I also don’t care that there are Christmas lights out before Halloween. Easter candy will arrive in February, and so it goes.

I want my dead son back. I want to hear his voice. I want to feel that rush when his car pulls in the driveway and that dark curly head appears at the door. I want to see the cats come running and turn themselves inside out at his feet. I want to see the heads of my two sons close together in conversation, laughing at some inside joke they have from childhood. Perhaps you can see why I find all the focus on the “appropriate” days and time wasteful.

We don’t celebrate the holidays in traditional ways anymore. I will not be dictated to by some erroneous day on the calendar when I should celebrate family and friends. Everyday belongs to God, not just the few, everyday I live the cross and manger. I should put as much care into a meal for everyday as a “holiday.” The soul and body need to be nourished everyday. If I wake up and no one has died, then it is a good day, a day for the best dishes, a day for giving thanks.

We have an open door policy for Ryan, the door is always open, and when he comes home, it will be Christmas. Be it July or January. I bake Lucia Buns on days beside December 13th, and we have cookies year round. I can pull together a turkey dinner with my eyes closed. What freedom there is in declaring everyday that we see our son a holiday, a holy day. Everyday that the family gathers is sacred. We intentionally move the stress and pressure that is absolutely needless away from us, and we simply enjoy the moments that come our way.

I wait in my grief to feel something, to feel desire for living, I live Advent as I wait. And if in this waiting I want to play Christmas music before Christmas, I chose to see it as a sign of life. A small sign that one day I may even graduate to securing a Christmas tree or decorating. But right now, a little “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” sounds appealing, that and a cup of Holiday tea with cinnamon and citrus.

Do not feel sorry for us that evidence of the holidays do not abound in our house or on the outside of our house, we certainly don’t feel sorry for ourselves. It isn’t all about the trappings and exterior. We live our interior of waiting, we wait uncluttered, and we wait in a certain freedom, freedom from having to “do”, just allowing ourselves to “be.” To be watchful for when that boy does come home with his big dog, to be watchful for when family comes to sit and relax, to be watchful for friends to come and visit. To watch for quiet moments of reflection.

I can promise you that if you stop by, you may not find Better Homes and Gardens, but you will find the kettle on in a moment’s notice and there is always crackers and some sort of almond butter on the counter, slice a few apples and all of a sudden you have a feast. There most likely won’t be any Swedish metal music either, we are still taking baby steps.

Categories: Brothers, Christmas, Faith, Family, Grieving, Hope, Justin, Ryan.

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I dreamed of you last night…

November 19, 2014

Such a long time since I dreamed of you Justin. In my dream I walked outside, it was dark, and there you were sitting on our old garden hose box in that patient way you had. The joy and elation of finding you, I hugged you – you were flesh and bone. I brought you inside and all I can remember is you saying “I can’t stay.” I remember fragments, half finished sentences, no complete thoughts, almost like you were troubled. And then you were gone, I couldn’t find you. I woke up with such a sense of loss, only a memory of what the joy of seeing you felt like, the reality being that you were gone. I eventually fell back to sleep and looked for you in my dreams, but I never found you again.

Still disoriented twelve hours later, one foot in the dream world, one foot in reality. So much to do, the counters full of dishes, mail to be sorted, coats to be mended, and all I do is stare. Why couldn’t you stay? We didn’t even  talk, no sentence finished, why the dream, why the brief visit? It only stirred up longing. One foot in the dream world, one foot in reality.

Haunted still by your death happening on my watch, the anxiety spills over into everything I do now. So fearful that something bad will happen on my watch. Logic tells me that I could not have prevented your accident, you were hundreds of miles away, but I am a mother, it will always be my watch. Hyper vigilance, it eats away my heart and energy. Too much loss. Too much loss.

I wondered how long you had been sitting, waiting in my dream for me to step outside and find you. I wonder why you did not find me? Why didn’t you come inside to look for me in my dream, why outside? Why the silly hose box in the side garden, we replaced it this year with a new one, yet you were waiting on the old one.  And you were solid, not spirit, but dark, the entire dream dark and shadow.

Why couldn’t you stay? I almost wished that I didn’t dream of you, it makes the waking almost unbearable. To have held you, if only for a second, but it wasn’t real, was it? Part of me wants to ask you to stay out of my dreams, it is too painful to see you. I can’t live with one foot in my dreams and one foot in reality.

Grief, you are so stealthy, you slink in and out of my dreams, you stalk me through the day, but you will not corner me. We dance, sometimes you lead, sometimes I lead. Exhaustion is the enemy, not grief. Grief, I must dance with you, but you follow my lead, you will heed my tune, my rhythm, not yours. I give you back your accompanying anxiety and pervasive sense of doom, I give you back your dark and shadow. Did you forget I carry a knife? If you back me in a corner, I will fight until we are both bloody, but you won’t win. Grief, you and I may always be partners, but I shall lead the dance.

Justin, I know you can’t stay. We still can’t hardly speak your name to each other, maybe one day we will, but you are our every breath, our every thought waking and sleeping, you are the reason we dance.

 

Categories: Uncategorized.

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Dying with Dignity, the other side of the death bed.

November 5, 2014

Let me offer right up front, I am not judging the actions of Brittany Maynard for taking her own life. I am sad, but in a way that might surprise you. I have avoided reading much on the story, but today she and her family are much on my mind. My mother died nineteen years ago today, a hard death, she and her body took a beating that lasted a long time. I remember seconds after she died feeling so betrayed, I had prayed for a gentle passing for her, but it had been a battle royal.

I would not write of such matters except, if we don’t share our painful stories, how can people know that there is great dignity in a hard death, our mother died with such grace and dignity. Her gentle whisper of “I am afraid” will never leave me, it was her most heroic moment. Again, I will reiterate that I do not feel that Brittany was without courage, or her death was a coward’s way out, shame on those who have breathed those words about her. I simply want to share another story, the other side of the death bed so to speak. Those who promote an appropriated end to life, seem to only highlight the great horrors that await a hard death. I think it important to share that witnessing a bloody, painful death of someone I was so close to, who I loved and admired, was one of the greatest life lessons that our mother ever taught us.

Our mother started to throw up blood eighteen days before she died, it did stop, but we suspected that she was bleeding internally. Her lungs were starting to fill and her body functions slowing. She was on a morphine pump, but at times very lucid, making phone calls and saying goodbye to people. We kept a diary of her last days, it started out as a record of her medications and pain doses, but we each started to add little notes and observations as we kept our watch. See, it was a privilege for each of us to sit with her, not a burden. I remember her saying to me that she feared me watching her die, she did not want to hurt me. I told her that I was not afraid to be with her when she died, that I would not leave her. We would see it through together, all of us. How important that was for her to hear those words, do we speak them often enough? Did anyone tell Brittany that they were not afraid to be with her as she died through the natural progression of her disease, that caring for her would be a privilege and a gift? Did they tell her and her family that there would be moments of riotous laughter and such moments of clarity that only come in the bitterest of suffering? That dying through natural progression is a gift of grace to your loved ones as they serve you and care for you. Did they tell her that there was nothing more important in their world than that time with her? I don’t know. Would it have made a difference in her life choice? Perhaps.

Our mother taught us many life lessons, but at the end, she shared the most important lesson, how to die. She was extraordinarily courageous, she had fears of course. She feared being taken by the undertakers before she was dead and waking up in a morgue or coffin. She asked if we would promise to sit with her for as long as possible to just to make sure she was dead before we allowed them to take her body. And we did. We held her hands and smoothed her hair. We made the necessary phone calls. The hospice nurse came and I had the greatest privilege of all, helping her wash my mother’s body.

Our father died at home also, a massive coronary 39 years ago. We were in that curious era between a generation where death was such a part of life, that wakes were held in the home with the body resting in the parlour with guests coming and going through the day and night, to a very sterile approach to death.  I believe that now we are starting to dialogue more on death, it will be an awkward dialogue to be sure, but one we must encourage and engage in with charity being our guide.

Our mother taught us that allowing the natural course of life to happen, without intervention, brought many gifts to those who walked the path with her. My brothers and I share a bond that cannot be severed, those moments at her side, each holding her forged a seal with blood and tears. We each carry with us her courage and strength. For a sterling moment, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, no doubts, no regrets, just the sure sense that this was a rare moment.

Was it difficult to not know the day or time of her death? Yes, it was. You search for clues, you ask the hospice nurse, you read books, and yet we could not know the hour or day. Not knowing meant we had to live in the moment, without being able to plan beyond generalities, we learned to let go that which we could not control.  For me, not knowing was the hardest. I am, or rather was, the consummate planner, detail oriented, calendar based existence, the land of Not Knowing was hard to accept. And yet, when the moment came, we did know. Waiting taught me to be move observant. I saw mottling on her legs and was able to catch my brother before he left, he had the night watch. We called our other brother who had opened the store that morning to tell him it was time.  If my mother had chosen to end her life sooner, I would not have held it against her, but she clung to every minute she had left with us. I hope part of her choice to stay was that we had in our very imperfect way, communicated to her that she was worth every minute.  That she knew she was loved, whether she was comatose, or awake, that her life meant something, that her dying moments had purpose. I don’t fault those who chose to end their life, I believe that burden rests with society, each one of us. Until we dare to love with abandon and tell those we love that their life has meaning, that they have purpose, then fear of death will have its rule.

Those who paint the worst case scenarios for a death bed and instill fear in those facing hard deaths can only be overcome by love. Fear can only be doused with love. We may not be able to change the legislation for assisted premature death, but we can love those near us, we can let them know that they are precious to us and that every moment counts. And that is how things change, one life at a time. One conversation at a time. One story at a time.

In loving memory of Doris Claire Sharkey Dyer, March 15, 1923 – November 5, 1995.

 

Doris Claire Sharkey Dyer

Doris Claire Sharkey Dyer

Categories: Brothers, Family, Hope.

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