How My Mother Taught Me Death Can Be Beautiful ... and a Joyous Affirmation of Life; We All Assume the End of Life Can Bring Only Sadness. but This Tender Testimony to the Power of Love Tells a Far More Inspiring Story

Article excerpt

Byline: by Thea Jourdan

SITTING by my mother's bedside, I watched as she removed her gold ring and pushed it on to my younger brother's index finger. He accepted it solemnly, twisting it to examine the leaping silver fishes engraved on its band.

The room was still and silent. There was no need for words; we both knew it was momentous because it was a ring our mum, May, loved and would never part with -- except in this extraordinary circumstance.

Mum was a few short days from her death. By this gesture, she was not only marking the moment she 'handed over' to the next generation, but acknowledging, with this precious gift, that her son had come of age over the past few difficult weeks.

For me, this cherished memory encapsulates the fact that far from being a time of despair and misery, the lead-up to Mum's death was an experience that enriched the lives not only of me and my brother but of our whole family in many unexpected ways.

Not only did I watch my younger brother develop the broad shoulders of a man over the time that Mum had left, but I grew to accept that the process of dying is itself essential and even life-affirming. I now understand how it gives the dying person and those around them the ultimate chance to show pure love for one another; to put aside all conflict and focus on what is truly important.

None of this would have been possible were it not for my mother's determination to lead by example. She had always taught us that death was a natural part of life and not to be feared. These weren't just simple words. When it came to the reckoning, she showed extraordinary strength of character, courage and integrity to the very end.

When she first learned, on March 19, that she had an inoperable brain tumour that would kill her in a few short weeks, the first thing she did was reassure her four devastated children that, thanks to us and her eight grandchildren, she'd had a great life.

Her familiar Scottish voice was airy and bright when she called me from London that terrible day. I wasn't to worry or get upset. She was fine and not in pain. She had lived life to the full and was ready to take this new journey -- wherever it would lead.

At 74, Mum was young by today's standards and had always seemed in vigorous good health. But two months before her diagnosis, she suffered a minor bleed in her brain. At first doctors said it was nothing to worry about, but afterwards Mum became vague and confused.

We took her to hospital where a CT scan showed a tumour the size of an orange in the temporal lobe of her brain. The pathology tests later confirmed glioblastoma, a highgrade, primary cancer, which was in its terminal stages.

As a medical family -- my father and elder brother are surgeons and my sister-in-law is a GP -- we were armed with all the facts.

Painful as it was to accept, we knew that further treatment was futile and could even wreck what little time Mum had left. (An approach her oncologist commended.)

So, instead of being hooked up to a chemotherapy drip in a dreary hospital bed, within days of her prognosis, Mum was in Venice -- somewhere she had always wanted to go.

She had a fantastic time with my Dad, my sister and her son-in-law, but almost as soon as the plane touched down in the UK, she fell into a temporary semi-coma.

This was the first of half a dozen 'events' that would rapidly rob her of her bodily strength, motor control and, finally, all methods of communication.

The temporal lobe -- where Mum's tumour was rooted -- is responsible for speech and language, but has no power over emotions, personality or more profound cognition.

Mum was herself right to the end and her indomitable spirit shone through even when she could barely lift her little finger. From the start, though, there was no question she would go into a hospice -- even though it rapidly became clear she would need round-the-clock care. …