My mother, Pat Manning, lived a charmed life.
When she was 16, she became the first-ever Queen of the Cody, Wyoming, Stampede Rodeo. That’s her on the right in front.
She sat in the owner’s box when Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby, met more than one president of the United States and traveled the world. She even walked away from a single-engine plane crash. Mom loved her family, antiques, and the joy and laughter of the many guests she entertained at home.
But when she was 79, she began to dwindle. No “big” diagnosis; an infection here, another illness there. Many trips to the hospital often led to days in intensive care. For three years, she kept returning home, where my sisters and brother and I were able to care for her and keep her relatively comfortable. But she was tired and often in pain. And her strong mind mourned how weak her body had become.
She was very clear with us: She did not want to live that way. As she put it, she was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
At 82, she made her final trip to the hospital. The doctors explained the situation to my sisters and brother and me: They said there was the possibility of surgery with a slim chance of benefit and a lot of drawbacks. The four of us siblings had spent a lifetime disagreeing. At any given time we could differ about anything, including the color of the sky. But my mother had told us what she wanted so clearly that we were able to speak about this in one voice to support her decision because we knew she didn’t want to live this way. There was no hand-wringing, no second-guessing.
She died very peacefully four days later surrounded by family. Her room was filled with friends until hours before her death.
I am still grateful today for the gift my mother gave me. She told us exactly what she wanted, and in return we were able make sure she died peacefully.
I didn’t realize how important — and rare — that gift really was until two years later when I came to work for Compassion & Choices. I am deeply grateful to be here, to help others give their children the same gift and to help their children return the gift by honoring their parents’ end-of-life wishes.
On Mother’s Day, I encourage you to think about the kind of gift you can give a loved one. Tell them clearly how you would want to be treated in a variety of situations, what you would prioritize if you were living with physical pain, disability, terminal illness, dementia or debilitating chronic illness. Choose a healthcare proxy and make sure they understand and support your priorities. You’ll need that person not only if you can’t speak for yourself, but to support your decisions in a crisis.
And urge the mothers in your life to answer these questions as well. Ask who they would want to make choices if they no longer could.
Here’s another photo, of Pat and Jack Manning with their first great grandchild.
This Sunday I will be thinking of my mother, everything she did for us, and particularly of her clarity in telling us how she wanted to finish her life. In honor of my mother, for Mother’s Day, I’ve made a gift to Compassion & Choices. If you’d like to do the same, click here.
To her memory, and to every mother reading this, I send my best wishes for a very happy Mother’s Day. Thank you so much for all you have given.
– Jane Sanders