November 26, 2015

My mother's death, one year later



One Year Later, After My Mother’s Death


On this day in 2014, my mother, Mary Hinkson Jackson, passed away peacefully in her bed, at home. At her side was her dutiful nurse, Alice, and Sharon, an aid in training for Alice’s planned departure for a visit home to Nairobi, Kenya.

Although I planned to visit my mother later that day, she died before I arrived. Alice sent me a text message at 1pm or so, to tell me. Once I read the text, Jonathan and I left school and arrived at my mother’s house to find her body still warm and our daughter, Elsa, there as well-almost inconsolable. She had gone to visit and, like us, had not made it over in time. We each spoke to my mom, touched her, hugged her and kissed her. Our dear friend, Laura, joined us, as did my cousin Beverly and our friend, Rachel. Later, Beverly’s husband and daughter came too, as did our son, Jeremy, to bring us dinner.

What has happened in the year since my mother’s passing?

First, we had to clear out my mother’s home. Many of us worked tirelessly over the Thanksgiving weekend to sort and box her possessions. Many boxes went to the Unitarian Church for its holiday fair. Others sit in our basement and in Elsa’s room. We got the apartment cleared out and ready to show in less than a week.

Next, we listed the apartment for sale. It was viewable on line December 17th. It took approximately six months to sell. We closed on the sale in late June, 2015.

My goal was to use the proceeds from the sale of the apartment to purchase a retirement home for Jonathan and me in Lexington. I flew to KY many times during the winter and eventually went into contract on our new home February, 2015. We closed in late June, 2015, right after the sale of the NY apartment. I spent the summer in Lexington setting the new house up for our move during the summer of 2017. Our new home was made possible by my mom.

Alice returned from Kenya in late January and found a new job. She utilized the services of Sharon’s employer and was placed in a home in Brooklyn Heights. We keep in touch.

Elsa left for a nine month Fulbright assignment in Rio de Janerio, Brazil in February, 2015. She has just returned. Jeremy returned to college after Thanksgiving and completed his sophomore year. He is currently half way through his junior year.

My husband, Jonathan, lost his father in late September of this year. His dad had hung on for a long time, longer than her wanted to. We felt somewhat prepared for his death after our experience with my mother. The family had a lovely service for his father in Maine.

I have the support of a wonderful therapist who is helping me work through my feelings of relief, of guilt, of remorse, of sadness, of freedom, of loss and of confusion. I see her every other week and slowly we are unpacking the many layers of baggage I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I am a person who had a beautiful, famous, wonderful mother who, at one time was a happy person, but who also was paralyzed by grief, sadness, depression, epilepsy, and, in the end, undiagnosed dementia. These conditions had a tremendous impact on our relationship during the last 20-25 years. I’m working hard to remember happy times from before her illnesses began, but that is still a work in progress.

My mother and I had a very difficult time together. One year later, I think I can truthfully say that deep down, I loved my mother and she loved me.





January 22, 2015

Ashes: to Save or not to Save?


When my dad died in 1983, my mother had his body cremated and did not ask to save his ashes. A close friend of the bakery’s and of my dad’s may have-we are not sure. We do know that this friend, Zeke, drove a bakery van around the crematorium three times honking the horn as a ceremonial gesture. He told my mother that he did this.

When my mother died in November, 2014, I was asked by the funeral home if I wanted to save the ashes. I did not. But I surveyed my family and learned that both Elsa and Jeremy did want to, and felt that it was important. Other friends felt the same way. So I elected to save them.

Elsa collected the box of ashes from the crematorium a few days after my mother was cremated. The box sat in various places in our house for many weeks. Elsa had the idea to spread Peachy’s ashes around the base of a Magnolia tree planted for my father on the grounds of their home, Chatham Green, in New York City.

We decided to spread the ashes on or around their wedding anniversary, January 16th. My parents were married in 1956.

Actually, we were not able to spread the ashes until a few days later, Monday, January 19th, the day we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this year.

I think it was a fantastic and meaningful gesture for my mom and dad. I so appreciate the fact that my amazing daughter had the ability to think creatively and that she had the foresight to propose to us that we do this.  I can honestly say that I would have NEVER thought of such a terrific plan.

This is what we did.

The other oldies: Gene, Evelyn and Bette also approved of this plan, I believe. And my mentor and surrogate mother, Erness, also liked the idea.


Good enough for me!

December 16, 2014

I Lost 20 Pounds! (In 4 months…)

This past summer, I was feeling fed up with myself about my weight. I felt that I was surrounded by people who had wrestled control of their body weight, and, who were feeling and looking good.  I was ready.

I considered joining Weight Watchers, again, but decided against it because going to meetings is time consuming and weighing in is stressful for me. It just doesn’t work. I didn’t feel that I would be successful.

On TV, Dr. Oz has a new plan for successful weight loss each week, but none felt just right to me. I’m not sure I trust a person who embraces 52 weight-loss methods per year.

So, I Googled other options. I found a blog post by a woman whom I do not know and cannot contact other than via twitter (I will ask my son to help with this.) The title is: HOW I LOST 20 POUNDS IN ONE MONTH.  That wasn’t my goal, but I read the article anyway. What I learned from this woman is that everyone one is different. What works for one person, may not work for another. Each of us must figure out what will work for us.

This is so true! I know what my Weight Watcher diet is, even if I’m not participating in a plan. I know how many points I can have, and I know how much food and what kinds of foods I can eat each day.

I also know that I must exercise regularly. I needed to develop a sustainable weekly exercise plan that is enjoyable. I do two yoga classes each week and I run one to three times a week, weather and daylight permitting.

The blog woman said to develop a daily morning workout routine. She does 20 minutes per day. I cannot do 20 minutes per day on workdays, but I can do 5 minutes per day. That’s workable. I developed one, that meets my needs, and that takes 5 minutes. And I do it everyday.

I did not lose 20 pounds in one month. I lost 20 pounds in 4.5 months. But, I lost 20 pounds! And I feel great! Having clothes fit well feels better than any food tastes.

What is interesting to me is that my weight was so, very important to my mother my whole life. She was constantly disappointed that I was not thin and fit. As much as I wanted to be so, it was impossible for me, despite 35 years of trying. I had a few temporarily successful attempts at weight loss, but none lasted long.

However, this summer, when my mother could not notice or acknowledge, finally, my success, I was able to stick to my goals and to reach my goal weight.

I guess I did this for me and not for my mother or for anyone else.

Go, me!




December 5, 2014

Good to know:

·     After a person dies at home, you call the primary care doctor to inform her/him.
·     Then you call Hospice, to alert the Hospice doctor and the Hospice team.
·     Then you find a crematorium or funeral home to take the body away. We used Greenwich Village Funeral Home. They came after four hours and were respectful and efficient. They prepared the death certificates for us and had them ready after four days. But we still have no ashes after 7 days. This is not cool, IMHO. (I don’t want the ashes, but my daughter does.)
·     Then you clean out the house of the deceased and try to put it on the market. (I’m leaving the furniture so that the apartment shows better. All of my mother’s possessions went to a holiday fair to benefit a church that we love.) We had help from close friends and family and we worked like dogs, through dust, to get this job done.
·     Then, daily, you answer many emails and calls from people that knew the deceased (even if you don’t) and you are polite and comforting and you describe the end in as much or little detail as you see fits the person calling.
·     In your down time, when you are not working, you try to process the reality of the fact that your parent is dead.
·     You call your therapist and see if you can be seen. My therapist was able to make time for me (suddenly, thankfully) and I will see her next week
·     You may call your spiritual care counselor to touch base with that person. With VNS/Hospice, you get one session. I also have appointment with my mother’s spiritual care counselor for next week.
·     You get legal counsel. I have an appointment with OUR attorney for next week to transfer funds, accounts, deeds, etc. I have no idea how to do this myself. I hope that he will help me.

·     You ask your spouse/partner to call the bank, SS, insurance companies, etc. and deal with being on hold for four days, only to be told that the funeral home has already notified them of your parent’s passing.



December 4, 2014

Post Mortem

What I find most interesting about the 9 days since my mother passed away is the sadness I feel.

Many people have been sympathetic and supportive, and as a result, things have seemed surreal. I get hugs at work, cards in the mail, emails from people I do not know and many phone calls-some from folks feeling guilty for not knowing or for not having been in touch and then, I am comforting them. Interesting.

But, somehow, hearing from all of these people makes me feel sadder because they are so sad. I wonder if I would feel as sad just on my own, without the influence of the outsiders.

Most of the outsiders view my mother as this magical, amazing person. It’s wonderful and refreshing! Some cherish moments with her, meaningful conversations and pure joy about who she was for them. It’s fantastic.

But, I think maybe these amazing reviews of who my mother was for them makes me feel hollow and empty inside. I am partially sad because she was not this way for me for a long time-quite the opposite in fact. And I am partially sad because other people feel attachments and loyalty to her that make them closer in some ways, and yet not close at all in that they were not around in the end and did not experience the real person that those who were close to her did. I feel false in pretending to feel as much of a loss and sadness as they supposedly feel.

It’s all so complicated!

And, despite my anger and resentment, my regrets and my remorse, I am stunned by the suddenness and the finality of my mother’s death. The person that I have had to contact daily, to worry about and to monitor, to deal with, to negotiate with and to argue with, is now gone. I am free from responsibility, but I am also alone now. I cannot speak to her ever again, either to complain or to apologize. It’s over. Forever.

And that makes me sad.

Relieved, free, done.


But sad, too.

December 3, 2014

What happens after death for a hospice patient at home

Many elderly people die in hospitals and nursing homes, but that was not our experience and therefore, I cannot write about it.

My mother died in a hospice program at home, so I can only describe our experiences with this scenario.

Although my mother’s primary care physician was also her hospice doctor, this is rarely the case. Hospice also assigns a back up doctor, or hospice doctor, for patients in need of a doctor for their duration in hospice. Once my mother died, the home nurse(s) placed a call to hospice to report her death. My mother’s hospice doctor then “called it in” so that the death was recorded. I’m not sure who gets the call, but it is recorded somewhere.

We, at home, had to call a company to take my mother’s body away. She wanted us to use a crematorium, but the number she left was no longer active. We Googled places and found a funeral home in Greenwich Village that also cremates bodies. We call them, secured their services, and waited for them to come.

After about four hours, two men arrived with a long gurney to take my mother away. In the interim, each of us had spent time with her, kissing her, holding her hands and saying goodbye. By the time the men arrived, we were eating Mexican food and drinking wine and champagne, having and impromptu celebration of my mother’s life. The arrival of the funeral home men seriously dampened the mood of the house quite quickly. Interestingly, no doctor came to our house to declare the death. No body had to be transferred to the hospital for verification of the death, and no one seemed to check to see if the deceased was, in fact, actually dead.

Two days later, I went to this funeral home to pay the bill, to order death certificates (20 @ $15/each) and to pay for the cremation services.

The certificates take two days to come; the ashes take longer, like five days.

I do not have them yet. “We’ll CALL you,” they informed me.

OK. Thanks.

The funeral home is clean, fancy and attractive. The employees wear suits and ties and look very professional. We got special parking passes while we were there.

So, I have the 20 death certificates but no ashes.

My daughter has ideas for where the ashes should be spread. I am glad because I had no ideas and was not even going to ask for the ashes, or for a container for them.

We hope to get the ashes sometime this week.

I have no idea how we can possibly know for sure whose ashes we actually get. I’m also not sure I really want to think about this.

More details next post.

November 26, 2014

My Mom is Gone

My mother passed away today.

This afternoon, as my students were selecting choice time activities, I received a text on my phone.

Later, when I was able to view it, I saw it was from Alice. It read: JENNY AM SORRY THE TIME HAS COME AND SHE IS RESTING IN PEACE NOW

I was shocked. Even though I was so prepared, I couldn’t believe that it was possibly true that my mother was gone. Without thinking, I walked out of my classroom and dialed Alice’s number. As I spoke to her, questioning and re-questioning, I wandered into my principal’s office and took the hand of our amazingly understanding parent coordinator, Amy. As Amy and Anna realized what was happening at that moment, they both stopped working and turned their attention to me, hugging me and making a plan for how to cover Jonathan and me so that we could leave school and go to my mother’s house.

Elsa was at my mother’s house, in tears, when we arrived.

Then, a series of extraordinary events followed. I will describe these in another post.

For now, I want to say that in my experience, I agree with those who have said that one is never fully prepared for the passing of a loved one. I believed that I was very prepared, yet when my mother actually died, I was completely unprepared to experience the feelings that flowed into my body.

I also understand how all of the anger and frustration some people feel towards a loved one disappears upon death. I feel only loss and sorrow now, rather than anger and resentment towards my mother. And I’m sure, soon, I will remember her as the perfect person, make excuses for her behaviors, and describe her in completely new and different ways than I have in the past.

When I arrived at my mother’s house, her body was warm and she lay peacefully in her bed. She was no longer attached to her oxygen machine, so the room was quiet, other than the music that was playing on her iTunes, and she appeared to be sleeping, but without breathing. As the afternoon wore on, my mother became colder and stiffer, as we waited for the funeral home folks to come and remove her body-a strikingly emotional event.

I kissed her head, held her hands and said goodbye.

Each of us spent a few private moments with her to say goodbye.

I have lots more to tell, so numerous posts will follow. But I wanted to update this blog for the folks in similar situations who follow me and need to know what will happen and what comes next.


Thank you all for your support and interest.

November 14, 2014

End of Life Journal

I wish I had kept better records for a time-line of my mother’s illness as a resource for others. I am constantly researching on the web for the ‘next things I can expect’ on this journey I am experiencing with my mother.

Many of us want to know, “When will this end? How much time does she have left? When should a sit-and-be-with-vigil begin?” I want to be there for her, but there have been so many scares that turned out to be nothing…

I’ll try to briefly summarize my mother’s illness timeline:

January, 2014       diagnosed with IPF

March, 2014       hired geriatric social worker; hired full time live in nurse to assist

May, 2014       Last visit to primary care physician; given 6 months ballpark

Late spring       Enrolled in Visiting Nurse Program: PT, OT, Speech and Behavior support

Summer, 2014       confined to wheelchair; dementia evident; numerous behaviors surfaced

August, 2014       entered Hospice program

October 3              began morphine for comfort

Late October       complete incontinence began

Early November              24 hour care necessary

November 14       asleep, for 3 days, non-verbal, minimal food; first full prescribed dose of morphine; hospice nurse called in to check vitals, BPM dropped to 14 from 20+;
                             Mom called out to her dead father, “Daddy, wait for me!” all night long;

Today I visited. I noticed some reaction to what I said, “Your sister’s coming tomorrow, won’t that be nice?” with eyeball movement, frowns and vulnerable expressions. She also pulled her hands away from my touch more than once, which I thought was interesting. It feels like my mother hates me, even in her dying state. But I can’t believe that’s the case. She’s full of morphine-who knows what she is thinking and feeling?

I also called Hospice today to try to learn what happens after…?

It is not necessary to call 911 or to have the patient/body transferred to a hospital. We no longer have to be ‘pronounced dead’ in NY. The coroner no longer needs to come.

We call Hospice. We call the doctor. The doctor files a report to the city online. Then a death certificate is created. The funeral home orders the certificate and copies for the family. It’s best to get extras for various institutions that will need it.

I post all that I learn in the hope that it will help someone.



November 9, 2014

I must be an idiot!

I am a 56 year old woman. I am experienced. I am educated. I am not “well read” but I have read a book or two. I am in close contact with intelligent women. I teach six year olds and a large part of our curriculum is to give children language and tools to stand up to aggressive or assertive children who intimidate them. I have words at my disposal, I have skills, I have perspective and I have experience.

And yet, I am being bullied by my 22 year-old daughter.

And I am sick of it.

Tonight, I rehearsed things to say to her the next time she is being icky, aggressive or exceptionally critical.

I can start with the basic:

“STOP IT” or “GET OUT OF HERE!”

The natural follow up to this is:

“I DON’T’ LIKE IT WHEN YOU SPEAK TO ME THIS WAY.”

Then I can hit her with:

“WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”

and the classic

“ARE YOU THE BOSS OF ME?”

If all of these fails, I’ll counter with,

“YOU ARE NOT INVITED TO MY BIRTHDAY PARTY,”


a sure heart piercer!