Landscape fields

“el·e·vate (transitive verb) – raise somebody’s mind or spirit”

There are so many ways that music has elevated my life.

Music helped me to let go of my grief over the death of my child.

Music helped me to let go of my parents as they declined and when they died.

For me, music is God’s gift to lift me up. It is mystical, magical and inspirational.

My parents with me long ago

“The sound was the horror”  

It simply is not possible to describe such an unbearable noise.

Was it a noisy motor? Or the loud purr of a cat? Or the rumble of a sleeping lion? Or a miserable dog growling? The rattling of my mother’s breathing filled the room with a sound that was like a blade sinking into my heart. It was continuous and sickening.

My beautiful mother who was an extremely loving, deeply religious and compassionate woman did not deserve to suffer. No human deserved to suffer that way.

For any outside observers who told me, “She really isn’t aware of it and isn’t in pain,” I scoff. There was no question about the pain for her family as they watched her body struggle to breathe.

And up until the end, I saw many signs that both my father and my mother were quite aware of their death.

My mother’s death was similar in many ways to my father’s, although she had started fading weeks earlier. Now it was clear there was no turning back.

It was impossible to know how long it would take for her to die and estimates were that she could die at any moment or live another week.

Every day when I would drive to and from the nursing home, I listened carefully to every word of my songs. A blanket of musical comfort elevated my life and kept me inspired and smiling.

Except when I heard that sound.

Little Girl with my mom

The nurses and staff were respectful and alert to my presence. I was treated as someone important.

A few days earlier, I vented my frustration with phone calls to a nursing home administrator. I articulated my concerns with clarity despite emotion that occasionally caused my voice to shake.

I received a call from the nursing home medical director and he assured me that my mom had received excellent medical care.

I mentioned that I hadn’t been told about many things sooner, information that I wished I had known. He said, “The elevated cancer marker wasn’t that significant. I wouldn’t have called a patient’s family with that.”

He explained more about the interstitial lung disease and congestive heart failure but I had difficulty comprehending what he was saying. I knew that he wanted to make it clear that there were no mistakes made with her treatment.

I made the decision that this was a time to let go of being angry. I needed to save my energy for what mattered.

My goal was to keep my mother out of misery.

Landscape with butterflies

Over and over, I was asked why I hadn’t chosen hospice for my mother. When my mother broke her hip she was given hospice. My father also had hospice.

Hospice had more staff, I was told. They were more attentive.

But I knew it worked better for me this way. I didn’t have to wait for hospice to show up or return a call. I had no patience for that anymore.

The pattern was always the same: I walked into the nursing home and listened to my mother’s death rattle. I kissed her and spoke to her. She would make a louder rattle, and it let me know that she was aware of my presence.

Then I went straight to the charge nurse and said, “More morphine for my mother, please.” This scene played over and over again.

Eventually, the nurses ran to give additional morphine the moment I arrived. I was constantly reassured that she was comfortable and that it was routinely given when I wasn’t there.

But as long as my mother was still rattling, it wasn’t enough for me. I wanted her to be asleep. I wanted her to die. 

In addition to morphine, she was given another medication to dry her mucus. She had a cannula in her nose delivering oxygen. The morphine was given with a syringe of liquid into her mouth. Her lips were dry and she was not allowed anything to drink because it would cause her gurgling to worsen. Miriam swabbed her mouth as much as possible, and my mother bit down to suck on it every time.

My cell phone rang. The woman on the phone said she was my mother’s doctor. I had never spoken with her before and felt sorry that I hadn’t been more vigilant about doing that. One of the problems was that my mother kept having her doctors switched.

The doctor on the phone had a sweet and lilting Indian accent. She assured me that my mother would continue to receive adequate morphine. Then she said that soon she’d be coming to meet me and check on my mother.

When she arrived, we spoke in the hallway and I told her how absurd this all was.

I noticed she was compassionate. She gently put her hand on my shoulder and said, “My father died recently in India and it was much worse than it is here. I’m a doctor and I still couldn’t really help him. So I do understand and I’m sorry.”

I had prayed my mother would die in her sleep. This was the same horror show I saw when my father died. Why, why, why? Why does a person have to suffer dying when there are such humane alternatives?

I know there are passionate arguments about this topic. But as I watched both my parents die, I wished instead they were a pet receiving a beautiful gift.

That gift was peace!

Lunch with mom 5

“Thursday night”

The night before, I had brought my 16-year-old son with me, because he was absolutely adamant about wishing to see his grandma before she died.

As we walked into my mother’s room, I was irritated that my mother’s roommate had her T.V. on very loud. Now my mother wouldn’t be able to hear us.

I remembered how my mother had her life turned upside down when a former roommate was dying. All night long for several days the family held a vigil and they were so loud that she was unable to sleep.

But this was different. It was only 8 p.m. and I wasn’t going to be staying all night. Soon my mother would be dead, and in her last moments a T.V. was going to steal some of our time together. The sound of a T.V. was also a “trigger” for me. My husband always kept it on in our bedroom. As a result, I hate televisions and do not own one.

I pushed down my seething anger and tried to tune it out in a literal sense. I sang into my mother’s ear.

My son was upset though. He walked across to where her roommate was and said, “Excuse me, could you please lower your T.V. so my grandma can hear me?”

My mother’s roommate replied that she had to raise the volume in order to hear it. She said, “I think I hear singing and a lot of people are making noise.”

My son tried again to explain to her about his grandma. But clearly nothing penetrated and he came back to my mother’s bedside. I debated whether to complain, but preferred not to.

As we drove home, I could see my son was upset. I knew it was difficult for him to hear his grandmother gurgling and struggling to breathe.

But my son was upset with me. I wasn’t surprised when he shared that he didn’t like my singing. “I don’t want anyone singing to me when I’m dying,” he said. He was such a typical teenager and I found it very humorous.

Then he wanted to understand why I was encouraging my mother to die. There was something about that which really bothered him.

This was a perfect opportunity for me to engage my son about the topic of death.

But I was tired and emotionally overwrought; it was difficult to calmly explain it to him. The hardest part was his argument that it wasn’t a loving thing to do. His words cut into my vulnerable heart when he said, “Mom, you just want it to be over so you won’t be hurting!”

I collapsed into bed that night, wondering what the next day would be like. I had vivid dreams, none of which I could remember.

aqua butterfly

“Friday morning”

I woke up and marveled that I was relaxed. My heart held no pain. The newest arrangement of my song “Hang On” was especially soothing medicine that seeped into every cell of my body.

I wrote my song to help other grieving people. But now I had a different perspective. Many of my future visions were gifts to me throughout my life. I often spoke to “Judy of the Future.”

I decided that “Hang On” was a gift to me from “Judy of the Future.”

I listened carefully to my lyrics, and each word melted every ounce of pain in my heart.

The words that echoed most were, “One day, your pain will go away. . .”

It was so fitting. I would not suffer terribly with grief over my mother’s death because I had already grieved losing her to dementia. And soon, her physical pain would be over.

I felt certain my mother would die soon, but I had to balance my wishes with reality. There was no way of knowing.

Miriam was looking worn. She was spending a lot of time with my mother now. My brothers were not able to spend their days at my mother’s bedside. My sister-in-law, Jo stayed and I felt grateful and especially close to her.

My oldest brother, Norm and sister-in-law, Jo are with me. Next week, it will be exactly one year since I moved out. This picture was taken that day.

My oldest brother, Norm and sister-in-law, Jo are with me. Next week, it will be exactly one year since I moved out. This picture was taken that day.

“The Rabbi’s visit”

I said to Miriam, “Let’s put her hearing aids on.”


Whenever I was with my mother, I insisted upon them. Miriam said a nurse told her that my mother had no need for them now. I completely disagreed.


I knew that the sense of hearing was the last sense to go. My mother’s dignity was at stake here. She deserved to hear everything she could possibly hear!


I was relieved to find out that my mother’s favorite Rabbi was coming to see her after lunch. He was such a wonderful man and helped me greatly when my mother was on a respirator and almost died four years earlier. It had been a long time since I’d been in touch with him.


I wondered if my mother would still be alive for his visit. I was glad my older brother was going to be there, too.


A few hours later, the Rabbi arrived. He was like a knight in shining armor and my mother clearly knew he was there. Her roaring rattle increased to a lion’s grumble with his presence.


He knelt down close to her and began reciting prayers. The first one was a confessional prayer. He gently explained to my mother that this prayer was to ask forgiveness for anything she had ever done wrong in her life.


The last prayer was a one for peace. As the Rabbi began chanting, we all chimed in. It was such a spiritual moment and I prayed my mom would die as soon as our prayer stopped.


But it wasn’t going to be the case.


I hugged the Rabbi goodbye and was grateful when he told me he would try to be available for my mother’s service; it meant so much to me. He had been out of the country when my father died.

aqua butterfly 3

“Death is ugly”

I could see how my mother now resembled my father when he was dying.


Miriam had not seen death before. I told her how a corpse was just a shell.


I said, “It is a horribly ugly thing to see it. It is not the person anymore. As soon as the soul leaves, within seconds the corpse appears. It is so ugly that it can leave an imprint in your brain. I’m not afraid of it because I know it is not them.”


When my father died, I was alone in the room with him.


The entire experience was beyond amazing. I felt as if someone else was in the room with us at the moment of his death. It was uncanny and mysterious.

Aqua butterfly 2

On this day, with my mother on her deathbed, I let go of any expectations of anyone else participating besides myself. It was very freeing.

For a brief period, my middle brother came. He wept aloud, kissed our mother and then fled. I was so glad my older brother came for the Rabbi’s visit. Afterwards, he went back to his office and planned to come back again later.

My brothers were never together, but I was especially glad that my middle brother came to say goodbye to our mom because it was so difficult for him.

It was 2 p.m. and I was tired. I went home to rest and regenerate myself. If my mom died while I was gone, I accepted that.

Taking care of myself was important.

Pool Slide & mom


Three hours later, I drove back to the nursing home and allowed every fiber of my being to absorb the magic of my music. My soul was bursting with energy and love. There was no pain.


My anesthetic was music and God gave it to me for that reason.


I was ready to face hell because of that anesthetic. And it was a horror that I faced.


My mother was still alive and now she was running a high fever. Tylenol suppositories had not brought it down. Her skin was hot and her rattle was a roar.


I was thankful that morphine was coming more frequently. But it was clear that it was getting worse for my mother. I was beside myself.


My mother’s body was at war and this was now the battle zone. She actually had a strong heart. Her struggle to breathe was involuntary and this was not going to end easily.

Mourning Mom 1

© Judy Unger and 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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