With music my pain went away

“Saturday night”

I decided I should call her and searched through my purse to find the crumpled receipt where she had written down her phone numbers. She was very kind to do that and I was amazed that she was giving me her home number. Most doctors didn’t do that.


I wasn’t sure when would be a good time to call her. I hated to call her at home; I didn’t even know her! But it was important for me to get permission to write about her on my blog. I certainly didn’t want to write anything that might cause a problem for her later on.


Her lilting voice on the phone was warm and I could tell she appreciated that I had called. She even said that she planned to call me, but it was perfect that I had reached her first.


I told her I planned to write a story and she was part of it. She said it was fine. “I cannot imagine anything secretive you might share that I wouldn’t approve of.”


I told her I was concerned about mentioning how much she helped end my mother’s suffering quicker. I loved her response! She said, “What I did wasn’t wrong; it was the humane thing to do.”


As we talked further, she told me how different it was meeting me than she had expected.


She said, “I had a full day in the clinic, and broke away to come see your mother and meet you. You were nothing like the person I imagined I’d see.” She paused and continued, “That moment hearing your song is something I will never forget.”


As we conversed more, she shared with me about her son. She said that as a result of his death, she transformed into a different person. She told me that he was a gifted writer and also wrote songs. Sometimes she wondered how one of his songs might sound if someone else sang it.

I said, “I would love to know more about your son. I would love to hear his song. Please let me know when I can bring my guitar over to play for you. I can come to your home and you can invite anyone you want to join us. It would be my pleasure.”

After we hung up, I knew that I would be meeting her again someday.

I was so glad for the brief moment she entered my life and made a difference.


“The doctor was an angel”

It was growing closer. I was told it might be another day until my mother died, but I did not entertain that possibility.

I wasn’t going home and planned to stay all night.

Throughout her dying, my mother’s hands were soft and warm. Miriam pointed out to me that they were now turning purple.

I could see that Miriam looked exhausted. I told her that it was absolutely fine for her to take a break and come back later. She left.

I sat across from my sister-in-law, Jo at my mother’s bedside. It was sure nice to have her there, because I was mostly alone with my father before he died.

I continued to coach my mother and kept repeating the same things. Over and over, I told her that she was going to a beautiful place. My father, her parents, her brother, her sister and little Jason were there to take her by the hand.

Mom's Hand at death 2

Her roaring death rattle became even louder. She was burning up with a high fever and it felt like steam was rising from her bed. A nurse came in and shot more liquid morphine into my mother’s mouth.

This process was reminiscent of childbirth in many ways. The brutality of it was apparent. Her current stage was one that reminded me of a baby starting to enter the birth canal to be born.

She was traveling into a tunnel toward death. Occasionally, I heard a pause in her breathing. It caused me to hold my breath and exclaim to Jo, “I think this is it!”

Mourning Mom 3

There was a knock on the door. It was my mother’s Indian doctor. I was surprised that this doctor had come back to check my mother.

“It’s close now, isn’t it?” I said as she was examining my mother.

The doctor said, “Possibly, but it could take a few more hours.”

I was surprised that she didn’t leave after that. Instead, she pushed her stethoscope into a more comfortable position and sat down.

“I can tell you love your mother very much,” she said. Her Indian accent was gentle and soothing.

My mother & I dressed up cropped

“You know, my mother was always there for me – especially when my son died. Then I added, “It was horrible losing my child but I’ve healed because of music. I’m a songwriter. When my mother first became ill four years ago, I rediscovered my music. I didn’t play my guitar for 30 years and my healing was a result of my mother’s decline. I owe her so much!”

The doctor said, “That is really a beautiful story. Quite amazing and inspiring.”

Within an instant I brought out my iPod with a speaker and said, “Can I play you a special song?”

“Absolutely,” she said. I was aghast with joy that she would allow me to share a song with her.

Taking my mom out to dinner

As my song began to play, the doctor said in a hushed voice, “Is that you singing?”

I nodded.

The beautiful words and melody of my song “You Were There” filled the room. As it played, my eyes were closed and teary.

I always sing so that my lyrics are heard. Every word was clear and it was really beautiful to have my song playing knowing it would be the last time my mother was alive to hear it.

The song ended. I opened my eyes and turned to look at the doctor.

She said, “You amaze me with your lyrics. They are unbelievably touching and you are quite gifted. I have tears and do not cry easily.”

I beamed and said, “Would you like to hear another song?”

She said, “Yes, I would.”

With me in every song

I played my song “With Me.”

My mother truly was with me in every song. Although I had written “With Me” after my father died, it was easily about my mother, too. I could feel that my mother was in so many of my songs. I counted six or seven off the top of my head.

Every line of lyrics was a balm for my soul.

With me every day

After “With Me” ended the doctor reached over and took my hands. She said, “I want to tell you something. I had a child that died, too.”

I noticed how her eyes were hollow, empty and sad. I asked her to tell me more about it.

Her 30-year-old son had committed suicide two years earlier. At Compassionate Friends, which was a grief organization for parents and siblings who have lost children – suicide was considered the most difficult form of death to deal with.

I ached for her and told her that one day her pain would go away. But it had only been two years and that was truly very early in any grief journey.

Her soul was amputated and bleeding.

With me when I cry

Before she left, I asked her if my mother could have more about morphine to hasten her death. This kind doctor said, “Unfortunately, there are clear guidelines for the dosages. More could be given but it’s based upon her breathing and heart rate.”

She looked toward my mother and said, “Your mother would be more comfortable without the cannula on. I can take it off. If it’s harder for her to breathe, then she’ll receive more morphine.”

Gently the doctor removed the cannula and the soft hissing sound of oxygen ended. I noticed my mother’s roar was softer.

Before the doctor left, she wrote her cell and home number on a scrap of paper I pulled out from my purse. She told me that I could call her at any time if I needed to reach her.

But the truth was, I didn’t believe I’d ever see her again.

My mother would soon die. But this doctor’s sad eyes touched me and I’d never forget how moved she was by my songs.

After the doctor left, Jo and I shook our heads savoring her beautiful visit.

My mother closeup

“Set you free”

Within a minute of the doctor leaving, everything began to change.

It turned out that the oxygen in the cannula had kept my mother going. The doctor had given us a gift, after all!

The roar was getting quieter and my mother was much calmer. She began to travel down to the end of the tunnel.

Her body scrunched into a more fetal position.

I leaned close to her ear and almost brushed against her hearing aid so she could hear my voice. I sang her favorite prayer.

There were more frequent pauses now in her rattle. Each time I prayed it was over. Her face was beginning to relax. It was apparent that with each breath she was not getting any air into her lungs now.

This picture is from a family vacation; my older brother, Norm is on my left.

This picture is from a family vacation; my older brother, Norm is on my left.

Jo leaned closer to where I was; she was on the left and I was on the right.


I closed my eyes and sang one of my favorite songs, “Set You Free.”


My voice floated through the room and hardly felt like my own. My lyrics were softer than a cloud as I sang, “Though you have flown, to somewhere unknown – we’re never apart. You’re here in my heart . . .”

 Saying goodbye to my parents in the elevator was always a sad moment. I didn’t want to remember them that way.

Saying goodbye to my parents in the elevator was always a sad moment. I didn’t want to remember them that way.

With teary eyes I sang, “your smile, your touch, your voice, your face; your essence I will never replace.”


Then my voice cracked with, “Though I long for you to hold me, I need to set you free . . .


This song had a life of it’s own. It had already helped to free me in so many ways.


My voice was clear and my lips almost touched my mother’s ear as I lingered on the last line. I held the last word as I sang; “I need to set you free . . .”

My mom and I outdoors 6

The beautiful melody had ended and my mother was looking right at me.

Her eyes opened wide for the first time in almost a week.

It was just like my father had done at his moment of death. They were looking at something in the distance. Her face was completely relaxed and it was quiet.

A few more breaths came in soft gentle spasms.

Suddenly, my older brother walked in; he rushed to her bedside. I stepped aside so he could be with our mother at that special moment.

My sister-in-law gripped my hand and I glowed.

I felt so blessed!

Music was God’s gift to lift me up. Today, God was with my mother and me.

Mom holding me

The corpse was not my mother. My brother could not bear the open mouth. He tried to close it and the corpse would not cooperate.

We were all so relieved that my mother’s suffering was finally over.


I called Miriam to let her know. I told her, “Miriam, she could have died when I was resting earlier today. We didn’t know exactly when it would happen. It happened the way it was supposed to happen. Please do not feel badly that you weren’t here with us at the moment of death.”


I have written a lot about Miriam on my blog. Miriam anticipated my mother’s every need and my mother loved her deeply. The name Miriam means “wished for” and Miriam is everything I could have wished for in a companion for my mom.

Miriam & Shirley

Miriam came back to spend some time with my mother’s body. When she arrived, she cried and shook her head back and forth.


It was hard to look at my mother’s gray corpse. I knew that.


But I had no tears – only relief and joy. My mother was free!


How lucky I was that I found Miriam. She would always have a friend in me.


When my mother first became ill, I was overwhelmed with her care. My father discouraged a companion for her, but after two years I over-rode his wishes.


He once even told Miriam, “I’m so glad my daughter didn’t listen to me!”

My father taking my mother's hand

“It was time to leave”

It was almost 8 p.m. and we were hungry. My brother and sister-in-law said it would be great for us to have dinner together. Miriam said she wasn’t hungry; she had already eaten and wanted to stay and spend more time with my mom. Soon the mortuary would pick the body up.


I would soon be leaving the nursing home with a sense of finality. This part of my life was over.


I looked forward to having dinner with Norm and Jo. We would all talk about what an amazing woman our mother was. I felt happy and celebrated that I was alive.

Carpinteria with mom closeup


Just as I was getting ready to leave, the doctor was standing behind me.


I couldn’t believe it – she had come back!


I was emotional as I said, “My mother might have struggled many more hours and it really helped when the cannula was removed. Within ten minutes, it was over. How can I thank you?


She replied with, “You don’t have to.”


I hugged her and said, “You cannot imagine what a difference you have made. You are an angel!”


The doctor replied, “All the words you say to me are the same words I want to say to you. You are amazing.”


I clasped her hands and looked into her sad eyes and whispered, “One day – your pain will go away. I promise! He’s with you – I know he was with us today!”


Aqua butterfly 4

© 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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