End of Life Planning

12/29/2022 | By Terri L. Jones

“When she loved someone or even liked them a lot (and she liked just about everyone!), she was there for them – no matter what.” Seniors Guide writer Terri L. Jones writes about her mother’s second chance – her life for seven years after her first terminal diagnosis.

In 2015, I wrote an article about my mother’s respiratory failure and miraculous recovery for BOOMER magazine. When the article was published, I posted a photo of the magazine article on Facebook. A few months ago, Facebook reminded me of that post, as it does so many of my posts. However, the day that this old post appeared in my feed happened to also be the morning after my mother passed away.

I don’t believe in coincidences or that Facebook “knows everything.” Instead, I believe that things happen for a reason. In the article, I wrote that my mother was “working hard to make her second chance count,” so for me, the reason was clear: I needed to now share just how Mom had used these last seven-plus years.

A gentle reminder … to herself

Recently, Martha, my mother’s partner of 35 years, found a very special birthday card in my mother’s things. The message inside read: “This is my gift to you, many people praying for you during your troubled time. Enjoy, and remember to pay it forward. Love, God.”

Mom always lived her life with gratitude, but she was particularly moved by the groundswell of kindness and support during her illness. She wrote this card to herself as a reminder to use that gratitude to make a difference in others’ lives. Inside the card were five sheets of paper with the names of 104 people who had prayed for her, visited her, sent her cards and flowers or simply expressed their well wishes. I am certain that she thanked every single one of them and paid their love and support forward many times over.

Paying it forward

One of those names was “Sue.” When we were told in 2015 that my mother wouldn’t make it more than a few weeks in home hospice, her best friend since middle school was also terminally ill with brain cancer. Even in the throes of her illness, Sue travelled three hours to see my mother and sit by Mom’s bedside holding her hand. As soon as my mother had recovered enough to make the trip, she returned Sue’s kindness with a visit to her. One of our favorite photos is of the two beaming friends with their arms around each other. Sue passed away not long after.

My mother was just like that. When she loved someone or even liked them a lot (and she liked just about everyone!), she was there for them – no matter what. Over these past seven years, she’s made myriad Mason jars full of her famous she-crab soup for friends who were sick or who just needed a pick-me-up, stopped to help people who were broken down on the road (once she even went to an auto parts store to buy oil for a stranger’s car!), used the money she won in a Kentucky Derby party to pay for drinks for her friends, sent birthday cards to everyone she knew, as well as many other kindnesses.

But Mom’s greatest gift over the past seven years – and her whole life in fact – was how she really listened to people – from the guy at the battery store to the lady who owned that cute white dog three streets over. And before the conversation was over, she’d know that person’s name, how many children they had and their favorite restaurant!

After grocery shopping one day, Mom gave a ride to a young woman who was waiting for a cab in the parking lot (even though she always warned me and my sister about picking up strangers!). On the drive, my mother learned that the woman and her husband, who were from Morocco, were having difficulty getting well-paying jobs in the U.S., despite their college educations. My mother, who reached the role of president of her company before she retired, took advantage of the drive time to give the young woman career advice. I have no doubt that her words of wisdom paid dividends for that young woman.

Mom’s “never met a stranger” personality won her countless adoring fans in return. The day before my mother died, I had to go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for her. When the lady behind the counter heard my mother’s name, she asked how Ms. Pat was. I tearfully replied that she wasn’t doing well. The cashier immediately looked distraught: “I’m so sorry to hear that! She has always been such a pillar of strength.”

I’m certain that there are many other cashiers, grocery baggers, waitresses, auto mechanics and other people in the community – whether she saw them weekly or encountered them only once – who were equally impacted by her humor, kindness and uplifting presence.

Fierce love for family

Kindness was Mom’s superpower. Although she shared this power with everyone, Mom always went way above and beyond for her family. When her sister went to live in a nursing home with her husband last year, my mother could only make the trip once because of the distance, but she checked on the two of them several times a week, making sure they were eating well, getting haircuts and in good spirits, etc. She also badgered the nurse for regular information about them. In fact, her check-in call was what tipped off the staff that my aunt had had a massive stroke, which ultimately took her life.

She also was the consummate Mama Bear to me, my sister and her grandkids, supporting us through all the highs and lows of our lives. After she recovered in 2015, she’d travel the 1½ hours to see us, carrying her “Granny bag” filled with goodies. And when she couldn’t visit, we’d receive regular texts and phone calls from her. Mom had a lot of bad days, but she’d never let us know it. Instead, we could hear the smile on her face every time she called.

Two years ago, my 19-year-old niece announced that she was having a baby. This news was a surprise to us all and concerned my mother, who wanted her granddaughter to finish college. But that baby, whom Mom nicknamed the “Crown Prince,” turned out to be one of the greatest joys of my mother’s life. Mom loved spending time with Beckham, lavished him with attention and bragged about him to all her friends. We believe that Beckham was born exactly when Mom needed him the most. To imprint GeeGee on his heart, the family has unofficially named a star after her, and every night they take 2-year-old Beckham outside to say “goodnight” to GeeGee.

Getting the hell out of Dodge

Mom didn’t let her disease stop her from traveling. About a year and a half after my mother’s hospital stay, she, my sister and I took a girls’ trip to St. Michael’s. Toting her oxygen tank, Mom even ventured out on a sailboat with us. When my husband and I moved to a Delaware beach town last year, Mom, Martha and my sister made the almost five-hour trek to see us. The trip wasn’t easy for Mom, but it was important that she see where I was living and that I was happy.

She and her partner, Martha, also travelled to see their friends in Asheville, NC, several times and to visit these same friends in Florida in 2017. My mother, who had not been baptized as a child, had discussed baptism with Martha, who is a devout Lutheran. When they traveled to Florida, Mom decided that she wanted to receive this sacrament in a private ceremony. Adjacent to a canal, in their friends’ backyard, Martha conducted a lay baptism for my mother, her best friend and life partner. It was a monumental event in its own right, but also because it marked the last trip that Mom would make to Florida.

In the months before her death, Mom was having an increasing number of bad days and wasn’t able to travel. Some days she didn’t have the energy to venture beyond her chair in the living room, much less run errands, go out to dinner with Martha or meet her friends for their weekly GNO (Girls Night Out). Being the “screaming extrovert” (her words!) that she was, Mom experienced cabin fever being cooped up for days on end. To give Mom a “carrot” (also her words!), Martha planned a three-day getaway to a nearby town. The photos of our smiling mother slurping oysters on the half shell and drinking Coronas made me and my sister happy beyond words!

Mom and Martha returned home on Wednesday, tired but still on a high from their trip. On Thursday morning Mom didn’t feel like getting out of bed. We thought that it might just be a “trip hangover,” considering how sedentary she had been in the past several months. However, because I had felt the need to see my mother for weeks, I headed home on Friday. My mother was in and out of sleep when I arrived, but she roused from her nap long enough to make sure I had warm socks and plenty of things to read. She even mustered the strength to join me and Martha for dinner that night.

The next morning, Mom was very, very weak. As the day wore on, she became nearly unresponsive. My sister, who had been at a wedding in Jacksonville, drove home that day. Just hours after she arrived on Saturday evening, our mother left us.

We were all shocked and saddened that Mom declined so quickly. But if I know my mother, rallying for that trip was her gift to Martha – to leave her with one final, sweet memory to savor amidst the sadness – and not lingering on the edge of death was her gift to us all. Her last selfless acts.

As my brother-in-law said at her funeral: “Pat Jones was the most generous person I’ve ever met.” We hope that Mom’s spirit will live on in the many people that she touched and the kindness that she inspired. If only we all could leave such a legacy.

Related: How to host a celebration of life

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over 10 years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones