Death was not to be a leap: it was to be a long descent under thickening shadows.
George Elliot – The Mill on the Floss (1860)

My mother is eighty-eight. She has congestive heart failure. She has a pacemaker. She takes medications. Her breathing is labored. She is tired. She has no energy or interests. Food has no taste. She has no quality of life and she isn’t dead. She is in Limbo Land.

Mom came down with a cough and cold about six weeks ago. The doctor was alerted that her usually “I am doing the best I can with what I’ve got” attitude had changed to irritation, low-level anger, hopelessness, and increased depression. The talk became whether or not her anti-depressant medication should be increased. Next came the hallucinations and inability to track time and space. Where am I? What day is it?

So, the first phase of her current decline was accelerated because depression apparently is the ultimate evil in our current society. Depress means to deject or cast a gloom over, to press down, to lower, to diminish the vigor of.

The doctor’s attention was diverted into the psychological realm. My mother persisted. “ Something is wrong. I don’t feel well at all and I’m not getting better!” To placate her, they did new tests. They found that her potassium and sodium levels were extremely low and her cold had progressed to pneumonia.

The side effects of lowered electrolytes are irritation, depression, low-level anger and hallucinating. This was a physical problem. She had been dismissed as a complaining and difficult nutcase.

The underlying difficulty that I see is the ever-increasing lack of respect for our elders. My mother has crossed over into the ranks of the useless and unproductive; therefore, she can be more easily dismissed in our make-it-happen, production-oriented society.

My mother is in the process of dying. She is alive partly because of advanced technology and pharmaceuticals. She is a major consumer of the medical system now. Her heart is artificially stimulated when it falters.

She has been hospitalized for the past three weeks. They took her off of all the medications that had leeched her system of potassium and sodium. They needed to get those levels back to normal. She contracted a contagious staph infection and they were treating it with super-strength antibiotics.

She thought she was dying. So did everyone else. She spent two days hallucinating, with family members dressed in scrubs, surrounding her bed. She wanted to die. She was ready. She intended to complete the task. After two days traveling the Universe, she sat up and was lucid again. The doctor stopped by and announced that her sodium and potassium levels had returned and the pneumonia and staph infection had diminished. Welcome back.

Dying is a process. It is not a product. Living is also a process. It is not a product. Is my mother going to die soon? Yes. Her life is receding.
Many of the experiences of both living and dying are the same. Both can be all consuming. Tedious. Boring. Frightening. Anxiety producing. Confusing. Energy draining. They both require patience, a willingness to embrace the unknown, a letting go of control, an acknowledgment of loss and a willingness to feel helpless and sad.

My mother is in Limbo Land. I am there with her. I am also required to function in the Land of the Living and carry out my daily responsibilities and involvements.

Just off to the left, in a space in my heart, I sit and hold my mother’s hand and smile at her face. I tell her not to worry, she is safe and it will be all right.

How do I know? I don’t. Luckily, the part of my heart that is made for the purpose of mothering the scared and confused child, no matter what stage of life we are in, speaks the language of life and love by whispering: “There, there…don’t be afraid. Everything is going to be all right. You are safe and you are not alone. You are loved.”

Author's Bio: 

Susan offers workshops in Laguna Beach California on the Dynamics of Intuition and is the author of: Beyond Intellect: Journey Into the Wisdom of Your Intuitive Mind. Learn more at or