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Keith Larson: One last gift, just in time, from my mom

Keith Larson with his mother, Darlene
Keith Larson with his mother, Darlene COURTESY OF KEITH LARSON

Losing a mother is a hell of a thing. I learned this a week ago Monday.

They are the most giving of all God’s creatures, mothers. My sprawling, sometimes brawling, family was given perhaps its greatest gift from ours shortly before she died.

Mom was in decent health for almost 81 years. Before Thanksgiving, a case of diverticulitis spiraled into her bloodstream and landed in her lungs.

The infection triggered Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, which makes those tiny sacs in the lungs almost useless. One day she was on a forced-air mask; the next, a ventilator. On the third day we hit the road.

She never regained consciousness. The ventilator was keeping her alive. Her seven kids and 12 grandkids knew this. Thanks to Google, we also knew there was almost no chance she would recover.

Doctors and hospital staff did everything they could for five days as we watched a machine pump our mother’s lungs with air every two and a half seconds. A meeting with the medical team was set for Monday. She had given us authority to do whatever should be done. The question was, could we?

Returning Sunday night to my mom’s house, my sister Kerry was at the dining room table, reading intently.

“Look at this.”

A small booklet titled, “Five Wishes.” A series of propositions helping people lay out how they wish to be treated at the end of their lives and things they want their loved ones to know.

“I thought she had done this. I’ve searched for days and just found it.”

The basics were well-covered. Mom had checked the box stating, I do not want life-support treatment. If it has been started, I want it stopped. She then inserted in her unmistakable cursive, “If I’m in-tubed and someone wants to get here ‘before’ – tough luck. I’ve been around a long time and when yagottago...”

She checked other boxes and added more comments.

- I wish to have others by my side praying for me. “If they want. Or just helping each other let go.”

- I want someone to be with me when it seems death may come at any time. “But should they choose not to, that’s fine with me.”

- I wish for my family members to make peace with each other before my death, if they can. “They can, if they look inward.”

- I wish to have pictures of my loved ones in my room, near my bed. She asked us to include “Robert (Redford), Willie (Nelson) and Tug or Tim (McGraw).”

- I wish for my family, friends, and caregivers to respect my wishes even if they don’t agree with them. “I promise not to interfere with yours!”

Seven blank copies of “Five Wishes” were also in the folder.

The pamphlet’s power lay not in how it spoke to my mother’s medical choices, but in how she spoke to us. Love had written every word. A mother giving one last gift: Peace of mind.

Early the next afternoon the ventilator was turned off. Two hours later my mom gently exhaled into a peace of her own.

Another box had also been checked: I wish to have my family and friends know that I love them. She added “I hope they always have known.”

Always, Mom. But never more than now.

“Five Wishes,” can be found at www.AgingWithDignity.org. Keith Larson can be heard weekdays 9 a.m. - Noon on WBT AM/FM

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