Stephen Thompson and his mother, who became his hero through her strength, dignity, and love.
It was five years in May since my mother used FEN to help her leave. It’s taken me this long to feel okay about sharing our adventure.
On a regular, random Saturday, she said, “Sit down, I have something I need to tell you.” I thought she had cancer. She said, “I have decided to take my own life. I’ve been doing research online about assisted suicide and found this place called Final Exit. I have sent them my medical records and am just waiting for the approval.”
I told her absolutely not. If she wanted to go through with this idea, I would not support her. She would have to tell me goodbye and then have Peter, her husband, call and tell me it was over.
Mom had Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, and a list of other issues. She had a constant tremor in her hand and suffered debilitating pain.
She looked at me with moist eyes and said, “Do you really want me to go on living like this” – her hands shaking, becoming unable to walk or feed herself? She said, “I can’t paint anymore. I can’t draw or make quilts. I am no longer able to write or email. I’m becoming trapped inside this body that is in constant pain.
“I refuse to be held hostage by this disease or by the medical community just waiting to die. I refuse to become a burden on you, Ronnie, or Peter.”
I felt trapped in a corner. No, I didn’t want her to go on living like that, but I didn’t want her to leave, either. I told her I could not support her decision. I hugged her neck, and my husband and I left.
We didn’t say a word on the drive back to our house. Stunned silence. Quiet disbelief. Those minutes on the drive home would be the beginning of a four-month adventure that still seems surreal.
By the time we got home, I had changed my mind. I called and told her I would support whatever decision she made. I told her, if she was doing it to not be a burden, I could not support her decision, but her decision to end the pain and suffering was probably the most noble thing I had ever witnessed.
Whatever she needed me to do, I would do it with enthusiasm. From that point, the world seemed to be different. I couldn’t talk about what I was going through with anyone; I had never felt so isolated.
Mom said someone from FEN would call to talk with me. The next day, my phone rang and it was FEN. She told me who she was, made sure she had the right person, and we talked for over an hour. Then she said, “Your mother’s death day is May 25.”
Out of all we were going through, everything we were trying to come to terms with, those seven words were the hardest to hear. It still rings in my head like an echo through a dark canyon. You will never be prepared to hear those words.
My mother asked me to move in with them, and I did. We had three months left, and she said, “I want us to be a family one more time before I leave.”
It was three months of tears and laughter. It was an emotional roller-coaster that I could have missed had I not been there for her. Now, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
She has twin granddaughters in Florida. I called and told them they needed to come say goodbye. “Why, what happened,” they asked. “Is she worse? Is she in the hospital? Why is it time to say goodbye?”
A thousand questions, and I had to hold the truth. I bought them airline tickets for the next weekend. They flew up and we all had a nice visit. As I was driving them back to the airport, they said, “Uncle Steve, you’re overreacting. She doesn’t seem any worse. Why did you make us come up here?”
Silence. I couldn’t tell them.
But I had an awesome idea! Both my nieces make quilts, like my mom. I asked them to make a quilt of her favorite articles of clothing. So, Mom and I went through her closet, picked out clothes that she liked and shipped them to the twins. I insisted it be made quickly, and they couldn’t understand why. I thought it would be something special for Peter to have once she was gone.
They mailed the quilt with one week remaining. She gave it to Peter, and it was powerful. He placed it on the back of the couch, and it’s still there. I walk by it when I visit him and have memories of those clothes in that quilt.
I left her house on May 24 so she and Peter could have the last night alone. She and I had breakfast the next morning. When the angel from FEN arrived, I left. We agreed that she and Peter be alone to say goodbye.
Mom walked me to the door, obviously in pain. I said, “I love you to the moon and back, forever.” She giggled and said, “That’s a really long way.”
We hugged and she said, “You’ll always be my little boy blue. Son, I hope you know that I love you and that you’ve always mattered to me.”
I turned and walked out the door. It was over. I’ve never cried so hard in my life. About an hour later, Peter called and told me it really was over, and he had called the police. They were on their way and might want to speak with me, but nothing came of it.
I make it a point not to see people in their caskets. I never have wanted that image of them lying there burned into my memory. I walked into the chapel accidentally as Peter was saying goodbye. I almost bolted, but I saw her hands, perfectly still. No more tremors, no more pained expression – she looked at peace for the first time in years. I touched her hand and told her, “Thank you; you done good.”
The funeral director told me the casket she paid for 20 years ago was no longer available. There was a price difference, and I owed money. I asked, “How much?”
He said, “$12.”
I laughed out loud and said, “Thanks Mom!”
I’m sorry if this is too long or wordy. She was amazing, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to say goodbye. We had time to make amends and talk about things long-buried that I never thought would come up again.
Having the opportunity that FEN provided my family gave me a new understanding of how temporary all of this really is and to not take one moment for granted. I can honestly say this adventure changed me.
The day after her funeral, I woke up around 3 a.m. At the hotel, in the small town where she was buried, I took my dog outside to use the bathroom. It was pitch black, hot and balmy, like only Southern nights can be.
I turned on my phone and saw a Facebook post from someone I didn’t know. “Proverbs 31:25” was all it said. We are not religious, but I knew Proverbs was from the Bible, so I Googled it: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.”
A chill went down my spine and a feeling of calm washed over me. I knew she had figured out a way to let me know she was okay. Another surreal moment in this adventure.
It doesn’t matter if anyone ever reads this. Mom, I hope you know how proud I am of you. You will always be my hero for doing what you did. A hero without a cape. An inspiration I am unable to share. I’m very, very proud to have been your son.
By Stephen Thompson