What We Remember At The End

My macho brother and his not-so-macho station wagon.

My macho brother and his not-so-macho station wagon.

Two women slid into the pew directly in front of me as the church service started.  The younger led her mother by the hand.  The tiny, elderly woman was a bit unsteady on her feet, but her eyes were bright and as inquisitive as a bird’s.

As soon as they sat down, Mom asked for a cough drop.  She attempted a whisper, but her question boomed out for the entire congregation to hear.  It seemed her hearing wasn’t so great.

Later in the service she sneezed.  This mundane event seemed to catch her totally by surprise; she was delighted with herself.  She laughed out loud with the glee of a little child, as if sneezing were a strange and wonderful event.  I couldn’t help but smile.  I also couldn’t help but feel sad that her mind, as well as her hearing, was slipping away.

The daughter had to remind her mother when to sit, stand or kneel.  This woman, who had no doubt been the one to patiently teach her child these rituals many years ago, now merely copied the movements.  The ritual no longer held meaning for her.

Or so I thought.

At one point during the mass, the congregation knelt in prayer.  I could see the elderly woman’s profile clearly.  She looked solemnly and intently at the altar, then made the sign of the cross without prompting, doing so deliberately and with reverence.

The last time I saw my brother, Pat, he was in a hospice.  The cancer that had started in his brain would soon claim his life.  He would leave behind a large, loving family including a wife and four very small children.  Due to the cancer and the massive doses of morphine they had given him to dull the pain, he had slipped into a state that was mostly unconscious.  He could no longer communicate.

My parents, several siblings and I were gathered around his bed.  My Dad suggested the family pray together, and he began the Rosary.  The rest of us joined in the familiar prayers, but emotion overwhelmed us.  One by one, our voices faltered.  Dad continued on, his voice low and steady, leading his family as he always had.  He called to his son in the twilight world Pat now inhabited, and Pat answered.

Pat’s eyes were still closed, but his lips started to move.  It was clear he knew what he struggled to whisper; the prayers he had learned as a child at this same father’s knee.  They were words and meanings still remembered, still sacred, even at the end of life:

                  “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”

What will we treasure at the end, when most of what seemed important in this life is revealed to be extraneous?

What will I remember?

What will you hold tight to?

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Happy Birthday, little brother, forever young.  Be’s lovin’.

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About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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73 Responses to What We Remember At The End

  1. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I will try to hold tight to the moments I was fortunate enough to spend with my family. That means more to me than anything these days.

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  2. You’re making me cry here Peg! So beautifully written. I hope that what I will hold tight to is the memory that however bad things get, we must always find time for a smile and a laugh with those dearest to us.

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  3. notquiteold says:

    So sweet. Thank you for sharing this memory.

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  4. bigsheepcommunications says:

    You made me cry too. Sending you a virtual hug.

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  5. The car is doing it’s best to shoulder a macho pose. Seriously. Style makes up for a lot when you are young. That’s a nice image to hang on to.
    Your dad sounds a lot like mine – I’m sure that response by his son meant a lot to him.
    As a new day begins here, all I can say is Hugs, good memories, and family will endure.

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  6. mistyslaws says:

    Aw, Peg. This was so sad, but sweet. I am so sorry you lost your brother at such a young age. I’m sure he’s looking down at you today with his party hat on. Happy Birthday to him!

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  7. lexiemom says:

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your brother, Peg. Only the good die young!

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    • pegoleg says:

      I know that is just a saying, but it does seem to be true, doesn’t it? Or maybe we just invest all sorts of good qualities in people who die young – hard to know. Thanks.

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  8. lisaspiral says:

    So sorry for your loss. What a sweet memory to share.

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  9. So very touching and beautiful. Hugs to you as remember and mourn.

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  10. The Lord’s Prayer’s automaticity always touches me.

    This is beautiful. I’m sorry for your family’s loss and for yours.

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    • pegoleg says:

      I very much appreciate the sympathy, but I don’t want people to think that was why I wrote this. Your first line is the point – the power that faith and prayer can have to touch us in very elemental ways.

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  11. What a big sister you are! Still “taking care” of your little brother. 🙂 What an incredible memory to have of him joining you all in prayer. Very beautifully written, Peg. Thoughts and prayers heading your way.

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  12. Al says:

    Now that I am composed again after reading this heartfelt tribute to your brother I will answer your question. I will hold tight to so many wonderful family memories and the love that poured out from those closest to me. I’ve been blessed in this life and I’m so thankful for it.

    May you also feel the comfort from the warm memories of your brother on his birthday.

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  13. D'Alta says:

    I have had the privilege of being with several family members as they prepared to exit from this life, each one doing it in their own way. And when I was a pastor, I shared these moments with parishioners and their families. Leave-taking from this life can be long and laborious or it can happen in an instant. Some people do it bitterly; others gracefully.

    My mother’s mother danced to the edge of life and back several times in the last month of her life. Her pastor declared that she was having too much fun to leave. I think that she stuck around long enough to repair rifts in the family: to bring cousins–who had not known each other as children–together; to make sure that her youngest daughter–my mother from whom she had been estranged due to a falling out with my father–would be taken care of in her elder years; to make her family whole in her departure.

    We laughed. We ate vanilla ice cream and lemon meringue pie–her favorites. No longer any need for Ensure, although she would sip the butterscotch flavor just to satisfy nursing staff. I would get word that she was not expected to make it through the night, throw things into a bag, and drive three hours to say good-by. When I arrived at her hospital bed, she would be awake, alert, ready to share late night secrets. These moments, bittersweet as they were, made up a bit for the grudge-wasted, lost years.

    Sometimes we just sat together, holding hands. Sometimes grief forced me from her hospital room, my sobs and the ugly cry overtaking me. I longed to go for one last drive with her, take her to visit my mom, visit a restaurant that she loved. The best we could do was to bundle her up and wheel her hospital bed out into the late April sun and chill wind.

    Itchy feet is what people said she had. If given a chance to go, she went. Perhaps that was why she was a run-away bride. Perhaps this is why she turned down a marriage proposal that would have made her last days more comfortable. She was an only child, the apple of her parents’ eye. I imagine she was a spirited child. A photograph taken when she was twelve or thirteen shows a beautiful child with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Mischief maker she was, all of her one hundred and two years…that for her and me were about one hundred and two years too short. Thank God she stuck around for that last dance…

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    • pegoleg says:

      How lovely! Thank you for sharing this intimate experience with your grandma. 102 – no way she got short-changed on life, even though you wish she’d had more time.

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    • Al says:

      I hope a lot of people read your response, D’alta

      You have struck a vital chord. It’s difficult to watch close relatives die, but it’s also a time when honesty and deep feelings come to the fore. It’s a release for the dying and a catharsis for us. It one of the most wonderful legacies that the dying leave….the chance to talk, embrace, express without judgment or the trappings of political correctness.

      Despite the feelings of grief, there is a tenderness in the moments of passing that is its own reward, in a way. I hope I am able to give that to my family as my parents and grandparents gave it to me.

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  14. diahannreyes says:

    A lovely remembering of your brother.

    It’s amazing how the people we love can stay alive for us inside our memories. I know I like to “visit” w/my grandmother that way. I close my eyes and I’m 8 and with her in her house in the Philippines.

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  15. JoanneBest says:

    My Mom’s birthday was spent in the hospital, she fell and broke her shoulder but in the way things seem to work for the elderly (she turned 84 that day) there were complications…the day of her Birthday my Dad and I were both with her when the Priest came to visit, Mom was being released the next day to rehab for her shoulder but we welcomed the Priest and said Prayers together, my Mom received Communion then we celebrated with lemon ice because she wasn’t allowed to eat cake yet. I left the hospital feeling good, knowing my Mom was being released to a rehab and I’d see her the next day. Unfortunately the next morning at 5am the rehab place called to tell me my Mom passed away… the only thing that made me feel a little bit better was knowing the last time I saw her we Prayed together and our last words to each other were the same words we always said to each other every time we left each other, “I love you”… 6 months later I am still holding on to that…. God Bless you and your Family, I’m sure Pat is looking down at you, full of love and pride. Hugs xox

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  16. Mary K. says:

    oh Peg-such a sad memory for us all but of course, we know he sees all of us and knows what is in our heart. I always have Mass said for him on his birthday and when they said the intentions I was with 2 preschoolers that had to go to the bathroom. I missed it but before Mass I said a prayer to the Lord for Pat. AND then I read your blog here before I’m leaving for BC and have been trying to get my hands on any info of oli’s for the next round for Lib-I can’t stop crying. Thanks alot!

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    • pegoleg says:

      Oh Mar, I left the office to go to mass this morning and as soon as I got in the car I started crying. Couldn’t make it. I ended up driving around. It’s been rainy for days, but the sun suddenly came out for an hour so I drove through Starved Rock, one of the prettiest fall drives in the Midwest. Came back to the office as it clouded over again. We have to have faith that Lib will be OK, that all of this happens for a reason. Although for the life of me, I can’t figure it out.

      Love you, sis.

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      • I can’t figure it out myself, Peg. The news hurts and makes me feel anxious. And then Pat’s birthday yesterday was equally poignant and memorable.
        I read your post Fri after school, this after I learned TH afternoon that I’m being laterally transferred back to Republic HS, starting there Mon, Nov 11th. What the ……?
        Next Fri ends 10 weeks of bootcamp at the MS, as I formulated last night.
        So surreal; doing better today.
        Alisha’s baby shower was fun, you were missed!
        Love ya! T

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  17. I am deeply sorry you lost your brother at such a young age, Peg. I type this with tears in my eyes. I’ve been thinking about death a lot this week, (my own mom is ailing) and what I would want to say to my loved ones before I leave this world.

    It all comes down to one thing. Love. That is all. For me it’s love for each other and for God. It encompasses everything and is the one true connection between us all. All that other minor stuff falls away as it should. I want to live my life like that now, before I die. Although I miss my dad and all my grandparents, my faith that we will be together again is a huge source of comfort to me. I try to focus on the loved ones I have beside me now as well. Big hugs to you, Peg.

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    • pegoleg says:

      Darla, I’m so sorry your mom isn’t doing well. Even though we know death is an integral, natural part of life, that doesn’t make it any easier.

      Thank you for your wise and wonderful words – you are so right. I need to remind myself daily of the POINT of this life, to be love and share love with others and God. I want to be that person, but I lose sight of the goal so, so often.

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  18. Pleun says:

    What a beautiful memory of a very sad event. Hugs and love Peg.

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  19. momshieb says:

    How wonderful for your brother that you hold his memory so dear, and that you still love him and his memory. I hope to be so lucky when I am the one who moves on to the next phase; to have people still here on earth who remember me with love and laughter. I’m sorry that you lost your brother too soon, but happy that you had that sweet and touching experience with your Dad and with your siblings.
    As for me, I will hold onto those key moments of love in my life. My wedding day, the births of my children, the death of my father, every Christmas morning, every hug, every “I love you”. Thanks for reminding us all of what is truly important!

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  20. Elyse says:

    Oh Peg,

    I wish that I could say something meaningful, something helpful. Something right. But in truth, I don’t understand loss. Or death. Or the whys that we all begin to ask just as soon as we can talk. I don’t understand your losses or mine. Except, sometimes. Sometimes I get that it is time to go. Like when the party is over, the food is gone, and the needle of the record player is stuck there in the middle. Then, yeah, I get it. But still. IT SUCKS.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      I know you’ve experienced loss of your siblings, Elyse. I love the “party’s over” – great way to think about this unfathomable business!

      Like

      • Elyse says:

        It’s easier to think of it that way when someone is sick. Because watching anyone, but especially someone you love suffer, makes the end of suffering bearable. A little bit, anyway.

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  21. Sandy Sue says:

    This is so beautiful, Peg. My heart to yours.

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  22. A lovely tribute and reminder to all to focus on what truly matters.

    Your post reminds me of one of my favorite sayings, “The days are long but the years are short.” The older I get the more I realize how true that is.

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  23. So beautiful. I wish I could think of more to say, but really . . . just that. With tears, some sad, some grateful.

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  24. Hugs to you, Peg. It will be 20 years this December since my own brother died. He remembered Christmas Eve was his favourite day and so although it was already the 25th when we brought him home from the hospital, we had our family’s traditional German Christmas Eve celebrations at his house that night. It was hard, but he really wanted to be sure we all got the presents he had chosen for us.

    I think it’s something very special when our memories and the memories of our dying loved ones are able to intertwine when we need it the most.

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    • pegoleg says:

      My sympathies to you. What a bittersweet memory. I think loss of a sibling takes away a vital piece of your childhood.

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      • Our childhood memories are still intact. More clear than ever, really. We were inseparable — even though we had different lives, jobs, etc. — for 29 years. He was 3 years older than me but people often saw us as twins, or had me down as the older sister. My oldest brother is 7 years ahead of me so although we are close, it’s never been the same kind of relationship.

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  25. Greg Urbano says:

    Touching memory, thank you for sharing.

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  26. Indeed, what will we remember? As we put the For Sale sign out on the front lawn yesterday, I was struck by the fact “It’s really happening. You can yank it out now and reverse things.” No, I can’t reverse things. It’s time. With a lump in my throat and something I just can’t get out of my eye, thank you for reminding me, it will be all right having the memories.
    I love this post, Peg. I have reflected often on the notion of “writing from memory, a memory for writing.” I think writers — like you– capture both skillfully.

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    • pegoleg says:

      Aw thanks< gEORGETTE. Moving is exciting, but it is a big loss. I almost can't drive by my childhood home without feeling I have the right to go through that front door and make myself at home, becqause it is. MY home. And always will be. Good luck with the new adventure.

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  27. Barb says:

    Thanks for lovingly sharing this intimate scene from your family. Our churches are so anxious to modernize liturgy, and I understand why, but you show there’s truly something to give comfort and assurance in the words long embedded in our hearts. May time and healing ease your loss.
    What do I hold onto? I know we’ll all meet again. And it’ll be even better.

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  28. PinotNinja says:

    Only you — and a man who could wear white short shorts with such aplomb — could manage to make tears stream out of my eyes while a gigantic smile spreads across my face.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Ha ha! Can’t believe guys used to wear those. Back in the day, those short shorts were da bomb. My little brother was bit of a stud, as well as a genuinely nice guy.

      Like

  29. My heart is with you, your brother, and the rest of your family. This was a hard one to read.

    I keep a daily journal, noting all kinds of things for which I grateful or simply things I notice. I don’t know when my end will be–no one does. I hope to to remember that I was grateful every day for something and that it was all important.

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  30. Yes, I am in tears as I read this. It brings to mind the last time I saw my Mom, my Dad and many more and how much prayer of any kind can bring comfort. Your brother praying with you at the end was truly a gift to cherish, always. Thank you for sharing this poignant memory.

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  31. amelie88 says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your brother. I am sure wherever he is, he knows how much you love him and how much you care for him.

    The description of the elderly lady reminds me a lot of my grandmother–she had dementia and unfortunately I never got to know the “real” her because I think she was already slowly deteriorating by the time I formed any memories of her. I realize now years later she wasn’t all mentally there, especially by the time I hit middle school. Her passing was hard, because we all knew it was coming (I don’t think I’ve cried so hard in my life, the very last time I saw her in the nursing home because I knew it would be the last time I saw her alive).

    But they’re all in a better place. She is back with her Joe and I am sure your brother has found some other relatives too. 🙂

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  32. Bill The Praise And Worship Guy says:

    Thanks, Peg, just getting to reading this today, teary-eyed at my computer at work. Love to you and the gang

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  33. Libertarian says:

    Reading this a bit later than the rest. I’ve been avoiding it, and rightly so… it’s bringing many tears to the old eyes!! Why do you do that to me, Peg?? Seriously, a beautiful remembrance of an amazingly strong guy. I hope he is able to see the beautiful post you wrote…

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