Today I noticed something like solace in my friend’s voice when she called to share the story of her mother’s passing. It’s a love story, really. After suffering for years with dementia and painful medical complications her mother’s time had come.

My friend’s parents, although still married, lived in separate care facilities that could meet their needs. Her father’s physical problems required very different care than the ruthless dementia of his life partner.

Every day for four days my friend held her mother’s hands while sitting at her bedside, re-telling happy stories. Occasionally the nurse would join them and listen. Whenever my friend would leave the room, her mother’s hands would tense and stay that way until she returned.

After three days my friend asked the nurse why her mother had not yet let go. Her pain was obvious, although she remained unconscious. The nurse replied after a moment, “Is it possible she’s waiting for someone?”

The only person her mother hadn’t communicated with in her final days was her husband. The dementia had kept them from communicating at all for years. He was too frail to visit. The nurse and my friend arranged a phone call.

When he called she held her phone to her mother’s ear. In the silence she could hear her father speaking softly. He told her he loved her, that he would be ok, and that he was so grateful for all that they had shared together in this life. He told her it was okay to let go.

She died later that night.

The sadness my friend described was not the shallow, attention-seeking pain so often experienced by those of us who have not known or witnessed real connections with each other. While she was relieved her mother’s physical suffering had ended, her sadness encompassed all this love had represented – its birth, its youth and fertility, and now, its death. We spoke about our own loves, our expectations and fulfillments. And how fortunate she was to have been born of such love, and to have been there to facilitate its passing.

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