Goodbye Mimi

By Jim Selman | Bio

This has been a sad week. My partner’s mother died at the
age of 94. Even when the end is expected (and perhaps even welcomed after a
long period of decline), it nonetheless has a powerful impact on those who
cared. All of the clichés aside, there just isn’t much to say to the bereaved
other than “I am sorry for your loss.” As we get older, death and dying becomes
a larger part of our day-to-day reality as we lose friends and loved ones. For
“Mimi”, there weren’t many left. She outlived almost everyone of her

My interest in age and the emerging idea of ‘Eldering’
cannot be separated from an appreciation of how death affects us—not simply as
‘the end of life’, but in terms of how our relationship with death affects how
we live. The Eldering workshop I have been leading called “Learning to Die”
provides an opportunity to see that we are all dying from the time we are born:
the question is how will we live until the inevitable moment when we no longer
have a choice.

I did not know Mimi well. She was the mother of someone I
care about and, by extension, I learned a bit of her life in her later years.
Until the end, she lived in her own apartment in what seemed to be an excellent
seniors residence that offered support services, common facilities and some
meals, but which allowed for more or less independent living. Her mind and
memory remained sharp to the very end. She had been a widow for more than 40
years and survived on her husband’s small pension with support and daily care
from her daughter. Her son lived far away and visited from time to time. She
lived a long and honest life.

I don’t think any of us can adequately judge another’s life
at the end. After the fact, we can always tell their story and highlight the
‘wins’ and downplay the ‘losses’, but the fact is that it is never more obvious
than when someone dies that our lives are just that—only stories. When we are
alive, the story seems so real. Once we are gone, most of it doesn’t matter and
what does matter lives in the memories of people who cared. The only difference
between the most famous and accomplished of us and the billions long forgotten
is whether their story lives on. History is only our collective story. And, as
with our individual stories, it is no more true or false than the memories of
those who write it. Even the facts of our past can be interpreted in many ways
depending upon who is the observer—who is writing the story.

In a world where ‘gigabytes’ of digital storage cost
pennies, it is not inconceivable that each of us could write our own story and
leave it in a “family folder” for posterity. We could even include audio and
video records, along with photographs of various artifacts we’ve become
attached to. It seems to me it would take up less space than a cemetery plot
and be a richer and fuller way of memorializing our lives and what we valued
and accomplished during this brief journey called life. Mimi’s grandson had
recorded a two-hour interview with his grandmother in 2004 that he presented to
his mother yesterday. It provided a wonderful opportunity to experience who
Mimi was, her recollections of a life well lived and, most importantly, to
complete the experience of loss and say “Goodbye” once more in the sacred space
of our relationship with that person who gave us life.

Socrates said that we can never have wisdom until we’ve
learned to die. Learning to die is about learning to live without denial or
fear of death, but with full acceptance of the finite nature of our existence
and awareness of what an extraordinary gift it is to be alive.

© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.