Thursday afternoon she was lucid. She was tired, but that has been the norm for quite some time now. She was aching some all over. But she knew who she was and where she was and who was with her. She understood that we were talking with a social worker from hospice.
She did not have some terrible terminal disease. There was no cancer or ALS or any of the other horrific ways that we have seen people experience the end of life. She had occasional lapses of memory, but who of us at 88 would not have had that. She was not anxious or fearful. She was mostly tired—tired of hurting, tired of not being able to do all the things she had done for her lifetime, tired of being tired.
The social worker was very helpful. She has done this many times no doubt, even though she seemed young to me. We had things in place and the phone calls would be made in the morning to the doctor and to the others who needed to know. There would be a host of other details to attend to, but it would all have to wait until tomorrow.
I had one more conversation with mom. I told her I loved her and she said she loved me too—twice. She had a hard time getting it all out—not because her heart wasn’t willing, but because her lungs and voice were tired too. She nodded as I left the room.
Mom was always someone who gave of herself in countless ways. She was active and contributed to church, school, community, and especially family. She had planned to donate her body to science. We had made those arrangements years ago. Everything that could be in place was previously prepared. She had done something similar with her own father, Cecil Delaney Stockton; he had said following those meetings, “I’ve taken care of the dying—now I can get on with the living.” Wise words there to be sure.
There was a number to call when it was time for the donation to happen. I had informed my sister Julie that I had it. She messaged me later that evening to ask for it again. Mom was not responding to Julie’s voice and she had called an ambulance. We had a brief exchange of texts; mom was going to be transported to University of Tennessee Medical Center by ambulance. I asked Julie if she wanted me to come; she said, “Yes.”
We arrived and checked in with the attendant. Mom was not yet in a room. We were directed to wait. We sat in the waiting area and greeted Julie when she arrived. There was knitting and conversation. There were anxious people in the room with us. There was a young woman crying oﬀ and on between phone messages. There was no one who wanted to be there, but we all knew we had to be.
In a little bit they called for members from the Stockton family. We walked over to hear the report. They directed me alone to head back to the orange area of the ER. I found my way, although it took a few minutes to ﬁnd mom. She was still on the stretcher on which she had been transported. She was not responsive.
The attending physician, a young woman who was very empathetic and professional, told me about mom’s condition. Her blood pressure was down to 44/20; her heart rate was weak. The doctor asked about what to do next. She had seen mom’s Five Wishes, a form of advance directives, that stated that there were to be no heroic measures. When it was her time to go, then it was time to go. I discussed that with the doctor as well—no more medicines, no more machines, no more methods that would delay what was now so imminent.
They cleared a room and wheeled mom in and transferred her to the bed. They were hooking up a monitor for her heart. I felt her hand—it was cold; of course, mom’s hands were usually cold and she wore gloves much of the time in the past few years. I asked that Julie and Laura be allowed back to the room as soon as possible. I held mom’s left hand that was wearing a green knit glove. The doctor looked for a pulse in her chest, her carotid, but there was none. The next moment Julie and Laura entered to hear the words, “she’s gone.”
It was quiet and peaceful. It spared the staﬀ and the family any more worries or concerns. It meant that we would not be needing hospice and the equipment and more records and forms. It meant that there would be no prolonged hospital stays and the expenses that would go with it. It meant that Hester Ellen Stockton had ﬁnally arrived at that “echoless shore” from which she would not be called back.
Her eldest great-grandson was the one who coined the name “Hester the Great.” And in so many ways she was, indeed, just that. She had a great love of life. She had a great love of music. She enjoyed great literature and poetry (She was an excellent poet herself—we have volumes to prove it.). She enjoyed great adventure and was ready to travel at the drop of a hat. She enjoyed a great family which she had traced down through courthouse records, church registers, and graveyards for years. She was great in a great many ways, and I am grateful that she was my mother.
Living and dying are two sides of the same coin. The way we face one is how we think of the other. If we are fearful and anxious and worried about death, then we will ﬁnd our days ﬁlled with those feelings as well. If we are conﬁdent and courageous and calm about death, then those character traits will be present as we make our way through these days. Hester the Great was very much the latter. Death is not to be feared or avoided. It is the beginning of the last great adventure. She always loved adventure.
There are a million more stories to be told about Hester the Great. She journaled and wrote constantly throughout her life; we’ve got pages and pages to explore. I have many more stories that have shaped me and my life than I could tell; in the days to come I probably will share some of them here. But for right now this short story of her peaceful passing is enough; it is suﬃcient in its own right to oﬀer a life lesson.