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Encounters with Kindness

“We must risk delight . . . We must have the stubbornness

to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”

- Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven -

My mother Elinor Davis Erni passed away September 3rd, seven years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Only days before she died, my sister described our mother in these poignant words —"She remains fragile, tenacious and courageous.”

Alzheimer’s is a wicked disease. My mother faded over these past years from a funny, smart, beautiful woman whose outlook was invariably sunny, to a soul whose body and mind had abandoned her, bit by excruciating bit. Even as she, and those around her saw, heard, and felt this fading, her spirited demeanor and stubborn persistence of eighty-five years refused to give up.

My sister and I began grieving from the day Mom was diagnosed, when she couldn’t draw the face of a clock or repeat three words after hearing them. I was shocked at how she’d wasted away in just the four months since I’d seen her, now on regular doses of morphine and Ativan, not eating or drinking. On the fourth night after I’d arrived, Gerri received the nurse’s call that Mom had died. We hurriedly gathered our things before driving back to say our last good-bye. My sister stopped, and looked at me.

“Do you need a hug?”


We embraced there in her kitchen, relief that our mother was no longer in pain whirling around with the loss.

“Now we’re really orphans,” she whispered, and picked up the keys.

I cried the most during those four days sitting by Mom’s bedside. The tears came each time I heard the many stories from the caretakers, nurses, hospice, and others who had bathed, carried, sang, prayed, held, exercised, washed, fed, cajoled, and laughed with Elinor for so long. Those same selfless, kind, infinitely compassionate people were a web of support and care for my sister who had committed her days to making sure our mother was as happy and comfortable as possible right up to the end.

Kindness makes you cry and shake with gratitude, and those tears become a crucible where grief, remorse, and the less kind memories we carry can be healed. The kindness I felt while my mother lay dying has left me with hope in the ‘ruthless furnace' of our world. Like my sister’s hug. Unforgettable, and so needed.

- For my mother and sister -


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