A Message from the dead….

What if you sit many hours by a dying woman’s side and she many times begs you to deliver a final message to her daughter?

My aunt Marjorie was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer in the autumn of 1995 and died in January of 1996.  My mother and I largely took care of her.  My aunt had been visiting her daughter when she received the diagnosis and she never went home.  But her daughter was unable to do all that needed to be done, so she asked my mother to become the primary caretaker.   She also had me fly in for several periods throughout the illness.

One time the daughter, my cousin, needed to go on a Disney cruise with her children to console her because her mother was dying (no, I don’t understand her logic but the optics were not lost on me).  Her mother asked me repeatedly to see to it that this daughter would make sure her own daughter received  a college education.  It was my aunt’s regret that she had never gone to a university.  She wanted this so much for her granddaughter.

Many times she clutched my wrist and looked earnestly at me and said:  “Please tell Barbara that she must send Norah to college.”   In truth, I rather assumed that Barbara was planning to do that in the fullness of time.  But her mother kept telling me:  “Please tell Barbara that my final wish is that Norah go to college.”

Months after Marjorie died, I wondered if I should share that her final thoughts had been about the future college education of her granddaughter.   She had become monomaniacal about the issue.  And she was not speaking too much to Barbara, who was assuming the role of Camille.

Several months later, I decided that I did owe it to Marjorie to let her family know what her final wish was.  I had made a promise.  Of course, it might insult her daughter, but it also might enlighten her as to the inner nature of her mother—facing death, Marjorie regrets her own lack of formal higher education and is determined that her granddaughter get one.

22 years later and I remain the family pariah.  I told Barbara (with as much diplomacy as possible) about her mother’s thoughts.  Barbara decided that I was drunk and/or on drugs and/or mentally ill.

What do the dead know?  What do the dying know?  Are we obligated to convey the thoughts that they urgently want to convey?  Are they capable of understanding the relevance of their messages?  I think that my cousin’s older brother believed that I was “stirring the shit” by speaking of his mother’s thoughts.

These cousins “out-sourced” the care of their dying mother.  She knew it.  She must have been furious that her daughter was snatching the final prima-donna moment away from her.  Family life is  dark and murky.

I’ve become a lot less compassionate since then.  I will no longer go running to the call of entitled people.



Author: Gubbinal

Bookish, tea-drinking cat-lady who loves great poetry and music and is in the midst of dying

2 thoughts on “A Message from the dead….”

  1. There’s compassionate and there’s an absence of compassion: there’s no telling some people who lack any shred of compassion themselves. It certainly was a quandary you’d been faced with and it’s difficult, even with hindsight, to know how best to have played it. It may be the daughter I’d feel for, the one most likely to lose out from it all.

    As for estrangement, you don’t spell out how the falling-out might have otherwise affected a relationship that looked to be rocky anyway; but it sounds as if, after a score of years, you have nothing to reproach yourself about even if you regret that the estrangement happened.


    1. Thank you for your response. I reflect often about what would have been the wise thing to do. I hope that if I have any deathbed messages that seem imperative that I will deliver them to the recipient. A promise to the dead is a problem when it conflicts with the needs of the living. I would love to know what was dominant in my mother’s mind as she was dying (she had aphasia) even if it would have disturbed my universe. The rest, after all, is bound to be silence.

      Liked by 1 person

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