Nora’s Corner

Nora Gibson

It’s the Thought that Counts

My mother, Joan Gibson, found her “way out” on Sunday, September 29, 2013.

Unfortunately, she passed the day before a special event I had scheduled for her at Gaffney House, where she lived for almost her last year-and-a-half. My daughter, Anne Stabler Moore, and I were going to stage a partial recreation of Anne’s August wedding, which Mom had to miss because she was no longer able to leave the house.

We were planning to dress up in our wedding finery and have flowers, cake, champagne, and sparkling cider. Then we would enact part of the wedding ceremony, and I had even hoped to perform the soon-to-be-classic mother-daughter choreographed dance that we did at the wedding to the song “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk.

I ordered the cake and we planned our celebration for the afternoon of Monday, September 30th.  But Mom contracted a chest cold the previous Friday and passed away surprisingly quickly.

During her final days, I reflected on the wonderful, but often difficult, realization of my vision for Gaffney House. We had been fighting upstream against an outmoded model that dominates the memory care industry while seeking out families that aren’t aware of the alternatives. It’s ironic that Gaffney House owes its success, in part, to that very industry, by providing an environment for people with dementia to thrive, after they’ve had an unsuccessful stint in a traditional memory care facility.

The care and commitment and love the Gaffney House “family” feels for our residents permeates the place. They have also become expert at understanding the dying process.  It was so comforting to have our anxieties reassured as we accompanied Mom on her journey.

One of our young AmeriCorps staff had planned a whole series of activities for the residents leading up to the planned wedding reenactment. A week after it had been called off she told me, “It’s the thought that counts. That’s what I always have to say to myself when what I’m planning doesn’t work out. It’s the thought that counts.”

She’s so right.

Mom’s last night was spent under the watchful eyes of Teresa, one of our first employees in Gaffney House and our other memory care home, Buchanan Place. Mom learned Teresa’s name when she moved in, and toward the end, when she could barely move, she still reached out for her when she saw her.  When I arrived Sunday morning, Mom was unconscious. Teresa said, “I just told Joan that pretty soon she was going to have a glass of Chardonnay with her mother.” Teresa had noticed that Mom’s mother was “with her now almost all the time.”

I’ve heard that sometimes people who are dying need to know that it’s ok for them to leave. While we were all sitting in her room watching football, one of her favorite pastimes, I decided to let her know it was ok for her to leave. I didn’t say it out loud but just touched her and thought, “It’s ok; we’re ready.”

She died a short while after that. She was headed that way anyway but “it’s the thought that counts.”

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In Loving Memory: Joan Gibson (1926 – 2013)