Children and parents cope with dying loved one

April 2009

When Suzanne Montgomery’s mother, Margene Snyder, came to visit from Chicago last December, the Montgomery household – which includes five children – never expected she would die in their home in February.

“We didn’t know if our children should be exposed to all of this,” recalled Suzanne of her mother’s death. “But it turned out that this was the right place for her to pass away.”

“Cece,” as she was known to her grandchildren, developed bronchitis shortly before she was to return home. Although she had been diagnosed earlier with lung cancer, she’d been given a 50-50 chance of surviving another five years. But the doctor who saw her for the bronchitis said she had only a few weeks and recommended Mission Hospice.

“Hospice means that someone is dying, so it’s hard to accept,” Suzanne admitted, adding that her doctor told her most people don’t enter hospice until 48 hours before death. She knew that was way too short a time to receive the most from hospice care.

Social worker Karrie Kaiser met with Suzanne for an assessment and Susan Freyberg, RN, became the case manager. The hospice staff also suggested that Chaplain Linda Siddall pay a visit to help explain the situation to the family children.

“Linda sat with all the kids for 11/2 hours, listened to them and answered all their questions,” said Suzanne. “My 10-year-old son was scared because he thought his grandma would look like a zombie. Linda explained that she might look different, but she wouldn’t be a zombie.”

Suzanne said all of the children took part in caring for Cece.

“My 13-year-old stepchildren fought to be with her. My 7-year-old was proud to help her take her shower,” she recalled. “The children came together in a way that I really didn’t expect. The kids would go out and pick flowers for her and they weren’t afraid. Even our little dog Tulip learned to stay off the bed and where to sit.”

The Monday before she died, Cece wanted to go outside, so Suzanne and her handyman helped get her down the stairs and outside for a wheelchair stroll in the yard. “It was perfect,” said Suzanne, “but I wondered if it was the right thing to do considering how sick she was. When Susan (Freyberg) arrived, she said ‘No, it was absolutely the right thing. This was probably her last burst of energy.’ We did it because it felt right.”

Suzanne and daughter Gracie slept with Cece Tuesday night. “In a weird way, I felt like a midwife,” said Suzanne. “It’s like you’re helping with a transition.”

As time went on, Suzanne noticed that every wrinkle in her mother’s face disappeared. “She looked like she was 40 instead of 80,” Suzanne said. “I told her, ‘You’re doing such a beautiful job of letting go.’ I think it was because of all the support we had that she was able to relax like that. After she died, Linda (Siddall) came and gave a blessing and all the kids were there. It was a sad time, but it was a magical time, a life-affirming time.”