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Sitting with Wren as she passed away

Sitting with Wren as she passed away - Love Jo by Jo Cooper

One of the treasures of my life has been my close friendship with my mother-in-law. I wonder how often those words have been spoken in the English language?

I’m one of the lucky ones. My mom-in-law was a strong, intelligent, curious, generous, elegant role model for 40 years. When I married her son she said, “I have just one thought for you: a little humor goes a long way.” Superb advice!

When it came down to it, we were in each other’s corners. In recent years, I drove her to a dreaded monthly appointment at the Retina Clinic, where doctors treated her macular degeneration with shots in her eyes! Lord. It would have been totally horrible, but it was so good to go together. She would say, you are so good to take me, and I would say, no, you are so good to let me. Women do this with each other. But I meant it. She was a very private person, and it meant a lot to me that she felt comfortable letting me into this vulnerable experience.

Wren turned 90 in December, still sharp as a tack and a joy to be with. A little over four weeks ago, she was diagnosed with a stage 4 metastasized cancer, and chose home hospice care over biopsies, etc. The doctor said maybe 2 to 4 months, but last week I got a call from a neighbor letting me know she was not doing well at all. That was Wednesday. I drove over immediately and found she was having difficulty breathing, even on oxygen. Her hospice nurse came and  we moved her to Community Hospice, the hospice medical unit, with a goal of helping stabilize her breathing.

I stayed by her side every day. The skilled, loving nurses and doctors at the unit tweaked medications and made her comfortable, so she suffered very little. She became non-responsive and non-communicative on Thursday, but the staff explained she could still hear us. Family members who couldn’t be here in person phoned and spoke to her, and two of my sons and one of Wren’s came to sit with her and had the chance to say goodbye. Wren’s daughter flew in just in time on Friday night. She passed away on Saturday morning, less than 4 days after entering hospice. It was so fast!

And it was exactly what she would have wanted.

For me, being part of this experience was like being on a swelling tide, a movement so huge and magnificent there was no controlling it, no predicting it, and nothing else like it. I feel very comfortable in the unknown, and as this was my third time experiencing the death of a loved one, I totally went with it, swimming gently in a sea of love and compassion.

At the end, with her daughter on one side and I on the other, her nurse Brenda invited me to feel the pulse in her neck when there was only a tiny thread remaining. I put my hand on her heart then felt for her pulse again. It was gone.

I was so honored to be there at her death, as I was to be in her life! I told her on Wednesday when she was still conscious, “You have been a treasure in my life!” and she replied, “And you in mine.” That was all we needed to say to each other. My dear friend!

Thank you to all the loving staff and volunteers at Community Hospice! You are simply the best.


4-7-8 Breathing: Fast & Easy Self-Care


Have you heard of Rachel Carson?


  1. Susan Hardy

    a great gift you are

  2. Robin

    Jo, what a gift you are to share this. Blessings.

  3. Tanmeet

    What an honor to be at this threshold with her, Jo. These are sacred moments.

    • Jo

      Yes! Another source of gratitude, in all it’s splendor! Sending love, Tanmeet.

  4. Emily Best

    What a joy to be able to swim gently with love and compassion as your mother-in-law died. She was cherished and able to cherish her family. In contrast, my father didn’t tell his children that he was dying of a heart attack. He wouldn’t leave his home and chose to lay in pain for 3 days. I just wish I had had the chance to say good bye.

    • Jo

      Oh, Emily! How difficult! Thank you for sharing this. We can but be with what is and who that person is… Send love and compassion, kiss them, and let them go… Sending you love, dear <3

  5. Oh Jo! It was a gift for you to be with her. It is an honor to be by someone’s side as they pass away. It let’s them know they are not alone. It reminds us that we are not alone!
    What a blessing! Thank you for sharing!

    • Jo

      Thank you, Dae 🙂 I was so touched by the whole experience, including my dear friends words of love and support. xoxo

  6. diana schwab

    Jo, a lovely piece. I share your sense of gratitude of being able to be with someone you love when they die. I also had a wonderful mother in law. Some of us get lucky twice with mothers.

    • Jo

      Oh, thank you, Diana! I love your thought about some of us getting lucky twice with mothers. We did, didn’t we? <3

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