“The mountains are calling and I must go…”
– John Muir, Naturalist, Explorer and Writer
“The mountains are calling you. It’s ok to go…” These were the last words I gently said to my mom as she laid in her bed on the morning of July 31, 2021. Over the past 7 years, she had been suffering from dementia, a cruel, agonizing and relentless disease – both for the person suffering from it, but also for the caregivers who witness the continued inevitable decline.
I gently held her hand as her breathing became more and more labored. Her blood pressure and pulse had been very stable that morning. Yet within a ½ hour, I received a text from Julia, the director of the Board & Care where my mother had lived for the past 2 years telling me, “It’s time…” She had stopped eating and drinking three days earlier which signaled she was “ready” for her next journey from this earth. I had been preparing myself for this “time” over the next few days, sitting next to my mother’s side and remembering the good times we had spent together over the years – laughing and crying for hours. Although my mother couldn’t talk, she tried to interact by lifting her brow or twitching her face.
My dear friend, Kimberly, who visited with me every week for the past 3 years, accompanied me as we drove up to Julia’s cottage knowing in our hearts that this would be the last time that we would be see her.
I sat alongside my mother’s bed with Kimberly on the other side. I thanked my mom for everything that she had done for me – from making the honey butter sandwiches with honey milk for me as a child, to inspiring me with her willpower and incredible fortitude to go for whatever I wanted. She was truly invincible – moved to the United States as a German immigrant, raised 4 children, graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and received a Ph.D. in psychology, among so many other incredible accomplishments. Her strength and determination were handed down to me and for this I will be forever grateful.
Along with this fortitude, came her desire for hiking and spending time in nature. She loved to climb mountains in the Sierra Nevada wilderness, trekking up steep inclines and viewing the lakes below. She took up the art of photography and created incredible images of lichen growing on the rocks, as well as picturesque images of the lakes, flowers, and foliage.
Photo: Courtesy of Christiane M. Hoppe, Ph.D.
If my mother had had the choice, she would rather have been hiking on a mountainous trail in Mammoth Lakes, where she had lived until 3 years ago, than laying in her bed taking her last breaths. Her room was cozy and bright. I played the soothing sounds of church bells ringing in Austria. Songbirds were chirping in the background. As I held her hand, I shared the experience of walking up that mountain with her – gazing up at the blue sky, the trees lining the trail and feeling the heat and sweat forming on our backs. The soft wind grazed across us and the beaming sun warmed our faces. Looking above, we could see a few clouds in the sky. The view was spectacular – gazing across the crystal blue lake below to the line of the arching, craggy minarets above. All of this I peacefully whispered to my mother, as Kimberly read passages from the bible and gave prayers.
As an Ob/Gyn, I have been honored to bring life into this world – delivering over a thousand babies, witnessing their first breaths as they cried. Those cries – almost shrieks at times – signaling their wonderous entrance to this earth. I will never forget those experiences. Yet this experience was far different and more challenging for me. I had always been at the inception phase of the circle of life – bringing new life into the world, never truly experiencing the passing that occurs at the terminal end of life’s spectrum. Now I had the incredible opportunity to guide my mother to her next place.
A sense of calm came across me as we climbed the mountain, finally ascending to the top. The birds were singing, the water glistened in the sun from the lake below as the wind rolled slowly through the trees.
My mother’s pulse was now very slow, her hands became cold and eyes began to glaze over. I gently kissed her forehead and thanked her for allowing me to be with her for this phenomenal journey. This amazing woman brought me into this world (yes, her fourth child and last C-Section!) and I now had the privilege to guide her to the next stage.
Ultimately, her breathing ceased and she let go.
A sense of comfort came over me, knowing that I had done everything I could to make her last years be as peaceful and comfortable as possible.
She no longer needed to suffer in her demented, immobile state. I asked myself, was there anything else I needed to say to her. Anything that I regretted telling her? The answer was “No.” – My heart said, “Keep loving…and let go.”
My mother’s spirit will continue to be on these beloved trails and always in my heart. The mountains had beckoned her and she followed their call.
Christiane M. Hoppe, Ph.D., March 5, 1935 – July 31, 2021.
May she forever rest in peace.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to San Diego Humane Society or Alzheimer’s San Diego in memory of my mother. Thank you!
In health and happiness,