Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

beauty in the breakdown

Filed in Memoir, Stories, voices :: September 12, 2010


For the past eight days, I’ve had this lyric in my head:

so let go, jump in

oh well, whatcha waiting for

it’s alright

’cause there’s beauty in the breakdown.

–from “Let Go” by Frou Frou

For the past eight days, Mr. Z’s mother, Virginia, has been dying.  She’s 93 years old.  Last Saturday, the 4th of September, both of her sons, four of her grandchildren, and her newborn great-grandson (along with those of us who love them all) were to have celebrated her recent birthday with lunch and cake at the nursing home where she lives.  She had expressed fatigue for weeks, even asking Mr. Z to cancel the
birthday party because she believed she would be too tired for it.  Early on the morning of the day of the party, she had a stroke.

We gathered, first in her room, then in the dining room, then in her room again.  We stood around her bedside as she slept, rotating into and out of the chair closest to her, keeping the family tradition of reading aloud the birthday-card wishes everyone had written to her from their hearts.  They told stories and jokes.  There’s beauty in the breakdown.

Saturday’s stroke was not her first, and she and Mr. Z had discussed her wishes over the years.  Medical powers of attorney and Do Not Resuscitate orders were in place.  Never again would she be taken to the hospital.  She wanted to die without intervention, heroic or otherwise. So on Sunday, now a week ago, Mr. Z signed the papers which admitted her to hospice care.

During the past week, Mr. Z and his brother and Debbie, Virginia’s aide of nine years, have stayed by her side around the clock, only leaving together for one three-hour period when they considered that she might prefer to die without company.  Those of us who love her have had a chance to tell her things we’d forgotten and begin to let her go and say goodbye and grieve.  Plans for the family to travel to Alabama to carry out her burial wishes have been made. Caregiving staff have shared stories of her nursing home life that they might not have had a chance to tell.  There’s beauty in the breakdown.

Today is Virginia’s ninth day since the stroke.  She rests quietly. When her breathing becomes labored, nurses administer morphine by bitter-tasting sublingual drops.  We stroke her hair and her hands.  Those who have known her best say that she is strong, that she is a fighter.  She, or God, or maybe some dialogue between them, will decide when she will take her last breath.

The past few weeks have offered a series of reminders about the certainty of uncertainty, the potential of everything to change in a second, a phone call, a heartbeat, a breath.  I’ve been trying to look for and at Certainty instead, and the beauty in the breakdown.

Filed in Memoir, Stories, voices


  1. Brenda Bartella Peterson

    Beautiful post, Gracie. I’ve been at the bedside of death far too many times in my life and I concur there is beauty in the breakdown. Blessings on you and the family.