45 CommentsAgeing/Aging, Creative Writing, Life, Memoir, The "She" Chronicles

Does your life really flash before your eyes when you’re on the brink of death?

dying old woman "As She Lay Dying", The Doglady's Den

As she lay dying, the old woman’s hazy thoughts drifted back to a time and place long ago…

War-torn Germany, 1944: They had been through five years of hell, thanks to a government they wanted no part of. Nightly blackouts, screaming bombs, near misses, demolished buildings, arrests at all hours…She had seen it all and was grateful to be alive, working as an apprentice chemist in a large laboratory. Then came the letter: “Your services are required. Report to Berlin immediately”. To work for a regime she despised was unthinkable, so she fled by train to Switzerland. As the border loomed ahead, she spotted a cloud of black uniforms. The Gestapo! Forced off the train at gunpoint, she and the other passengers were herded onto a bus. Next stop: a former mental hospital, now a prison, somewhere in southern Germany. She was locked away until the war ended, marking her 21st birthday in a jail cell. She hadn’t been brutalized, but it coloured her outlook on life.

Oct. 1945 "As She Lay Dying"

As she lay dying, the old woman’s hazy thoughts drifted to a pivotal event…

Germany, 1955: She had just given birth to a daughter, through excruciating pain. The baby surprised everyone by showing up a full month early. There had been no time to drive to the preferred hospital. Instead, the child was born at the ancient local facility and the mother injured in the process. She should have had a caesarian but that didn’t happen. Subconsciously, she blamed her daughter and for decades, told anyone who would listen how giving birth had ripped her up inside and how she almost died. Finally, her daughter had had enough. “I don’t want to hear that story again. Stop blaming me for all your problems!” The old woman was shocked by this. After all, wasn’t she the one who had suffered in agony? Little did she realize that her daughter’s emotional scars were equal to her own physical ones.

Spring, 1955

As she lay dying, the old woman’s hazy thoughts turned to a foreign country…

London, Canada, 1963: She had been here four years now, having joined her military husband in his homeland. It had been a difficult adjustment, but all she ever wanted was a picture-perfect family living a beautiful life. She was obsessed with taking photos, as evidence of this utopian existence. Everything had to be staged “just so”, with not a hair out of place. She laboured intensely to perpetuate this image, cooking lavish meals in a finely decorated home, dressing her young daughter like a princess (fodder for the school bullies), even teaching her how to curtsy. She herself always appeared impeccably groomed and smiling, regardless what was actually happening behind the scenes. Nobody knew about the horrible fights, the nightmares, the tears. Her daughter was left to fend for herself during this strife. She should have given more thought to her child but was too wrapped up in her own drama.

Christmas 1963 London, Ont. "As She Lay Dying"

As she lay dying the old woman’s hazy thoughts turned to a more pleasant time…

Germany, 1967: She was happy to be home again! It had been two years and life was more genteel. Spending weekends and holidays with relatives put everyone on their best behaviour. There was less turmoil. She was able to indulge her wanderlust, with daughter in tow. These trips were good for them; she became less driven, more relaxed. Mother and daughter drew closer, but it was short-lived. Over time, the daughter rebelled, chafing at her mother’s rigid standards and expectations. Vexed by her child’s insubordination, she sloughed her off for a year, to a boarding school in Switzerland. Eventually, they returned to Canada, along with the drama.

vacation 1967, spanish sahara "As She Lay Dying" The Doglady's Den

As she lay dying, the old woman’s hazy thoughts turned to another major life change…

The move to California came in 1974, after her legs had lost all circulation and she needed major surgery. Severe Raynaud’s disease and Canadian winters did not go well together! Her brother, who lived in Los Angeles, had suggested San Diego as a nice place to live. Things were set in motion and when her husband retired from the army, they headed south . She tried to convince her daughter to come along, but the girl had married young (over her strenuous objections) and wouldn’t consider it. They enjoyed the warmth and sunshine, but darkness prevailed behind closed doors. It was not until years later when her husband stopped drinking, that life became truly enjoyable, at least as much as she would let it be. Her perfectionist mindset never gave her peace.

1974 "As She Lay Dying"

She and her daughter kept up a regular telephone correspondence, but she only came back once, while (temporarily) separated from her husband and needing a place to live. That visit lasted six months. The daughter made several trips to California over the years. The first few days were always good, but eventually, the old animosities rose up and bitter words exchanged.

When her husband died, she was already showing signs of Alzheimer’s and couldn’t handle anything. Her daughter wanted to bring her back to Canada, but she refused, citing the cold winters. “Why can’t you move down here?” The daughter had her own life, husband and business, but put them all on hold to find the best possible care for her mother. At first, the old woman was miserable, calling every day to complain (without merit), but eventually, she learned to appreciate her caregivers and surroundings. When her daughter came for one last visit, the old woman acknowledged her efforts for the first time and even said those rare, magic words: “I love you”.

The old woman drew her last breath on Oct. 3, 2016, at 10:17 p.m. PDT
She was 92.

mother at 70 "As She Lay Dying", The Doglady's Den

In case you haven’t guessed already, this is about my mother. It’s not the typical warm and fuzzy portrayal, but it is honest, as I see it. Some people just aren’t cut out to be parents, and my mother was one of them. She had enough problems of her own. That said, she did contribute positives as well. She taught me manners, grace and poise and expanded my world view through travel. My musical ear comes from her, as does my interest in arts and culture. This was a woman of many talents. Superb scratch cook and baker, decorator, seamstress, event planner, hostess. organizer, housekeeper, gardener. She even became a fitness instructor for seniors when she was in her 60s and designed a line of workout wear. It hasn’t really sunk in yet that she’s gone. I’ll be heading to California soon to settle her affairs and am bracing for that onslaught of emotion.


Have you experienced the loss of a parent?
How did you handle it?

Looking forward to your comments!


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Debbie D.
Canine Innkeeper in suburban Toronto, Canada, known as "The Doglady". Writer/website owner, photographer, animal lover, music fanatic, inveterate traveller. History, literature and cinema buff. Eternal "hippie/rockchick". Binational, German/Canadian and multilingual. Looking for the next adventure!
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45 thoughts on “AS SHE LAY DYING

  1. Coming of age during wartime Germany would jade you for this world. Anger eats you from within. I had an uncle that was bitter about so many things that he could never see how much he had which was a lot.

    1. Yes, my mother had a horrible time in the war and was experiencing flashbacks before she died. In life, she was forever finding fault and never satisfied. Thanks for reading this, Ann and sharing your thoughts.

  2. DEBBIE, this post reminded me of the heart-breakingly great movie ‘ORDINARY PEOPLE’ with Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton. Ever see it?

    That line “I almost died giving birth to you” has actually become a cliché used now in satire and comedies. Wow! I guess I never thought of anybody “REALLY” saying it.

    This was/is a very interesting and well-written series. I’ll follow along as it proceeds.

    ~ D-FensDogG
    Check out my new blog @
    (Link:] Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews…

    1. Oh yes, it’s more than a mere cliché. 😛 I’m glad you’re enjoying the series and also that you like my writing style. That’s music to any writer’s ears. 🙂

  3. Very touching, Debbie. I knew it was you mom because of the resemblance and, of course, the tone of the piece. Some of us don’t get those warm and fuzzy moms who cuddle us and greet us after school and wrap us with maternal love. So glad she parted with you on a loving note. It’s never too late to tell someone you love them.

    1. Thank you, C. Lee. It’s true – not every mother is warm and loving, but we make the best of things as they are. My mother’s declaration was a pleasant surprise. 🙂

  4. “Germany, 1955: She had just given birth to a daughter, through excruciating pain. The baby surprised everyone by showing up a full month early. There had been no time to drive to the preferred hospital. Instead, the child was born at the ancient local facility and the mother injured in the process. She should have had a caesarian but that didn’t happen. Subconsciously, she blamed her daughter and for decades, told anyone who would listen how giving birth had ripped her up inside and how she almost died. Finally, her daughter had had enough. “I don’t want to hear that story again. Stop blaming me for all your problems!” The old woman was shocked by this. After all, wasn’t she the one who had suffered in agony? Little did she realize that her daughter’s emotional scars were equal to her own physical ones.” This moved me deeply and, I admit, to tears … because to the similarity to my own story … Love, cat.

    1. Welcome to the Den, Cat. It seems we have a few things in common. 🙂 I’m touched that you were moved by my words and saddened that you suffered a similar experience. No child should ever feel unwanted. Thank you for the visit.

  5. What struck me the most in this piece was the refreshing honesty. It can be hard to speak of all the pain you’ve been through as a child and yet look back with gratitude at what made your mom who she was. Finding the reasons for her behavior and letting go the angst, that doesn’t come easily. So well written, Debbie. May she rest in peace.

    1. Thank you, Shailaja. I prefer to tell things as they are without the sugar coating. Yes, my mother had many issues, but regardless how difficult my childhood was, it made me who I am today – a strong, “take no shit” person. 🙂 I hope my mother is finally at peace. That’s something she never achieved in life.

  6. Hi Debbie,

    Wow…this was raw – thank you for sharing this with us. I can imagine how hard it was to share this and I am truly sorry for your loss.

    Although I haven’t lost my mom yet, I know that time is coming. With me spending every day with her, I see it but I also see she still wants to fight. I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I might not have years but months with my mom and I hope it I can hang on to that when the time comes.

    Beautifully written Debbie! My thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Take care,


    P.S. Love the new look of your blog!

    1. Thank you, Cori. ♥ This seemed to write itself, in places. It was cathartic, but I hesitated to publish something so personal. I read about your Mom’s health problems and wish her (and you) all the best. My mother was seriously ill and also had Alzheimer’s, so I was prepared. She had a good, long run. 🙂

  7. Sorry for your loss. I liked your honest write up about your mother. And I agree that some people are not cut out to be parents. But whatever be the case, losing a parent is always difficult. I lost my dad when I was a 9 year old and it took me a long time to accept it.

  8. Hi Deb, I am so sorry for your lost. The death of a parent no matter the age is not an easy thing. Even if the relationship was not close or if it was, it still is your parent. I remember an uncle of mine at my grandmother’s wake saying, “you can replace a wife but not a mother” – sad but yet really true! I lost mine 2 1/2 years ago and it really changed my life. Mine too was never to say the I love you words til she knew she was dying.
    The whole thing made me want to live more each day and that life is really short.
    Good luck with the rest of the process Debbie. I think your mom did give you strength your whole life and it will guide and help you through.

    1. Thank you so much, Lisa. I remember when your Mom passed away. I hope the pain of grief has dulled a little, over time. The fact that my mother and I lived 2600 miles apart for 42 years makes it a little less jarring at this point. I’m sure it’ll affect me more when I get to California in a couple of weeks.

  9. Oh, Debbie, I’m so sorry for your loss. I know how it feels to lose parents, the regrets, what-ifs, should’ves. I am glad, though, that you had your closure when she said those magic words. I know you loved her, too, as this beautiful piece is testimony to that…My condolences, Debbie…

  10. That was powerful stuff. Never dreamed it was real life until just before the end. I really don’t know what to say from there… except that nobody ever has those perfect lives, and I’ve found the harder you try to create it, the farther you go from it.

  11. This is one of the most candid and poignant, superbly written memorials I’ve ever read. I knew at once it was about your mom and I think that’s why my heart ached even as it soared for your strength and clarity of mind to overlook the imperfections and love her anyway. Not everyone can do that, bless your heart.

    1. Thank you, Diedre. I’ve always been candid by nature. My mother and I had a difficult relationship, but she gave me life and I have to love her for that, at the very least.

  12. This story is riveting, and enhanced that it is all a true story, of a life led. Fascinating.

    Extending my deepest sympathies to you, as well as her extended family and friends.

  13. I am deeply moved by this rendering of your mother’s life. I admire her stamina, yet saddened that she often could not hide her pain and instead drew you into it. Your ability to realize you needed distance in order to lead your own healthy life, had to make you strong, but also had to give you pause. I wish peace for your mother. I wish peace for you and yours.

    1. Welcome to The Den, Beth. Yes, I believe the distance helped a lot. When you grow up in a dysfunctional family, your only recourse is to become stronger, otherwise, you’ll be even more screwed up.

  14. Beautiful story, and a great example of how many women in that generation lived with a totally different mindset! Perfectionism is still glorified in this society, thankfully there is a spiritual movement happening and women are awakening to the fact that we must pay attention to our values and priorities and not worry about other’s expectations.

    1. Welcome to The Den, Tina. It’s sad when outward appearance is more important than reality. Yes, women of that generation were typically raised to be “perfect” homemakers, etc. Thanks for dropping in!

  15. My late best friend’s parents were both German Holocaust survivors. Sadly, in her declining years my friend’s Mom drifted more and more into the “Hitler years”. This caused my friend tremendous emotional pain. My parents have been gone many years. I suspect that if my Mom had lived into my teen years, our relationship would have been complicated. I am sorry for your loss.

    1. Thank you, Alana. I’m sorry your friend had such a difficult time with her mother. My mother went through a period of dwelling on the war and wanted to document her experiences, but then changed her mind. Too bad! It would have been a great book (that was the original plan). How sad to lose your own mother at such a young age! Sounds like you didn’t have the best relationship, either.

  16. Love can be a difficult emotion for some people to show. And you’re right–some people may not be cut out to be parents or maybe they just never learn the art of parenting well.

    Arlee Bird

    1. Yes, my mother was not one to show affection. It was only recently that I came to realize what was going on all those years; she was a typical narcissist. On the other hand, she allowed me to experience the joys of travel and gave me a sense of style. I’ll always be grateful for those things.

  17. This was fabulous and beautifully written Debbie. It’s great that you can pull all the positives that she imparted to you over the course of her life and I’m so glad she said those all-important words, “I love you.” That had to hit you hard when she said it and it must have been so welcoming. Some people just don’t know how to show affection but I’m so happy that she found her way to tell you that she did indeed love you and appreciated all you had done for her.

    I’m sure the coming months will be a rollercoaster of emotions. Know that I’m thinking of you.
    All the best,

    Michele at Angels Bark

    1. Thank you, Michele. I hesitated posting something so personal but writing it was definitely cathartic. My mother surprised me with that revelation, as her usual comments involved criticism. It was definitely nice to hear! 🙂 Yes, I’m dreading the trip to California (leaving Oct. 30), but it will be the last chapter of a long saga.

      My thoughts are with you and your Mom as well, during your own difficult time of mourning. ♥

  18. I assumed it was about your mom from the title which immediately drew me in. It is so difficult to understand how a woman who gives birth to a child does not automatically have a mother’s heart. But I know it happens….often. You did an awesome job sharing this story and it certainly made me appreciate you more. I will be thinking of you when you make that trip down South to close that chapter of your life.

    1. Thank you so much, Carol. Who knows what my mother’s early life was like and then to suffer the horrors of war? That’s bound to have a profound effect on a person. My mother was a textbook narcissist and while she caused me much grief, she also introduced me to travel and culture and gave me insight into human behaviour.

  19. Hi, Debbie the Doglady!

    I feel ashamed, dear friend. With all the giggling you and I have been doing over the last few days I completely forgot that you recently lost a parent as did our friend Michele. Please accept my sincere condolences and my apology for not asking how you are holding up as you mourn your mother’s death.

    A rush of emotion will surely come when you return to California and memories flood your mind. When we lose a loved one with whom we had a difficult, complicated relationship, it can hit us especially hard. We are filled with regret, wishing things could have been different. We think of all the words not spoken that could have been and words that were spoken that shouldn’t have been. Your mother was a beautiful woman and a strong one. Who knows all the horror she went through in war-torn Germany? Chances are those experiences would have affected and shaped you or anyone else in the same ways.

    Your mother reminds me very much of mine, Debbie. All her life my mother reminded me how much I made her suffer during childbirth, how she remained in labor and in terrible pain more than 24 hours. It got so bad that she was on the verge of jumping out of the hospital window and ending it all. She also drummed into my head the fact that she had wished for a girl because she already had a boy, my brother. She even had a girl’s name picked out in advance – Vicky. She told me she was disappointed when she gave birth to a boy. My mother sweated the details just like yours. She was meticulous with her appearance and a pristine housekeeper to the point of giving the furniture the “white glove test” to make sure it was spotlessly clean and dust free. I’m surprised she didn’t rope off rooms like they do in a museum. She wouldn’t allow me to have a pet dog because she didn’t want to deal with the shedding of hair and the mess that came along with all that love and affection. I resented her for depriving me of that experience. During my years as an adult when I visited my mother or she me, the first hours and first day were wonderful, but soon the picking and probing started, getting into my business, reminding me how miserable I made her life as I struggled through delivery to begin mine, comparing me to my brother, asking me why I was so serious and sensitive, why I wasn’t “happy-go-lucky” and carefree like my brother.

    To an extent we can change personal history. We can both look back and acknowledge that our mothers did the best they could with the tools and skills they had at the time. They loved us the best way they knew how. We can choose to be grateful to them for giving us this life, this chance.

    Thank you for drawing this honest and enlightening portrait of your mother, dear friend Debbie. I will be thinking about you in the days and weeks ahead as you put your life on hold once again and work to settle her affairs. Bless you!

    1. No need to apologize, Shady. Laughter is the best medicine, after all. 🙂 My mother’s death was expected and I was prepared. As you said, it might be a different story once I get to California. Thanks for your kind words.

      It sounds like our mothers had similar narcissistic tendencies. You have my sympathies! At least mine was a dog lover. You really had it rough! 🙁
      I’ve been doing some reading on the subject. You might find this interesting:

      Amusing story that wasn’t so funny at the time: When my mother came to visit (and stayed 6 months – you can imagine how well that went!), she completely rearranged my apartment while I was at work. 😮

      Yes, I will always be grateful to my mother for many things. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      1. I followed the link and read the article, Deb. It was excellent. It enabled me to better understand the how and why behind countless awkward, embarrassing, humiliating and painful incidents that occurred over the years. We might be scarred as a result of what we endured in the past, but we survived, and compassion and forgiveness have set us free.

        Thank you, dear friend!

  20. Debbie, I am truly sorry for your loss. How brave of you to put it all in writing. I did not have a happy childhood with my own mother and rarely talk about it let alone put it into words. Take care with what awaits you in California.

    1. Thank you, Denise. I’m sorry you had mother issues as well. There was an intense internal debate going on about whether or not to publish this. Writing it was cathartic, but to share something so personal made me hesitate. Maybe it can help someone else in a similar situation feel less alone?

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