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Courage to Watch Them Die: An Essay by cam

Chris practices free writing which often produces humorous or introspective results with practical applications to living life more fully.

Monument of Courage

The monument complex Courage dedicated to the 1966 earthquake in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

The monument complex Courage dedicated to the 1966 earthquake in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Our Elders: The History Within Their History

I'm watching my mother watch her friends and family die. It seems they have been going more often lately. Mom is eighty-five years old, and many of her friends are about the same age. Just think of all the history these dear people witnessed. The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, World War II. That short list occurred when they were young. The golden age of radio went out with a static fizzle, and the age of television changed how people processed history. The Space Race, the Cold War, Vietnam, Watergate, the fuel shortage were real News. Today, even with all of our expanding technology, the big headlines have to do with the latest version of the iPhone and tweets by the man in the venerated Oval Office.

Cole's Station, Indiana, Early 1950s

My grandfather's farm supply store in Cole's Station, Indiana,

My grandfather's farm supply store in Cole's Station, Indiana,

Death Begins to Visit More and More Often

My parents both grew up in and around farming. Dad, he passed away in 1989, was a dairy farmer from childhood until 1975. Mom's parents owned a commercial grain elevator and farm equipment store. Most of their friends continued farming as adults as well. Just in the last couple of years, the names of dear friends such as Jesse, Esther, John, Bob, Rosemary, Ivan, Barbara, Byron, Mary Jane and most recently, Bill, have found their places in obituaries and on headstones.

I imagine life becomes more and more lonely for people like my mother. Mom is in excellent health. No, that doesn't mean she will live forever or is even guaranteed another day. But there is a good chance she will be with us for some time. The growing sense of loneliness must be like a new acquaintance you aren't particularly fond of, but who is always present.

What is it like to consider day in and day out the increasing likelihood that you won't be here a year from now? My mother is facing her mortality. She recently made the final payment on her grave site. She was excited to have that behind her. By the way, she insisted on paying it off. I could have done it long ago, but she refused. It had something to do with coming to terms with the end of life, being prepared, in control, I believe.

I Love You Mom

My 85 year old mother, Dawana Mills, last summer (2017)

My 85 year old mother, Dawana Mills, last summer (2017)

Our Elders Spend Everything on One or Two Generations That Follow

Mom still drives. In fact, just this past summer, like many summers before, she drove from Indiana to Georgia to visit my sister. She made the trip in one day. In a year from now, she will do so for the final time when she moves to Georgia to live with my sister. Mom is becoming less confident about living alone. How does one come to admit that they aren't as capable as they once were? After living for more than eight decades, raising a family, making all kinds of monumental decisions, it finally comes down to confessing that we aren't willing to do it alone anymore.

I think this is when family must wake up and recognize what is happening inside that parent or grandparent. It's time to let them know what they've done for us, that life has not dwindled to uselessness. They have spent every bit of their emotional, physical and spiritual selves, their whole fortune of human capital, on the one or two generations following them.

I Miss You Dad

My father, Carl Mills, as a young man and not long before he passed away at age 59.

My father, Carl Mills, as a young man and not long before he passed away at age 59.

Experiences and Memories as Lessons for the Next Generations

It seems many elderly feel they have nothing more to give. They've played the game and left it all on the playing field. They've fought the battles and left everything on the battlefield. They are often tired and feel life has no more purpose. I was able, recently, to unexpectedly spend a lot of time with my mother. I wanted to learn about her childhood, what it was like living in the middle of Indiana farm country near a thriving town called Weaver, an all-black community. Weaver had its school and teacher, Mr. Weaver. Mom went to a rural, one-room schoolhouse. Once every year, the Weaver kids came to Mom's school. Mom and her classmates went to Weaver. Here's what Mom had to say about that time of her life.

Mr. Weaver was a very formidable [powerful] presence wherever he would go. To this day I think of him.The students from his school and even the [black] family that went to my school went on to have careers such as doctors, nurses, educators and law enforcement and politics.That had to say a lot for Mr. Weaver. He went on after years of teaching there to become principal at the Crispus Attucks black school in Indianapolis. That school is still going strong today.

The elderly and those who are younger can benefit from this kind of discussion. History is passed on, and we understand our familial roots. It's one thing to work on our family trees on Ancestry.com, but it is an entirely different thing to hear our elders tell the stories and give life to the names of people we may never have met.

We Miss You Dawn

My niece, Dawn Mills Canaday, 12/21/1977-5/31/2017

My niece, Dawn Mills Canaday, 12/21/1977-5/31/2017

Saying Goodbye to Children and Grandchildren Who Pass Away

It isn't always the lifelong friends that people like my mother lose. Sometimes it is family, and that means they experience, at times, the loss of children and grandchildren. Mom said goodbye to a daughter-in-law in 2008. That was Sandy, my wife. A year later, her son, Kim, passed away. A couple of months ago, Mom got a call that her granddaughter, Dawn, was in the hospital with an undiagnosed heart issue. A couple of weeks later, Dawn was gone.

I can't think of anything that would cause a man or woman more grief than to lose a son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter. The sense of the unfairness of living far into one's eighties and witnessing the death of a son or daughter or a grandchild must be suffocating.

Follow the Examples of Our Elders and Journey on With Courage

But such is the way of life. It has always been this way and always will be. Does that make it easier to face and to endure? Probably not. What we can do is love each other until the end and beyond. We can clean up the issues that separate us before it's too late. We can bless our elders by listening to the stories and learning from their experiences that will enrich our lives and the lives of our children.

I began by talking about my mother as she watches her friends and family die. In reality, Mom is no different from any other elderly person in that regard, and life will be the same for the rest of us as we age. Can we journey forth with courage, with realism, with one eye on the living and one on those who have gone before us? I'm having trouble embracing sixty years, let alone, eighty-five. But I have an example to follow who has a great deal of experience. Mom is once again my mentor in the issues of life.

Mom, Mentor in Life and Pie Baker

Mom, still baking pies at 85 with my brother, Kerry who had better save some pie for me.

Mom, still baking pies at 85 with my brother, Kerry who had better save some pie for me.


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 07, 2018:

Shauna, blessings you and your parents. I hope you have many more years to enjoy them. Thanks for reading and for all your kind comments.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on November 07, 2018:

Chris, this is such a poignant piece and I can relate to it. My mom is 80 and is one of ten kids. All but three of them are gone. Her youngest brother, who is 78 suffered a severe stroke a few months back; it doesn't look like he's going to make it. I often wonder how it must feel to watch your family die before your eyes. Like your mom, mine is the epitome of health (so's my dad who is also 80). She cooks every day, maintains her acre of property with themed gardens throughout, that she designed and installed. Both my parents still drive. Mom's a practicing Master Gardener, is active in her book club, and in her community.

At my age of 61, and being the eldest child, I know I will also have to go through that part of life that includes inevitable death. I honestly don't know how I'll deal with it when the time comes. I think I may have my head a bit in the sand. But as you say, just because our moms are healthy and in their 80s doesn't mean their day won't come.

Thank you for writing this, Chris.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 01, 2018:

JayC. OBrien, I'll look at your hub and respond. Thanks.

Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on February 28, 2018:

"Jay C. Obrien, welcome to my hub. A few years ago, I had your question all figured out. Then I began asking the nagging questions in the back of my mind. Now I am not certain of anything on the subject. Here is one of my thoughts. This is not a conclusion.

Evolution has occurred on both a physical and a metaphysical level...."

Here I propose a proof of some form of afterlife.


What do you think?

Nikki Khan from London on February 27, 2018:

This is just so much heart touching and amazing story Chris,, your mom looks great at age of 85.May God bless her and may she live longer.

Elders are such a wonderful blessing for us, we only find out when we don’t have them :(

And losing her daughter, son and granddaughter must be very terrible experience for your mom.My condolences for such a huge loss.

May God bless you and your family.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 13, 2017:

Lawrence, I am so glad you are blessed to have this white-haired, formerly red-haired fireball still with you. May your time with her, when she visits, be filled with deep conversations and happy memories for the future. It sounds like this next visit will be a time for you to mostly listen. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on December 12, 2017:


This reminded me of a conversation I had with my Mum when she was here last.

She's turning 81 this year, and still plans (while she has the money and the health) to fly half way round the globe to spend a few months of the year with us!

Mum had 8 brothers and a sister, all gone now, but nephews and nieces, not to mention kids and grandkids all keep her going.

Last time she was here she told me of a little 'debate' she had with an 'official' that ended with her glaring at him and quietly saying "I night be old and white haired young man, but it used to be RED!"

She still wins those contests!

Long my your Mom continue.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 13, 2017:

Hi Ann, nice to see you. A little reminder to ask questions and listen to the answers is what I had in mind here. It sounds like that came through pretty well. Thanks for your feedback.

Ann Carr from SW England on November 13, 2017:

This is very touching, Chris. I often think how awful it must be to lose a child or grandchild; I pray I will never have to witness that myself.

It does take courage to carry on with a life that sees familiar people fall by the wayside. It sounds as though your mother is quite strong of mind which must help enormously.

It is so, so important to talk to our elders about their lives; I couldn't agree more. I've always thought about family history and have quite a good record of my grandparents and a little of great-grandparents. However, I wish I'd asked my parents and grandparents a lot more questions; now I will never know about parts of their lives.

You have conveyed an important message here - how we treat our elders and how we should listen to their stories, ask all the questions we can think of.

Great piece, Chris!


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 03, 2017:

Isabella, I'm sorry I didn't respond to your comment earlier. You are right, no matter what we believe about the afterlife, loss of a loved one breaks our hearts. Thanks for visiting my hub.

Bella Allred on October 18, 2017:

I love the title of this piece, "The Courage to Watch Them Die." I think that it really is something that requires a lot of bravery to get through, whether they were old or young death is no easy thing. This morning, someone mentioned to me that even if you believe in heaven or an afterlife or otherwise, even if you know they are in a better place than this one, it will not cease to hurt those who are left behind.

-Much love,

Bella :)

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 17, 2017:

Peg, I envy the time you spent with your grandmother. My grandfather on my mother's side died when I was very young. I would have enjoyed hearing him talk about life in general. He was a good man. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Nice to see you today.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 17, 2017:

Jay C. Obrien, welcome to my hub. A few years ago, I had your question all figured out. Then I began asking the nagging questions in the back of my mind. Now I am not certain of anything on the subject. Here is one of my thoughts. This is not a conclusion.

Evolution has occurred on both a physical and a metaphysical level. We know there is more to man than what can be seen and touched. The human brain has much more potential than we use. What is all that potential for? It came from somewhere. It didn't appear fully formed. It grew, just like all nature has grown. Maybe a hereafter has evolved as well as the here and now.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 17, 2017:

Bill, thanks for visiting, and thank you for mentioning Dawn, my niece. What a shocker that was. Her 10 year old son has a tough road ahead.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 17, 2017:

Eric, Yes, I can see you being all cheery and smiley at a funeral. You have my permission to do so at mine. Good to see you today.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 17, 2017:

Becky, I appreciate you reading this article, especially in light of all you've been through. I do believe there is a balance to strike here. We hold onto the memories of our loved ones, especially our spouses. You know I can relate on that point. On the other side is letting them go. That isn't easy, is it? My thoughts are with you. Don't give up. You still have a life to live.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on October 17, 2017:

This one touches my heart deeply, Chris. Those of us who have lost a parent, loved one or family member can certainly relate to the importance of savoring every memory we can pluck from those we love while we still can. I treasure the stories my grandmother told me up into her nineties - those things you've mentioned here - horse and buggies, coming across the ocean in a passenger ship, learning a new language. All those things I wish I'd asked her about in more detail. You are blessed to have your mom. My deep condolences on the loss of your beautiful niece and your other family members.

Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on October 17, 2017:

Do people die or transcend to another plain of existence? What do you believe and why?

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 17, 2017:

I'm sorry for the loss of your niece.

As for the essay, perfectly stated. I'm beginning to feel what my parents and grandparents once felt. Friends are dying....I'm slowing...the eternal march continues.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 17, 2017:

I am just now inviting some grade school buddies to meet up with me above Sedona. We lost a few this last year or so. We thought we had better meet up before we can't.

Normally I do not attend funerals. I just have this overwhelming belief that folks go on living in the important ways and so the release from the bonds of earth is a joyful happy thing. Folks do not really want to see a guy all cheery and smiling. Oh well.

Thanks for giving a fine look at this subject.

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on October 16, 2017:

My grandparents all died in the late 70s-early 80s. That was my first experiences with facing grief. My dad died in '96. My mom died in 2006. My husband's mother is still going strong at 89. She has seen 2 of her 4 children go before her. Her only son and my husband died one year ago, and I miss him badly. I was notifying friends that he had died, and discovered why several of them were not answering their phones. Within 2 weeks of his death, 4 of them died. I have had a really rough year, and I am really having a rough time processing it.

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