Our sister called us on Jan. 28, telling us it was time to come home. Our mother had suffered a stroke. Death was imminent. From Maine and parts of Massachusetts, we headed to Cape Cod. Hospice had arrived. Our beloved caretaker was there, stroking our mother’s hand, whispering words of comfort. We circled her bed, grateful she was able to be in the quiet of her own bedroom. “Let me die in my home,” she always told us.

Barbara Sullivan spent the days before her mother’s death on Cape Cod, where she and her sisters and brother cared for their mother, shared memories and prepared to say goodbye. KieferPix/Shutterstock.com

Over the next five days we were often found sitting at the kitchen table together, telling childhood stories of growing up. Caretakers and hospice had our backs. Our main job was to be there together as siblings. “She’s on a journey,” hospice told us. “Check on her, speak to her softly, but let her find her way home.”

We pored over photos, so many it was daunting. Each one of us had a box with our name on it. We carefully filled each one with treasured memories. We called the funeral home to make arrangements. Together we made decisions. Sometimes we cried, but laughter and storytelling carried us through each waiting day. We worked together: changing her, giving her the nighttime medication to keep her comfortable, swabbing her lips to keep them moist. We believed she knew we were there, all four of us.

On the sixth day, our mother died. None of us were in the room. All of us were at the kitchen table telling yet another story. Even the caretaker sat with us, laughing at the family history of our childhood memories. At some point that day, our brother whispered to our mom that it was OK to leave, she had done a good job, we would all be fine. The youngest went to check on her. She had finally passed. We were called to the bedroom. Even when you know death is coming, it is still a shock when it arrives. We circled her bed, took one another’s hand, bowed our heads and said a prayer. One more time, we told her we loved her. We kissed her head and said goodbye. She was 99.

The oldest of us went to the kitchen. She prepared dinner. We sat at the kitchen table. There were still stories to tell and tears to be shed, but most importantly, we had that evening of quiet time to share the love we are blessed to have as siblings.

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