Book: Take Me Home, Walking On Sacred Ground in the Last Stage of Life

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On September 12, 2000, I had a dream that woke me up in the middle of the night. A voice, without form, said, “Write the story of your mother’s life.” At the time, I thought that would entail recounting the unique adventures of her early life on a homestead outside Calgary, Canada. Little did I know that her story would instead begin with a stroke that marked the beginning of her passage into the last stage of life. I never imagined that Mom would have to deal with the issues of assisted living and nursing homes, broken hips, and strokes. She had always suffered from high blood pressure and had weathered several heart attacks years ago. I was certain that her death, when it came, would be quick and clean. What lies ahead is the story of my journey with Mom through the last stage of her life, a journey into assisted living and her eventual death. I made a commitment to myself to join her in this as deeply as possible. I had no idea how this decision would force me into depths of my own character I never knew existed. My coping mechanisms were often rendered useless. I had no road map for a journey ruled by the unpredictable and offering no escape from the reality of death.

Reviews
“Liza Johnson has written a unique book.  After presenting us with a moving account of the sensitive care she took of her elderly mother, demonstrating that difficult situations can lead to a remarkable deepening of relationships and an acute sense of meaning, she presents various self-portraits of others dealing with the decline and death of their elders.  From this she has distilled an incisive series of practices which not only help the one being cared for, but reach down to resources care givers never knew they could access.  This book could be life changing for those of us who have to accompany our elders on the inevitable path of loss.  Highly Recommended!”
“If you’re caring for an aging parent, this book will help you in so many ways.  It will guide you to the deeper meaning of the experience and help you realize its purpose to transform your own life.  You discover what Liza Johnson calls your inner home–a place of refuge that helps you infuse wisdom and strength from the sacred space shared between you and your loved one.”
“Not just another book about boomers taking care of parents, Take Me Home is a rare combination of spiritual depth, life-affirming lightness and real world application. Johnson’s work transcends standard eldercare advice by helping you access deeper wisdom and clearer thinking about your unique situation as well as about life itself. Rarely is a book so practical and inspirational; so personal and so universal; so profoundly impacting and such a fluid read.”
“Using powerful stories from her own life and the experiences of others, Liza Johnson gives us a way to walk with courage and wisdom through the days of seeing our loved ones struggle and die.  This is the guidance so many people need but sadly don’t get.  Liza’s book gives you the knowledge to face life’s inevitable losses as a crucible for emotional and spiritual growth.”
“That we live and we die is the realm of science—HOW we live and HOW we die belongs to the realm of art and poetry as psychotherapeutic education. Liza Johnson’s memoir pulses the interface of life and death, daughter and mother, spirit and culture.  Her lyrics speak to the multifaceted gift of intimacy as she tenderly shares her confusion, clarity and wisdom born from the intricacies of ancestry and relationship across generations, filtered through the sacred context of the rich Montana landscape. Liza’s work is a multifaceted jewel of a journey, an inspirational life poem that illuminates the role of meaning in our ability to handle life’s pivotal portals with courage and grace. A joy to read!”
“A mother’s illness and death is an experience most of us face in our life.  Liza Johnson takes us through her experience of this journey with eloquence, wisdom, heart and inspiring vision.  The resulting story is a compassionate gift.”
“Combining a memoir and a “how-to” book, psychotherapist Liza Johnson has accomplished a rare feat. In beautiful, lyrical, yet intimate prose, Ms. Johnson brings the reader close to the process of making decisions about her mother’s illness, care, and eventually, end-of-life planning. By juxtaposing her professional outlook with a daughter’s profound love, Johnson can help others in these situations make decisions while reaching internal peace.”
“Take Me Home is an honest and often uplifting memoir about the difficult choices, sacred moments, and deep layers of love that Liza Johnson experiences as she accompanies her mother through the final stages of life. The book begins as Liza realizes that her mother is not well enough to live independently. As hard decisions wait to be made, “…we both want to stay here at the edge of the land of denial…. We both want to rest in this familiar place that will allow us to hold on to that last scrap of life as she now lives it. Neither of us is ready just yet to face the inevitable.”

As a family therapist, Liza Johnson understands the importance of caring for the caretaker as well as the patient. Her interesting personal approach includes Native American, mystical, Buddhist, and Christian influences. Her reflections on dreams and nature and her attention to simple rituals such as bathing her mother or cutting a lock of her mother’s hair remind us of the sacred influences that surround times of loss. Liza’s story will help every caretaker deepen relationships, ease suffering, and find healing.

With refreshing honesty, Liza discusses difficulties common to many caregivers—the anger that arises as she observes her mother’s losses and her guilt about the choices she must make. Like many of us, she wonders if she could have been more effective in discussing death with her mother. Her willingness to discuss her fears and vulnerabilities helps us explore our own difficult emotional reactions to death.

The second half of the book includes stories about parental loss from other writers and ends with practices that Liza created to help individuals find inner peace. Liza and her family did not have hospice support, and hospice is mentioned only briefly by other writers. A few stories highlighting hospice care would have made this book even more helpful to those trying to find the best way to care for a dying parent and themselves.

Liza Johnson’s perceptive reflections make this book an excellent companion for caretakers, so let’s end with her words:

“Take me home” was something I heard Mom say again and again. Sometimes it was literal: Take me to the home I once occupied. But usually it was the wish to return to her former life where she felt a sense of belonging. The uncertainty of her health and well-being…forced me to find a way to feel peace on a dark night, to find something to guide me when I didn’t know what to do, and to help give comfort and advice to Mom about something I had not gone through myself.”