Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Going going gone

It's been a few years since I last wrote here and much has happened. But even thought I wanted to write as a way to explore what I was feeling and thinking, I just couldn't (or wouldn't?) find the time to do it. Today I have the time and so I'll try to sort things out.


my mom is dying

On the morning of November 12, 2015, I got a call from Regent Court that my mom was unresponsive, and did I want them to call ER? Yes, please! Somehow I got my coat on, emailed my team leader and rushed out the door to drive to the hospital. I remember sobbing in the car while driving frantically to the hospital.
When I got to the ER and told them my mom was there they directed me back to where she was laying. When I look back to that day, I don't know how I managed to be remotely coherent. The doctor was with her and when I went into the room he told me simply that she was "actively dying" and that I should call the rest of the family. At the time he said it might be hours or probably days.

Mom was 91 years old with congestive heart failure, Alzheimer's and had been in pain for months. So this news was not unexpected - I just didn't welcome it.

What the doctor said was that by her blood tests it looked like she'd had a heart attack that morning, and another one in the hospital (which explained why she was unresponsive).
But they weren't completely sure without doing a ton of tests. He asked if we wanted the tests done to find out more, or should they call hospice. I told him "let's just take her back to her room, make her comfortable and call hospice".  It was all surreal. Even 1 year and 4 months later I still remember it as if it was last month.

There was my mom, laying on the hospital bed, all plugged into the equipment monitoring her heartbeat et al, with her eyes closed and mouth ajar. It was hard to watch. The chaplain came in and asked if I wanted him to call the priest at the hospital and I said yes of course. While he was there I went out to the lobby and called two of my brothers to let them know what was going on. My other brother contacted the rest of the family.

When I went back into the room both of the chaplains were there and mom was awake! They told me that right when they were finishing giving her the blessing (last rites) she woke up and asked them what they were doing. When the priest said that he was praying for her because she was sick, her response was only "what else is new?".  I'm not sure if that's exactly what she said but it was something like that. Mostly it was funny and we all had a laugh about her spunkiness and constant fight to be her own person - even then.

Because she was awake we had her transported back to the memory care place. By then my older brother Tom had arrived from Eugene and my other brother who lived in town was there. We got her settled comfortably in her bed and some of the caregivers came in to say hi and one of them even got her to eat a little. Whew - I was convinced that this was just a blip in the road and she wasn't going to die anytime soon. You see, at that time I still had not learned how to let her go. This was something I had yet to learn.

My brother Tom and I met with the Hospice social worker, signed all the paperwork and talked about mom and what was going to happen. "She's not dying anytime soon" was what I kept thinking to myself.

I sat with her and then went home to get things in order so I could come back and be with her. At that time she was talking a little but mostly sleeping. So I returned with my iPad and a speaker to play music in her room. I found albums of the St Louis Jesuits and put the speaker next to her head. When I asked if she could hear it she said yes and that it was nice. It was a peaceful time with her.

That afternoon one of the staff members came into the room to say the rosary for mom. She sat down next to the bed and the minute she started reciting the prayers of the rosary I began to cry in my chair on the other side of the room. It brought so many memories back from when I was a child and our family sat to say the rosary.
Amanda was the last person I thought would ever do something like pray the rosary. She is a big woman sporting a mohawk, covered with tattoos, and a gruff demeanor that I'd found intimidating. But I learned instead she is a warm, caring, prayerful and loving person - especially to my mom. That meant everything to me. Now mind you, I don't believe in any of the Christian tenets, but I was moved to tears nonetheless. And I believe mom heard those prayers and probably was comforted by them.

Driving home that night I passed by a small studio and saw people inside practicing Aikido, and in my mind, I screamed: "don't you know my mother is dying????" How could the world just keep going on while MY mother is dying??? But then I realized that this happens every day to people all over the world. We all lose someone we love at some point in time. And yet the sun will rise in the morning, the seasons will change and life goes on....

At that time I just needed to get through the next 24 hours and deal with my sorrow later. Now was the time to contact my siblings and my mom's only living brother so he could come say goodbye.

Still, I don't think that I was ready to let her go.

Friday night I still believed that this was just a blip and she'd bounce back to live longer. We were trying to giver her something for pain and put it in her mouth so maybe she could swallow it. All of a sudden mom went slack and unresponsive and stayed that way for several minutes. I can't remember now - probably 10 minutes. When she came back to I realized that it must have been another heart attack. I'm not a doctor, but from his description earlier about her heart I thought it must be something like that.  When the hospice nurse finally arrived I described to her what happened and we both knew something significant had happened.  Now that it's over a year later my memory is a little hazy, but I do remember it clearly that she went slack and unresponsive causing me to freak out.  But I still think it was her heart as she had congestive heart failure and it was as likely as not that her heart was giving out.

After that, I didn't think she would even last the weekend.

That night I met Angel MaryBeth from Hospice. She came and bathed my mother and made her comfortable. What a gift that was to me. Mary Beth cleaned her body and face with a washcloth and then combed her hair with such gentle love. She put her in a clean nightgown, rearranged her comfortably in the bed with pillows and blankets and when she was done, mom looked wonderful. I think it was then that I started to face the reality of my mom leaving.  But still I hadn't let go - but I didn't know it.

I'll write more later about the final few days I had with this woman I called mom, but she was a strongly independent woman who struggled all her life to be HER OWN PERSON. She was a musician, reader, organizer, world traveler, mother of nine, choir director, wife to Bill, sister to Eileen, Neil, and Phil. But overall, she was her own self.