On November 29th my 91 year old mom died in a wonderful Hospice facility. She'd been sick up and down for 24 months but never saw a doctor. She was difficult at times, combative, mean, sweet, funny, kind, stubborn & exhausting!
But in the last several months of her life, as she got depressed at the lack of ability to recover her stamina, I knew she was on her way out. The mood swings got worse,but then she'd be sweet again. Except for one period, where I went a very long four days without speaking to her (when she had a non medical companion care service a few times a week) I'd spoken with her either daily or several times a week, often a few times a day.
Granted, in the last six months the calls were worrisome and depressing as she sounded weak, depressed, angry or sweet/or all of the above, but just so weary. The last time I saw her at home, I'd not seen her in 3 weeks and she'd fired the Meals on Wheels & companion service. I was stunned at what I saw as I walked into her bedroom. Lying there, a mere shell of herself a year ago, in what we now know was severe pain, & agony, she struggled to find a position that would get her comfortable. (She'd also fallen a few weeks ago and broken her tailbone, too, by the way, and had a bump to prove it) As the visit went on and I turned on some lights on that cloudy day, I noticed she was jaundiced . She was very weak, but did not want me to spend the night. I was there several hours to make sure she could get up to go to the bathroom. She'd lost 35+ lbs by this time and could eat only a couple bites of food a day. Nothing sounded good. I lay back on the bed in a new addition we'd had built on for me to live in permanently, but that never worked out … a complicated story to explain....but that's old news now.
Worry raced through my head as my mom was still refusing medical care (and you can not legally make somebody see a doctor thanks to the HIPAA laws) She was no dummy. Her urine had been discolored for weeks, she had shared with me at different times. She'd worked in a hospital 20 years, was friends with doctors at the time, as she was a rare person they could confide in when they needed to blow off steam. My late brother-in-law had been a doctor/surgeon. She read medical books. She knew she was dying.
When I made sure she had fresh water at her bed stand for the evening, I'd rubbed lotion on her dry legs (something I'd never done before) and was horrified at how yellow her legs and age spots were, but said nothing. My mom said rubbing on the lotion felt wonderful. I kept a poker face and said I was glad to do it, but still said nothing about the jaundice. She knew and now, I knew. I was able to say something to strike her funny bone and make her giggle a long time. She thanked me at the time saying " I really needed to laugh." I wanted so much to thank her for so many things....but did not address it then. She kept trying to change positions on her bed to relieve nausea but I know now it was about the pain as well. She'd complain of nausea and pain in her side ...but we had no idea the severity of the secret she was keeping from us.
My sister was going to mom's early the next morning. That night, I composed an email to my sister, saying "how about we approach mom about going to a hospital, in another city, since the one close to her house had not been nice to her or us, six years ago. Tell mom we just want to get her hydrated via IV fluids." I then changed my mind deleted the email, and went to bed. Imagine my surprise when my sister called from mom's the next morning, at 9:50AM to say mom was on her way to the hospital, that I'd mentioned in my 'never sent' email. Mom told my sister and the hospital, she just wanted to get strong enough to see her son from Seattle who was coming in on a planned visit the next week. To live to give him and my other brother one more hug.
The hospital was kind and within hours, Hospice was mentioned. My mom refused a CT scan that day but relented the next day. In order to get in to Hospice, they had to have a diagnosis. After a bag of IV fluids, my mom seemed like a new person. Clear, chipper, happy to be there & her old self. She did not want to know the results of the CT but already knew she was dying. They saw a huge mass in her abdomen and suspected pancreatic cancer due to the jaundice, weight loss & pain. She was given anti-nausea meds and something to help her sleep. At that time, I thought she could last another few months. When told she was going to a Hospice facility near her home she said “I don't want to go back home. My house has served me well but I don't want to go back there.”
Three days later she went into a Hospice center where her four children (myself and three siblings) stayed with her around the clock or my nephew spent the night with her. Another out of state nephew, his wife & grand daughter saw my mom...Mom saw great-grandbaby Abigail for the first and last time.
Mom faded quickly after that visit and Hospice doesn't do IVs. With severe kidney & liver malfunction, IVs just prolong the inevitable, anyway. Her liver enzymes were through the roof. And the pain would only worsen the longer she was here. Mom finally got the much needed pain meds she'd needed. As they upped the dose, she drifted into a permanent sleep pattern and slowly faded from us. If we noticed a noise or furrowed brow from my mom, they doubled the morphine as needed. It was heartbreaking to witness. She did not address us directly to speak of her dying. We'd all told her as she lay groggy, it was OK for her “to leave and we'd be OK.”...though to be honest, I wasn't sure I would be! (That is important to tell a dying loved one that it's ok to go, something many people are not aware of, by the way)
I helped swab out her dry mouth and constantly applied Chapstick as she lay there sleeping. We took turns doing this. Later we counted her respirations....down to three or four an hour.
Finally after nine days of this, I needed a break. I had to stay home and not see her. I was the baby of the family and worried she might want to die privately (as many loved ones do want to do, and even a wise nurse reminded us of this) So rather than spend the night, we also left her alone that night. And she went at 1:45AM on 11/29/11
This was something I thought I'd never share on a blog. But then again, how could I not? At age 55, I now feel 5 years old and am not ashamed to say it but I am lost without my mom. I have no children, no husband, and due to ongoing medical challenges of my own, no job nor real social life to speak of. Thus, I am alone to miss her and think of her constantly.
Yes, there are grief support groups. Yes, I know she is no longer suffering. I am grateful to that of course. But nothing helps me to hear her voice again. To make her laugh one more time. She had a great laugh and a good sense of humor, even amidst her suffering. And I'd long ago forgiven her for all the hateful things she'd said to me and my sister, as I realized it was not about me/us. But it was about her being scared...and only later did we realize, truly, what severe agony and pain she'd endured. I only had love and compassion for my mom.
She was born and raised from the Depression Era farm families where they did not raise sissies. Yes, she was stubborn as hell, but it was also her strength. I wish she'd asked for help sooner to relieve her horrid symptoms, but like the old Frank Sinatra song, she had chosen to do it her way aka"My Way." Edit: Mom was a major Dean Martin fan, not Frank!
Sadly the next heartbreak to happen within a few days, has been sifting through mom's personal items & entire house. Due to financial situations, it's important to get the house on the market & sold ASAP. Her house had been my childhood home since 1961. Many memories there. And now it seemed, my entire childhood and mom's life, was being packed into boxes and carried out. Like the old John Prine song about "Souvenirs" memories can't be boughten...nor can you get one at carnivals for free.
Yet, somehow my memories/souvenirs were being slipped away, torn away... carried out in boxes and bags. A few things to myself & siblings, many will go to strangers. It's kind of like seeing your childhood erased a little at a time but not really. Difficult for me to put into words. But that is still a difficult process on it's own. I seem to be taking this part the worst but I lived there longer than any of my siblings, too. And maybe I really am still a baby. . . Also, I don't think this blog post has even scratched the surface of doing my mom any justice. Maybe it's just me writing some bit of the grief away.
I've had dozens of urges to call her about something I've seen or heard...or the first snowbird I've seen this winter (Junco) I do still sometimes call her house to hear her voice say four words on her answering machine. That might sound pitiful but it's true. She says "Please leave a message."
My message is, I love you mom and you taught me a lot about life. To be kind, polite, thoughtful...to make ends meet when there isn't enough money. To laugh and appreciate little things and big things....cooking, birds, flowers, golf, nature, and nice gestures. To show unconditional love. To stand up for yourself.
You taught me everything, mom, except HOW to live without you, though I'll figure it out eventually.
Sure, some might say, I was lucky to have you for 55 years, but as one astute sympathy card sent to me read "No matter how long someone is in our life, it's never long enough." So true. So very true. I shall miss you forever. Especially your unconditional love & emotional support...And of course your laugh which was a true gift to my ears. The silence of your voice is deafening.