I’ve Fallen Off A Cliff – an emotional cliff, where I’ve bumped and spilled and splattered and now, bruised and in-charge yet unsure, I move forward. After three weeks in the hospital my mother passed from this earth February 8. A UTI, then pneumonia, then getting better, then Diverticulitis, then better, then worse, then infection not going away so can’t stop the antibiotics, yet, unsure if it is the antibiotics or illness causing her to cry great heart wrenching sobs. “I miss” was clear, but her voice had become so garbled that the next words were unsure. Hubby told her he loved her and that seemed to comfort her. Whether she knew her daughter was there or not I do not know, but that doesn’t really matter. She was very sick. She began saying over and over, “I want to go home.”
Mom curled up in a fetal position. A small dose of Morphine helped the pain. IVs pumped life saving liquid and medicines into her body. Nothing was getting better. We talked with the doctor and made the decision to invite Hospice into our lives. In short time the Hospice team – Dr., nurse, social worker – were in the room and talking to us. Kind and gentle. We signed the papers. Hospice took over. Mom was given pain-killer medicine. We talked to her and said we loved her. Hospice told us they would move her to the Palliative Care area on another floor.
Later the Hospice nurse called to let us know that Mom had been moved, along with all her belongings, and that she was resting comfortably, her body no longer curled up; her face no longer registering pain.
And so began the last week of my mother’s life. We were able to come and go at any hour. The nurses and staff often stopped in to ask how we were doing, and could they get us anything. The cashier in the cafeteria recognized us. Several Chaplains from different faiths stopped in to visit or say a prayer with us. I prayed, played music for Mom, and talked to her about my favorite memories. By Tuesday they were sure Mom wouldn’t make it through the night and so I stayed all night. The chair pulled out into a bed. Staff brought blankets and a pillow. A Rabbi visited with me for quite a while. It was the night the temperature got down to 34 degrees outside, an exceptionally cold temperature for us, and the hospital system was having a hard time keeping up. Twice beeping IV pumps woke me up. Once there was a fire alarm. And once my hubby, awake at 5 a.m., called to tell me he was on his way. As the sun came up and Mom was still with us, I thought about how easily and quietly she could have slipped away, even with me so close by.
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. The Dr. shook her head and said that Mom was one tough gal who was determined to do things her way. One day the fingers were purple in the morning, but not in the afternoon. But, her eyes, which had been open a bit no longer opened. And her hand which had closed around my fingers no longer did. Friday, I kissed her goodbye and we left at 3:30. She had other visitors who prayed for her and her Eucharistic Minister spent 30 minutes with her praying and playing hymns from his phone. He left at 7 p.m. Our phone rang at 7:45. An impossibly perky nurse called to say that when she went in at shift change mom had died. And so, a life ended.
Mom had planned. She and dad bought plots and pre-paid the arrangements decades ago, also thinking to include cost of living arrangements. Still there were people to notify, schedules to set with the church and mortuary and cemetery, flowers to order, and details, details, details. What music did I want at the funeral? Did I have a poem or meditation for the memorial cards the mortuary would pass out.? Did we want to publish an Obituary? Hubby needed something to do so the Obituary and Eulogy were his tasks. The priest gave us a choice of readings, but who would read them. In the end I did the readings.
The Visitation the night before the funeral turned into a festive get together. Mom in the casket and her friends visiting and enjoying each other’s company. I could hear mom whispering in my ear though that I should be serving coffee and cookies or cake to our guests.
It rained the day of the funeral. I remember in elementary school a classmate’s mother died. It rained the day of that funeral too. We don’t get a lot of rain here, so it is unusual. But all was well. The mortuary staff directed things in a professional and well-organized manner. Mom loved flowers and so I asked everyone at the cemetery to take some flowers home because I knew mom would want them to. They did.
Then the reception at a local Italian restaurant. Friends brought trays of Italian cookies and cakes. We visited more and told stories more. I’d brought displays of photos from when mom was a toddler on the farm in Mississippi up to recent times and reprinted a small booklet of recipes and things about Mom I made for her 100th birthday. We ate, visited more, and then it was time to leave. There was a lot of food left over and guests were invited to take food home. Mom would have approved.
In the car I began to feel as though I’d been on a numbing drug and now it was wearing off. My body began to hurt every where and I was exhausted. Blessedly Hubby was driving, and we were ahead of rush hour traffic. Once home and the car unloaded, we found ourselves just roaming through the house, unsure of something. We went to bed early, then woke up early. No TV, no news, but played soft music all day. Bits and pieces of life began to insert themselves back into our daily lives which had been on hold for four weeks. But only four weeks. I’ve known so many who have lived on the edge of a family member’s ill health for many months or years.
Sunday, I went out without my phone and thought, “what if the hospital calls?” I still look at the clock in the evening to see whether it is time for my 7:30 p.m. call to Mom. I’ve made calls to cancel the newspaper and magazines, notified various organizations, and ended phone service for a number we were assigned in 1951.
Time. I need to give myself time. Everyone says that. Time to rest. Time to handle things. Time to find new time to fill in the time I’d spent visiting mom twice a week. In the end there is just time. What is important is to fill it in a good way. Life goes on.
Every Day Is A Good Day. VJ