Five years later, and the loss of my Mom still cuts me at my inner core…when I think about her being gone, my body clenches up, my gut hurts and my soul aches. I miss her so much. And the thought of my last week with her brings me back to a painful place.
It will have been five years ago – this week – that we got a phone call that my husband’s father had died from a heart attack. So shocking. We immediately went into that “survival” mode that people go in to when they must. Get a flight to Florida, check. Call work about needing the week off, check. And the list went on, check…check…and double check. And then, my husband was off to attend to laying his father to rest and dealing with his father’s “stuff” and estate. My husband would be gone for a week.
The very next day, my 94-year-old mom, who had lived with us for 9 years, went into a coma.
We had known that she wasn’t long for this world as she had been declared “in hospice” some 6 months before. Her body had just starting to shut down. She had slowly lost the ability to walk, she had started to experience significant pain, and she was very vocal about the fact that she was more than ready to die. We had already provided her with the last rites; she had even worked with me to plan the verses that we’d use at her funeral. She was completely ready to go. But because she had her mind and her wit…it was hard to believe she would pass anytime soon.
And then, she just went to sleep that day.
We had a nice morning, and she had just had a bath. She could no longer walk, so I had an aid come in for a few hours each day to help me. The aid had just tucked my mom back into bed. She was snug in her favorite red flannel pajamas, and had even talked on the phone with some relatives. She had been incredibly energized. But then she had grown tired. My cousin, as she tucked my mom in, had asked her if she had seen any angels. The last thing my mom had said was, “No, not yet..but that that would be nice.”
The timing was a shock. But again, I went into a “survival” mode. Need to find someone to take the kids to school and pick them up, check. Need to ask someone to come over so I could go grocery shopping, check.
I couldn’t just leave her alone as I feared not being there when she finally let go. I thought that would be quick; she was already so frail.
The first few days of her coma I would curl up with her on her bed and talk with her about her life, my family’s life and just about anything. I think I actually thought talking to her, keeping her mind alert, would somehow bring her back. I kid you not, I was still thinking she might just wake up. I’d read to her from a biography she had put together on her life many years before…I’d talk about the photos, laughing and hoping that somewhere in my mom’s limp body there was an inkling of what was being said. I played her favorite music for her, and put fresh flowers in her room.
I pretty much neglected my children during this time; my entire focus was my mom. Luckily, my kids were old enough to handle their own affairs and offer me tokens of their support along the way. They were frightened though, as I don’t think they believed their Granny would ever die, either.
Nothing got done around the house. The cats were lucky to get fed. Bills stacked up. Friends brought food, thankfully. I had a singular mission. Not to leave her side.
By Day 4 I was completely sleep deprived. I had been sleeping on the floor in her room, listening to her heavy breathing. She was still on an oxygen machine, but was not getting any nourishment, according to her wishes…just drops of morphine in her mouth. We developed a routine during the day, I’d bath her, flip her a bit so she wouldn’t develop sores, lubricate her skin and her lips. Instead of reading to her and curling up with her, now I’d sit on the bed and plead with her to let go. I knew she was ready; we had talked about it a lot in the past several months. Why wouldn’t she just let go?
On Day 5 I told my mom that I was going to sleep in my own bed that night. I needed sleep. I kissed her and told her I loved her. I also told her goodbye…and went upstairs to bed. That next morning, I avoided rushing downstairs, but eventually found my way down to her room. She was still breathing, both a shock and a source of contentedness for me. Hard to explain. I didn’t want to lose her, but I didn’t want her to live like that, and knew it was just a matter of time. How could such a tiny 94-year-old woman continue to hang on? Especially when I knew she was ready to go.
On Day 6 I at least knew my husband would be home the next day. He, too, had an emotional, gut-wrenching week. His Dad’s funeral (and he had been out there a few months earlier for his step-Mom’s funeral, so the family was still suffering from that emotional trauma as well) and then dealing with sorting through his Dad’s lifetime accumulation of “stuff, selling a car, dealing with other family matters. He was weary and yet, worried about me. I told him some friends said that perhaps my mom was waiting for him to come home, so that I’d have him with me. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of support from friends and family, including my kids, but still, my husband had lived with my mom for 9 years…knew her, loved her, joked around with her…I so wanted him to be there to say goodbye. And deep down I knew I was ready to crumble; I needed him there to pick me back up.
On Day 7 I tiptoed downstairs only to find my mom still breathing. I sat with her that day, and once again pleaded with her to let go. Her tiny body was seemingly even more tiny and frail. He body was clearly suffering from dehydration as every wrinkle was becoming greatly pronounced. I hated seeing her like that. I made deals with her. I will do this if you pass. I will do that if you pass. The angels are waiting! But still, she hung on.
My husband returned, and before he even sat down I made him go into her room and talk to her. I made him tell her that he was home and that she could leave now…that he would take care of things. That he was there for me.
That night, she seemed to have a different breathing pattern, so instead of going to bed, I went and sat with her. At one point, I told my husband, I think she is finally letting go. Her breathing is just different. He came and sat with her, too. And within 20 minutes, her breathing became erratic with pauses. It was painful to watch, but then suddenly, she took a large breath…an incredibly large breath. And she stopped breathing.
I knew it was coming, but still, was so upset. I held her hands as they grew cold and stiff. I was surprised at how quickly her body was becoming pale, cold and stiff. My husband called the hospice nurse, who called the funeral home people, who came to take her away. That, too, was so very hard. I heard the zip of whatever they were taking her in, and then…she was gone. Her folded up red flannel pajamas were all that was left behind on her bed.
So now, we’re coming up on 5 years since my father-in-law died. So another week and it will be 5 years since my mom died. Hard to believe that 5 years have passed. In many ways she is still with me. When I pass her old room, when I see some of her things around the house, and most of all, when I am in the garden. I am visited by a brightly pink-throated hummingbird, I am convinced it is summoned to visit me by my mom, who loved pink and loved my garden. My sweet pink hummingbird returns every year, for the 5 years my mom has been gone. It visited today, probably what got me thinking about writing this story. It flitted around me, as it always does. I always smile when I see it, and I always look up to the heavens and remember how much I loved my mom.