Upon first glance you’ll find that I’m doing okay. I’m functioning. I’m moving. I’m doing.
It’s when I wake up that I most feel the loss of my mother. The days get me through, and the nights I’m too tired to think. But the mornings…everything is fresh in my mind.
I open my eyes and I’m suddenly—keenly—aware that something is missing in my life. I feel like a cartoon character with a ton of bricks piled on top of me. I feel lost, confused, and overwhelmed.
She gasped her last breath on early Sunday morning around 1 AM, right after the original Father of the Bride ended on TCM.
On Saturday, May 19th—my birthday—she had a pretty good day. We had plans to go to the Harbor Market but she cancelled at the last minute because she felt winded. So I decided to take Jared and Tavin over there for a little visit. She sat out on the porch with us, watched Tavin play ball, and enjoyed the warm breeze.
The next day didn’t go as well. She was in excruciating pain and the Hospice nurse decided it was time to give her a dose of the morphine. My mom didn’t want to be doped up at all, so she was reluctant to take it but the nurse convinced her she’d feel a lot better. 15 minutes later her heart rate was back to normal and her pain level dropped from a 10 to a 6.
Tuesday, May 22nd, was my wedding anniversary, so Jared and I went over there to see how she was doing and to borrow the credit card we typically used for various things. At first she seemed coherent, but then things took a radical turn when I handed her purse to her to get the credit card out.
She rummaged for nearly 20 minutes in her purse. She found a pen and got lost for a few minutes just clicking it in and out, in and out. Then she took out a large black comb and ran her fingers down the teeth of the comb, up and down, up and down. Then she got a big smile on her face and said to me, “There! I found it! Here’s the card,” and handed me the comb.
Wednesday morning I was woken up to a phone call from my older son who lives with her, telling me I needed to get over there right away. I didn’t ask questions. I just went.
When I got there, she was sitting by herself at the edge of the bed, sopping in urine and groaning in pain. “I couldn’t get up to get to the bathroom,” she cried apologetically. I tried to help her up, but she screamed in pain. She told me to just get her back on the bed to lie down. So I tried to move her as she screamed the whole time. I tried to get her undressed so she could feel comfortable in dry clothes, but she wouldn’t let me move her again.
The pain was so intense that she actually let me give her the smallest amount of morphine. I called Hospice and let them know what was going on and they told me it would be an hour before anyone could get there. I was at a complete loss.
As I sat and waited for Hospice, sitting by her bedside, she continued to groan loudly in pain, shouting, “HELP ME! HELP ME!!” The pain didn’t subside as quickly as it had on Sunday, so I had to give her another small dose of morphine. As I tried to help her get comfortable, she began to scream and yell at me and then finally whimpered, “I don’t mean to be a bitch, but I’m just so angry and in so much pain.”
Those were the last words I’d hear from my mother…ever again.
When the nurse arrived, she gave my mother another dose of morphine and an anxiety pill. She shut off my mom’s TV and there went her routine of black and white movies.
She slipped into a morphine coma that afternoon and we never heard a word from her again except when we tried to give her the medicine. She became incredibly combative, taking swings us and screaming, “No, no, no! No, no, NO!” when we tried to give her the morphine. She knew what it was doing to her and she hated every second of it.
That day is when we began round the clock care. Her best friend took the day shift, and I took the night shift.
I was terrified that first night. I didn’t want to give her that morphine, but I knew it was her only “comfort” from pain. I hated seeing her in the state she didn’t want to be in. She wanted to be coherent through it all, even if it meant suffering through immense pain. Throughout this whole process, she never took any pain medication higher than Tylenol with codeine, and she would tell me all the time, “I don’t want to take that stuff. I don’t want to be doped up on drugs.”
Friday morning was Tavin’s third birthday. My mom was determined to be a part of it somehow. She had made that clear in one of her lucid moments on Monday. So when I woke up that morning to go home, I went to her side and said in a chipper tone, “Good morning, mom! Today’s Tavin’s birthday!” And she opened her eyes and tried to focus on me as much as possible. I told her that I’d be bringing him by soon and she tried to smile.
When she heard Tavin’s voice, she tried to open her eyes but had a very difficult time. But her face lit up when he sang, Jesus Loves Me, that played from a plush bunny she had given him on Easter (she was so excited about giving him that thing!). He talked with her, sat on her bed and opened the presents she got him the week prior, and he ran around the house playing. You could see the joy in her face even though she couldn’t properly express it.
That night when I went back to stay, I had a beautiful experience with her. I was told by one of the nurses that she could hear me and that we should talk to her and remember the good times. So I spent most of the night by her side, while Josh, Jared and I talked to her about the good times we all had with her. My mom’s face lit up! You could see she was smiling and sometimes even tried to laugh, but it came out as a grunt instead. It didn’t matter. I knew what it was!
Then I put earphones for the iPod in her ears so she could listen to Jared’s song, Rain. Her eyebrows moved up and down and her mouth would move as if she wanted to say something.
When the song was over, I grabbed her hand and wept. I poured my heart out to her and she would periodically try to squeeze my hand at all the tender moments. And then I put my head next to hers on the pillow and whispered in her ear how much I loved her and how much I was going to miss her, and it must have taken all the strength she had, but she moved her head to mine so that our foreheads were touching.
And then it dawned on me: the house was near silent besides our talking. Her house was never like that. The second she walked in the door from work, TCM or AMC was on, and she even fell asleep watching old black and white movies. So I turned on the TV and put in her favorite movie, Thin Man. I could see that she was finally happy and content regardless of her state. So the three of us played cards next to her bed and talked to her about the movie as it played. In her mind, I know, that was a piece of Heaven on earth.
Throughout the night I swabbed the inside of her dry mouth and sometimes she would close her mouth on the wet swab and suck on it like a popsicle. She loved that. And then I would say, “If you want some more, just open up and I’ll put more water on it,” and she would try to open her mouth as much as she could, and we’d do it all over again.
On my way to her house Saturday evening, there was a gorgeous sunset drifting into fluffy white clouds. As I saw it, I heard God tell me, “I’m taking her home tonight.” I turned to Jared and told him, “Mom’s going home tonight.”
That night she was less responsive and her breathing was strained. We had to begin the “final days” medicine (that’s what they called it) because you could hear the gurgling in her lungs as the body was beginning to shut down.
At 9 PM the Cary Grant movie, Topper, began. I used to love the TV series, and my mom knew I loved Cary Grant, so you could see she was happy that movie was on.
11 PM, Father of the Bride started and Jared left to go back home. I went to bed around 11:30 and began to pray but felt led by the Holy Spirit to go to her bedside and pray for and with her. She was completely and utterly unresponsive. No hand squeezing, no eyebrow movement, no movement of the mouth…just gurgling of the lungs. But I prayed anyway.
Right before 1 AM, this weird feeling came over me and I was quickly awakened and remembered that I had forgotten to take my RLS medication before going to bed. So I got up, grabbed my pill, walked out into the living room and checked on my mom.
She wasn’t breathing at first, but all of sudden she took a big gasp of air. I felt relieved that she hadn’t died and ventured into the kitchen for water to take my pill. When I came back out, I sadly realized that gasp was her last. I was privy to her exit as she left this hell on earth she had so bravely endured for far too long, so she could enter the Kingdom of Heaven she so rightly deserved.
The dogs started barking uncontrollably, and as I tried to turn lights on, they all began to flicker on and off, and within 20 second they all went on and stayed on and the dogs were suddenly calm and silent. She was gone.
I didn’t cry. I just went into a zone of taking care of what needed to be taken care of. I still am. I’m not sure if I’m dealing with this well because of all the prayers that are covering me, or if I’m just numb and too busy to think about it all. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss her. I’m sure there will come a day very soon when I will want to tell her about a new recipe I tried and realize I can’t share it with her.
My mom was never really one for “doing” stuff. As I said, she loved just being in the comfort of her own home watching old movies. But last year she got addicted to the Harbor Market, and I’ve since loved sharing that with her. We would make a whole morning out of it, sampling everything along the way, and she’d buy things and then split it with me so I could take half of whatever she got home with me. She liked doing that most…divvying up the goods.
I don’t know who I’ll share my life with anymore. All of my friends live so far away, and sometimes I just need a woman to talk to, and that has been my mom these past few years. We could spend hours on the phone talking food, politics, family, and old movies. Sometimes she would even call me late at night and tell me to turn on TCM because she wanted me to see one of her favorite movies. She could tell you anything you ever needed to know about any movie from the 30’s to the 50’s.
She was my friend. And sometimes she was my worse enemy. But in the end one thing remained constant: she was my mommy.
(As I’ve mentioned before, I design the daily reminders weeks in advance, and have noticed that God truly uses them to speak to me each day. Imagine my surprise when I saw what today’s reminder was when I posted it!)