About a week ago I put Mom on palliative care and now she’s gone. I got a one day break to pay my bills, catch up on my sleep and think through the days ahead. Several hours of that day I spent with her. She rested quietly and though I sat right beside her, I knew she was far away in a drug induced dream.
I’d read that if I talked to her, she could hear me on some level, so I talked. I told her who she’d received cards from that day and described a wonderful gift from a friend. I praised the gentle ministrations of the staff, both Walnut Place’s and hospice. I reminded her of how much I loved her and that I’d gotten every thing in order business-wise, so she didn’t need to worry about it. I told her how sorry I was that her little body had given up on her when she had such a strong will to live. I reminded her that Dad, Aunt Edie and Grandmother were standing at heaven’s gate anxious to have her with them. I told her a cousin who had been on vacation was headed home, so there was nothing else to wait for. I assured her that I’d heard her when she said she wanted to go and I’d gotten everything ready to accommodate her departure. I kissed her on her sweet little forehead and went back to my life.
The next morning I decided to go ahead and make the funeral arrangements. According to the hospice workers, we probably had a few weeks to go, but there was no use putting off the inevitable. I made the appointment and then went to visit with her for a while. Things were very different than they were the day before. Mom was restless and experiencing some difficulty breathing, so I found the nurse.
The nurse looked at her watch and furrowed her brows, “I just gave her some medication an hour or so ago.” I told her I could be wrong, but it appeared to me that it had worn off. Sure enough the bed alarm went off and the nurse hurried down the hall to see what was happening. She dosed Mom again, stopping at the end of the bed to give her a gentle look. I waited beside Mom, counting the minutes until she got relief. I counted twenty minutes and though Mom was not worse, she was still very restless and her breathing had not improved.
I suppose my face told the whole story, because I walked out of the room and before I could say a word the director of nurses rushed in and right behind her was Mother’s nurse. More meds were administered and the director of nurses took me in the hall for a frank conversation. At best Mom had seventy-two hours. “Should I stay or should I go to the appointment I have at the funeral home?” She said I should go to the funeral home and she would call hospice to request critical care. She said she couldn’t promise the round-the-c;lock nurses would come and she reminded me that my mother had a habit of rallying, but one way or another I needed to get the arrangements made.
So, I went home, packed a bag and Bill went with me to the funeral home. All the time we were planning the funeral, my phone was buzzing on the table. I’d excuse myself, have a hurried conversation and then try to return to the business at hand. (Note to self: Funeral home personnel aren’t geared for speed.) When the documents were finally ready, I signed on the dotted lines and rushed to the hospital.
Critical care had been re-instated. A nice young man whose name sounded something like Ytakis sat at her side making notes to document every subtle change. She was improved over her situation earlier in the day, so I suggested that a few people come for their last visit. We shared a pleasant evening, then I tucked myself into the recliner to catch some sleep.
Mom and I slept peacefully for a while and then there was a lot of activity around 1:30 AM. Her doses were raised again. After a bit, she settled down, so I went back to sleep, secure in the knowledge that someone was watching over her.
Around five, the hall started waking up and I gave up on sleep. There were changes. Mother’s breathing had become more labored and there was a new gurgling sound. Later in the morning I made some calls to discourage people from seeing her like this. I’d been down this road with Aunt Edie and I didn’t want anyone else to have to have those kinds of memories.
The day seemed to inch along and the gurgling worsened. I could only stand it for so long and then I’d walk the halls. When I managed to compose myself, I’d return. All the while the Walnut Place nurses were taking wonderful, gentle care of me alongside my Mom. Ytakis tried to distract me with a discussion of politics, but trying to explain Obamacare to a recent immigrant was more frustrating than distracting. I went back to the crossword puzzle books I’d been toting around me with me since Mom went on hospice.
Around six they brought me a dinner tray, but as I lifted the lid a new sound filled the room. I recognized the awful gasping from my vigil beside my aunt. I clenched my teeth and pushed the tray aside. This was the moment I dreaded. I wondered if I would be able to endure the final ordeal. I stood next to Mom, holding her hand and kissing her forehead. On the other side of the bed Ytakis was busy doing whatever nurses do in this situation. In just a few minutes the wet labored breathing stopped. Mom had finally broken through to heaven.