Well, this is going to be a weird post.
My mom passed away Thursday morning, July 25th at 5 minutes to 9...In hospice, and shortly before Kelly Ripa and whoever her latest co-host came on...I was briefly aware of the tube being on at the time my mom stopped breathing, as I had turned the tube over to the Weather Channel at 3AM after HGTV turned into paid commercial infomercials, but after spending almost a week of no sleep while waiting for the "end"...the irony of some mindless hosts giggling in the back round was lost on me in the darkness of the moment. The only thing I can recall now is that at the moment my mom stopped breathing, someone on the tube was talking about some tropical storm out in the ocean. And giggling.
It had been a brutal and devastating weekend, one filled with moments of hope, and then dashed by the brutal truth of reality. And yet, God showered me with His love, and at the weirdest moments, joy. Still, I'd rather been at Taco Bell...but they weren't open yet. Not that it wouldn't have mattered. I had decided that I wasn't going to leave my mom's bedside that week, although it wasn't because I wasn't a martyr or super daughter. I was simply terrified she was going to leave without saying goodbye, and there was no way I was going to let that happen. Especially since three weeks before that when visiting her at home (for what turned out to be the last time) I snuck out that Sunday morning basically without saying goodbye. Because my mom hated goodbyes. And the last few months every time I visited her in Iowa, she made leaving her hell.
"This could be the last time honey, I will probably never see you again, at least not on this side of heaven, I don't have very long honey, don't you think you could possibly spend one more day with me, call your boss, listen, I'll pay you for your day off."
Paybacks are a bitch aren't they? So is karma I'm sure, so there was no way I was leaving her side now. Well, that and the fact that I had spent about 15 minutes at her house when I first got into town after getting the call that this time in the hospital was going to be far more serious then all the other times she had spent in the hospital this past year. She had been so close to death several times this year, that I have to tell you, I didn't know it was possible that someone could be so ill and still survive...and I kinda got use to it.
I even stopped making plans this past year, I simply couldn't, because I never knew if I was going to get a call saying "mom's in the hospital and it's serious." And I would immediately hop in the car and drive the 6 and a half hours to the hospital to see her. People gave up asking me to come to their parties, and seriously, I stopped caring because I knew, that at any moment that phone could ring, and this would be the last time I would see my mom. And of course, that's eventually what happened. Oh, but I did briefly stop at my mom's house in that last week, for about 15 minutes, I was going to stay longer but it was simply too painful. This was shortly after my family was told there was "no hope." I was going to take a brief nap and a brutally needed shower but there were reminders of my mother everywhere, from the slippers she was wearing and had just taken off and left next to her shower, to her face cream she had sitting out just before her massive heart attack...not that my mom or dad knew it was a heart attack at the time, she started having problems breathing and my dad called 911 like he always did. Nothing out of the ordinary for my family, except this was going to be the last time. My dad told me later that they explained the "living will" to her (like they had countless times) and she had smiled at them and said "we had this exact conversation three weeks ago when I was here last," which was almost exactly three weeks to the day. My mom had just gotten out of the hospital that past Monday after spending almost three weeks in ICU and their hospital rehab. And here it was Thursday, and she was back in the ER, again. (I still have the last living will she signed, my husband says it's creepy, but it's the last time she signed anything in her life, and I am unable to part with it, at least for now.)
My mom had COPD which stands for Chronic obstructive pulmonary (lung) disease, which in plain English means "your life is going to suck very, very slowly." I can remember flying to Tucson with her 7 years ago and she was healthy, energetic, and in good spirits, everything felt normal. But when she came to visit me just a few months later, she would be walking and then suddenly stop, and catch her breath. At first I discounted it as mom being out of shape perhaps...but nothing more serious then that. Then the hospitalizations started, at first, just a couple of days here or there and maybe only a couple of times a year. Then the stays got a little more serious, and I noticed my mom's legs seemed swollen and discolored...almost blue, but my mom would shrug it off saying she had just been to the doctor, and I, in spite of being a former nurse aide and medical assistant knew better, but desperately wanted to believe her. I started begging her to move to Milwaukee but because my dad refused to move (he was in more denial then I was) and because she didn't have the energy to even travel, I spent more and more time driving to Mason City, Iowa. And I became well versed on the various hospital menu items and on what night was rotisserie chicken. And where the best pizza was on the road (TJ's in Monona, Iowa, off Highway 18 a few miles west of the Mississippi) and the best rest stops and gas stations...but what I didn't know was how to best help my mom her last year of life. Oh, I had great intentions, I would come and spend the weekend cleaning her house, and washing her clothes, and nagging her on taking her meds. She in turn would alternately beg me to move to Iowa or ask me to stop nagging her on her meds. You can't argue with a nurse and my mom was a former hospice RN...no one was going to tell her how to do it, and I suppose, that's the way it should be. I'm thankful that the last couple of times I was there I gave up trying to "help her" and spent the time "enjoying her."
"So you're hungry for a chili cheese burrito from Taco Bell, alright, I'll drive you there. Need a nap, move over, I'll take one with you."
When I got the call the last time, something in side me said "this is it." And I don't know how I knew, but I knew it. Especially when I got to her room and she was calling out to her mother and brother, both who had passed away 7 years before. When I came into her room she grabbed me by my arm and pulling her face up to mine, looked into my eyes and said "I'm dying aren't I." And I'll just stop right here and give you the best answer to this question ever, an answer that was most certainly given to me by God because I wasn't smart enough to come up with it. "Mom, if you were going to die, you would've died yesterday." Honestly, that seemed to calm her down, at least before the doctor came in and told her "Sandra, you have a serious situation, and I need to have your entire family here for a consultation." Then she knew. And she handled it like a real pro, she honestly did. When the entire family got there, she took turns talking to us separately telling us that she loved us and where she thought our strengths and weaknesses were. No kidding, she wasn't brutal, but she was direct, like knowing that the end was coming freed her from having to worry who was going to be insulted and skip Christmas dinner this year.
For me it was "Cindy, you're a sweetheart but you're a bit of a hard ass, mellow out." I was like "Thanks mom, and mellowing out will be no problem if you're willing to share some of that morphine they're handing out like snicker bars around here." She was like "ha ha, now send your brother in here..." I could only guess what she said to him since he's a bit of an ass-hole...Opps, I'm sorry, I probably need to mellow out...a lot more.
The next few days were a blur. They discussed dialysis and then almost immediately ruled it out. There were just too many organs failing on my mom. When we got her death certificate a month ago I almost passed out, she had three immediate causes of death and three underlying causes...Ready for this? The main three were heart, kidney and liver failure, and the underlying causes were diabetes, COPD, and pulmonary hypertension. I never knew she was that ill. She never told anyone everything that was going on. I felt like such a moron. And a loser too. How the hell did I not know how bad it was, geez Louise, and I called myself a nurse aide???
Hospice was the best thing that could of happened for mom, and I'm sure if you ever had a relative in hospice you know how awesome it can be. Yes, it's where your loved one is going to die, but for the most part, it's going to be as gentle and painless as they can possibly make it for family member and all I can say is God bless you North Iowa Hospice in Mason City, Iowa. They kept the morphine drip going, they kept my mom turned every two hours, and they explained everything in more detail (then I at times wanted to know) how death was going to happen. And yet I appreciated it. And the drugs were better then anything I could've ever imagined in the 20 years before when I had been an aide...but what scared me the most about my mother dying was the fear of hearing what we use to call the death rattle or seeing her with cheyne-stokes...it's a labored breathing...well let's just say it's horrible to hear that from anyone and the fact that my mom would even...I seriously didn't know how I was going to handle that, yet God heard my prayer;
(Dear God, Hi, it's me Cindy, CINDY...Yes, I know it's been awhile and I know I only seem to remember to pray when things really suck, and today, yeah, it really sucks...Can I use the word sucks?...Seriously, of all the words I could use...wait, I'm sorry, I'm getting side tracked here. Dear God, I'm not even going to try to ask you to heal my mom, not that you couldn't, but I'm...well, I know my dad is praying for a miracle but I'm a realist God, I know she's ready to go, and even though I'm not OK with it, I'm OK with it...IF...I know, I know...Now I'm asking you for a favor but you don't have to grant it if you don't want to...although I don't know why you wouldn't grant it, but it won't change my faith if you don't because I love you and I...hold it...before I forget what I'm asking here it is...Lord, I'm afraid of hearing my mom with cheyne-stokes, I just don't think I can handle it, is there anyway she doesn't have to go through that?)
She never did the cheyne-stokes. Nope....and when death came, it gave about an hour warning. My dad managed to make it in on time. He held her hand and told her he loved her. She opened her eyes, looked at him and then looked up at me, and then shut her eyes and stopped breathing. Death couldn't have been any easier on her, or us. I just wished I had turned off the cable earlier.
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