On Tuesday morning, my sister and I put the girls on the school bus, then packed her suitcase and headed to Mom’s.
It was time to say goodbye.
She was headed to Florida for a business meeting. Duty calls, you know.
Life goes on, right?
We found Mom in the dining room, but she didn’t look like she belonged there. She looked pale, sunken. Still swollen. Her red-rimmed eyes lit up when she saw us, but she didn’t look quite right, somehow.
She was visibly shaking, a new symptom I’d noted increasingly over the course of the weekend. One of her beloved aides was helping her drink some juice, hoping that would help. Maybe it was a blood sugar thing.
She was unable to eat on her own, but she did eat. I wondered if it was for our benefit.
After a few moments, she’d had enough. She looked tired of holding herself upright in the wheelchair. She seemed to be in pain. She wanted to go to bed.
Slowly, painfully so, the aide and nurse got her into bed. You could tell by looking at Mom how much it hurt.
“Ready for the big guns now, Mama?” I asked, referring to the strong painkillers hospice had promised.
“No,” she croaked, lying through her teeth (okay, dentures). The Vicodin she’d taken obviously wasn’t touching this kind of pain.
I shot a look across the bed at the nurse.
“We’ll get you something, Connie,” the nurse said briskly and cheerfully. She nodded at me.
They told me the morphine should work in about 5 minutes.
The nurse and aide bustled off. My sister and I sat on Mom’s bed. I looked at the clock. It was a full 30 minutes after we had planned to leave for the airport.
We said we had to go. We said we loved her. My sister said she’d be back next month.
We gave her permission to die.
We told her how she’d been a great mom. Taught us everything we know.
We told her we knew it hurt, and that she didn’t have to fight anymore. Not for us.
The morphine was working. Her eyes closed, but she smiled as we whispered sweet things in her ears and smoothed her hair.
We got up, collected our things. There were planes to catch.
As we left the room, I looked back at her, and shot her the “I love you” sign in sign language. “I’ll be back soon, Mama.”
My brain captured the snapshot: She sat up, eyes open now though it was clearly an effort, smiling at us as we left the room.
Dear Patient Reader, I’ll spare you the details, but she declined rapidly the rest of the day. The hospice nurse stopped in and was surprised to see how quickly she’d slid since the previous visit five days earlier. She got morphine first every three hours, then two, then hourly.
I returned at 2:00 pm. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I held her hand for a while, but it was too swollen; I was afraid I’d hurt her. My job seemed to be to call the nurse for more morphine when she became restless.
At 11 pm, I started to leave. She’d been sleeping fairly soundly, and everyone encouraged me to go home and get some sleep. But she began to stir. I wasn’t going to sneak out on her, so I told her my plan. She tried to speak…but I couldn’t understand. The morphine had slurred her speech too much. I didn’t know what she was trying to tell me to to do.
“Okay, Mama…it’s okay. I’ll stay. I’m staying.”
By 3:00 am, I’d had…enough. It was too hard to watch her struggle. She hadn’t been anywhere close to conscious since 11 pm. I’d been told she could go on like this for days. Maybe even weeks.
The nurse promised to call me when there was any change. I needed to leave.
I climbed into bed when I got home, but sleep did not come easily.
Big Sis woke me at 5:45 am. She was having tummy troubles and shivering violently. Just like a couple of weeks ago when she’d had the nightmare about Grandma dying.
She climbed into bed with me. I was grateful to have a life-sized baby doll to snuggle with. I embraced her shivering form, and we drifted off to sleep.
The phone rang just before 7:00 am. It was the night nurse. Mom had just passed away. The two aides had been rounding together before the shift change, and she waited for them to check on her. She died while they were in the room.