You have not heard from me lately due to one of the following reasons—pick one:
1. I have been seeing a great deal of this handsome frog.
2. I’ve been having delirium tremens from using the wrong detergent.
3. I have been spending a great deal of time with my mom who is getting ready to make her final transition into the great beyond.
If you picked 1 or 2, sorry! Door number 3 it is, but, hopefully, you already knew that, although I have dated a few handsome frogs in my time.
My mother is getting ready to walk or sail or fly, or whatever it is we do, through that big door called death. We all have to go through it sooner or later. However, as her daughter, it is extremely challenging to watch. Hospice tells me she is experiencing terminal agitation, which is a stage where the body has run its course but is still fighting to survive. There can be intense anxiousness, twitching, jerking, and an inability to lay still, odd body contortions, combativeness and anger. This can start from hours up to a couple of weeks preceding death. She is already a week into it, but had been declining somewhat dramatically the last several weeks before.
There is a beautiful resident cat in the cottage of the memory care facility where my mother lives. His name is Jasper, and he is a silken black very Zen like cat. I am told that when a resident is getting ready to pass, he will climb on their beds and stay there. He starts at the feet, and as it gets closer, he moves to the middle of the bed and at the end he is on the pillow with them. In the past, my mother never appreciated him jumping on her bed, but last week she was found petting him as he lay next to her. Jasper has taken up residence at her feet.
It is difficult to watch someone you have loved your whole life shrink down to nothing and be in so much agony in their slide towards the inevitable. She has been in hell every minute and completely aware of being there even if the person who once lived in her body is no longer there.
I have had to make some painful decisions in these final days as to her care and comfort, and I have to tell you, it has been wrenchingly difficult and guilt producing. There is so much I don’t know here. She has a DNR order (Do Not Resuscitate) in place, but what to do about getting water or a little bit of food into them if there is still the willingness or ability to swallow at all? She has been placed on heavy meds in order to keep her comfortable. Otherwise, she is attempting to get up and then repeatedly falling; shockingly, she’s even been found climbing on chairs and sitting on tables. No one would expect this from a very frail and skeletal 95 lb. woman who just two years ago, weighed in at 180 lbs. After several recent small strokes, her speech is unintelligible, but she is still amazingly strong and has a death grip when she decides to hold on to something. She has become a danger to herself at this point, and after getting as much water and a bit of food down her as she has been able to tolerate, she now sleeps, due to the influence of medication.
As her guardian, it has been up to me to tend to all the business of dying. I am either with her, or making phone calls and tying up a lot of loose ends every day. It is a tremendous amount of work, not to mention the emotional business. In the evening, I collapse and cry in my compulsion to try and make her dying as comfortable as possible. This is not always so possible, and there are daily emotional adjustments to her constant and many changes.
Still there have been some funny and/or meaningful things she has been able to say in the middle of it all:
- She mentioned that she keeps seeing “Dad” hanging around a lot lately and didn’t know why.
- The other day, my girlfriend, who has adopted my mom as her own and has provided invaluable help as Certified Nursing Assistant, was tending to her. Mom looked up at her and asked, “If you’re my sister, then why are you so short?!” (Her “tall” sister passed away several years ago, and my mom has been mentioning her a lot lately—so she must be hanging around, too.)
- My same girlfriend told her that she was very beautiful, and my mom straightened herself and replied in a clear distinct voice, “Yes, I AM beautiful!” before slumping over and returning to her unintelligible speech once again.
You have to find reasons to laugh. Yesterday after we left my mother sleeping and after we met in conference with administration and hospice regarding mom’s care where I chose comfort over everything else they could do, my girlfriend and I went to lunch and had a glass of wine. Jokingly, I informed her that taking care of the dying requires lots of wine. She said she thought she would write that into her contract the next time she takes care of a terminally ill patient.
Family and friends have made last minute visits to see her, but it does not appear that she recognizes much of anyone anymore. Yesterday while sitting next to her bed, this same girlfriend who has been there every step of the way through this journey with me, suggested to my mother that she hug me. On cue, my mother who was determined to lean vertically in my direction, put her head on my chest. I put my arms around her and for over an hour we stayed that way—her ear against my beating heart, my fingers playing in her hair, gently caressing her back and arm…it was the last moment of heaven together before she closed her eyes—maybe forever.
June 24, 2013 at 12:30 am
My heart is with you. And thank you for allowing me to share your story with my Alzheimer’s Association audiences. Love and blessings to you….
June 24, 2013 at 1:56 am
Thanks so much Richard. You do such a wonderful work of service with the Alzheimer’s Association. Thank from both Mom and I for advancing such a worth cause and working to educate people about this disease. And by the way, feel free to share anything here if it serves your purposes. Love and blessings, dear friend!
June 23, 2013 at 7:38 pm
I was with my mum when she took her last breath after many, many years of decline. I saw her world diminish and become more narrow. I witnessed her as she shrank and became less than she once was in her physical body. I saw the light go out in her magnificent eyes. It was a holy moment. Saying goodbye to the mum who birthed me. Sending you love and healing as you go through this journey with your mother.
June 23, 2013 at 9:40 pm
Oh, Barbara, you absolutely spoke truth here! It can be such a holy moment spending time with our beloved as they pass. We learn so much from them, don’t we? This has been the season of so much death for me the last month or so as several have passed out of my life or have been close to loved ones as they pass, even through tragic circumstances. It has been a lot to bear emotionally, and I am not done yet. Yet I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything, for they are my teacher and they inform me of the brevity of human circumstance and enrich my life and psyche in ways mystical, mysterious and wisely beautiful. There is so much we don’t know and having the privilege of traveling with them to death’s door can become a great opening for us, as well. Thank you for being there with your mother, for honoring her with your love!
June 23, 2013 at 3:32 pm
Thanks for sharing your beautiful and agonizing experience. I recently visited my 95 year old father in a state that takes 13 hours to drive to see him so the trips are not often. Though we have a close connection we do not get to spend much time together in the same room. I know that when his or my time comes we will know that the other will carry on and be with them always in spirit. Death is only a door to a new experience. For him it will be his heaven he has waited for in his strong faith. Death for me will be liberation from the earth to return to the stardust I came from attracted to the suns in our universe. Just remember, the body is a shell for our spirit to experience a human experience. You can never destroy spirit because it is energy…the life force. I hope your mother floats up like a gentle helium balloon to wherever andwhatever her belief system welcomes her to go
June 23, 2013 at 9:35 pm
Lisa, you are so correct about energy and doors to a different experience. Even though you don’t get to spend a lot of time with your dad, it sounds as if you have a good relationship with him, and so any time you get to spend together like money in the bank. I had a near death experience about 15 years ago while in the hospital with sepsis. I can absolutely for myself say that life goes on after death. Behind that door laid the essence of Love Itself, and I had the experience of lying in the arms of Love where I was told (without language or human tongue) that I was loved no matter what just because I exist. I can never escape this love, which is not something I can even begin to describe but felt viscerally. There is nothing I have to do or be to earn this love because I am it and it is me and I will go back to that source when I pass out of my body. And this is true for everyone–but as you spoke of, so much of what we initially experience is according to our beliefs when we pass. Thoughts are creative. Although I believe that no matter what we believe now, we continue to grow and expand and learn beyond this human existence. We come to realize the finite scope of vision we possessed while on Planet Earth. How it all plays out, we don’t know, but energy never dies. Thank you for your thoughtful response!
June 22, 2013 at 3:52 pm
Correction: That’s “those that die agonizing deaths without the care of comfort of family and dear ones gathering…”
June 22, 2013 at 3:50 pm
Funny, Tom, but no matter how old we get, when we lose our parents, we feel a bit like orphans. And maybe this is why it is good to raise your children well…so that, hopefully, they are around to guide us gently towards our own death. I have many fond memories.
James (my son in law) works with the terminally ill and tells of those that die agonizing deaths with the care or comfort of family and dear ones gathering because the one is dying has treated them so harshly in life. When James calls them to inform them to come in the last hours, they refuse.
It is important to remember kindness in life. A little bit goes a long way, doesn’t it?
June 22, 2013 at 11:44 am
What can I say at a time like this…? But you write like a angel as your mom is ready to draw her last breath. Your emotions are constantly making you aware, as the mother you remember, remember with so many fond memories of yesteryear. As you hold your mother, maybe for the last time, know… I hold you from many miles away.
June 22, 2013 at 6:00 am
Yes, Candy, I loved your mom, too. She was like a second mother to me all those years. Strange, huh, how it goes…seems like yesterday we were barely 15 and I was sneaking in your house late at night while your mom slept, using you for an excuse to stay out with my boyfriend. Never imagined this time and how fast it goes, holding our own mothers in our own aging arms while they slip away into the light.
June 22, 2013 at 5:55 am
Linda, it has indeed been tough. Life will be different after she is gone, I think. Yet, for her it will be a mercy. I will just miss her. Thank you for the light shared! Love, Susie
June 22, 2013 at 4:31 am
Your writing here is wonderful. It touches me….
I miss my mom, her voice, her style, her smile, and most of all her hugs. Oddly, she rarely if ever hugged me throughout my life, until she was dying. In order to get her from the hospital bed in her bedroom to the hall bathroom, she had to hug me tightly, so I could maneuver her into the wheelchair. Those hugs, that I received only a few times, those last days of her life, mean more to me than most anything else I experienced in her dying.
It is those hugs, that however not interpreted as emotional bonds at the time, by mom and I, they are, today, the memories that soothe the pain of my loss. I recall the HUGS most of all.
Susie, Hug her, and know LOVE transcends DEATH, and LIFE…. LOVE just is….
The rest. the details, the requirements, the tasks… will get taken care of when it is time.
June 22, 2013 at 4:21 am
I did not click like, because I did not like this agonizing story, to do so just seemed wrong.
My heart goes out to you and I will hold you in the light…..