Normally I went out with my mother for lunch on Wednesdays. But an hour before, Miriam (my mother’s companion) called to tell me my mother wasn’t well enough to go out this week. So I decided to visit both of them; we’d just have lunch at my mother’s nursing home instead. But when I arrived, it was clear something was terribly wrong. This was not the chronic respiratory condition my mother usually had.
The charge nurse tried to be patient with me. I kept interrupting her; anger seeped into my voice and I felt heat rising in my scalp. I was upset when she told me that no doctor was available to check my mother; the nursing home did not have a doctor that came to the nursing home on that day.
As the nurse gently explained the procedures, I made it clear that my mother had immune issues. A week earlier I had complained that she was coughing and would benefit from an antibiotic. She was given one and had improved slightly. But over the weekend, she took a turn for worse. Why hadn’t another antibiotic been prescribed when it was clear the first one wasn’t working?
I emphatically stated that just because my mother had a “no hospitalization order” – it didn’t mean I didn’t want measures taken to give her a fighting chance.
The charge nurse told me that even though a doctor wasn’t available to check her, a nurse practitioner would be coming soon. An hour later, I received a call and was glad I had stirred them into action. My mother received increased oxygen and many tests were ordered.
Before the call ended, the charge nurse asked me to consider hospice for my mother.
Like an echo in a canyon, her words reverberated through my mind over and over again. I wasn’t ready. My father’s death felt fairly recent, even though it had been over a year ago.
I noticed that I still held onto the feeling that I had control over this outcome. With the breathing treatments, the nurse said my mother was responding. In another day my mother would receive a boost of gamma globulin, which also might make a difference.
Later that day, I received a call with results of an x-ray. The nurse spelled out the letters of CHF for me. After I hung up, I figured out those letters stood for congestive heart failure.
My mother was 88 years old. She had become increasingly frail over the past six months. Her decline with dementia for the last three years had also been unstoppable. But her love for me always permeated. I slowly discarded the fear of her ever not recognizing me.
I thought I was ready for this. My mother who was so close to me had left my world three years ago. She was replaced with a shadow of her former self. Despite her ferocious ability to cling to life, it was not easy to watch her struggle.
I often wondered, how would I remember her? This frail, sweet loving woman was not the woman who danced through stores shopping with me. I was so blessed to have a mother who accompanied me to all of my childrens’ doctor appointments. She usually planned my birthday months in advance. With her decline, I pretended she still had awareness although she had no idea about calendar days. I would just buy myself a birthday gift and show it to her while thanking her for loving me so much. Despite her advanced dementia, she would glow hearing my words.
I decided it was easier to remember my mother as she was now. Letting go of “a shadow” – was something I was able to do.
It was far more difficult to let go of memories of the mother I longed for at the onset of her illness.
But my longing gradually turned into quiet acceptance. I marveled at my strength. It was best she did not accompany me through my divorce and a huge relief. Yet I was heartsick that my brothers had not reconciled so she could see all three of us together while she was still alive.
That was another reminder of how little control I had.
Was her death is imminent? In a few days I would know.
It seemed possible that she could recover as she had many times before. But she was certainly not going to live forever.
My mother was weak and clearly exhausted. In my heart, perhaps it was her time.
There’s never a good time to lose someone you love. Only a week ago, I felt so peaceful and happy.
My journey had finally taken me to a place above the pain and sorrow I had camped in. The valley of sadness was below me and I had crested onto a beautiful peak. The vistas in every direction allowed me to fully appreciate my remarkable journey.
I rested on that peak and wondered what to do next.
I want to share something that I found in my father’s memorabilia. My mother wrote four pages about the experience of losing her own mother. She wrote it a year after her mother died to read at the unveiling service for her mother’s gravestone.
As I read her typed pages, I remember observing her grief. I was perhaps nine years old at that time and it was difficult to see her sadness. It was my first lesson about grief and I’ve never forgotten it. Clicking on these two pages make them larger.
Message to both my brothers, yesterday:
Mom was too sick to go out for lunch today. I brought Miriam a sandwich and just visited her at the nursing home. Mom was having some trouble breathing and couldn’t open her eyes. Even though she was struggling, I knew she was aware that I was there; she tried to mumble a few words.
They were cooling her because she had a slight fever and keeping her as comfortable as possible.
Mom was supposed to have received her monthly gamma globulin treatment this past Monday, but the office cancelled it and rescheduled it for this coming Monday (the doctor had jury duty). This happened when she really needed the boost to her immune system.
I wanted to see if she could receive it any sooner than this Monday because it might help her with this situation.
Anyway, I managed to get it arranged for Friday. I also let her nursing home know that even though mom has a “no hospitalization order,” they can still give her an IV with antibiotics or fluid. It’s interesting that they think her situation is “do not treat,” which it is not.
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