2018 will be a year that sticks with me for many reasons but the biggest is the loss of my mother, something we knew was coming but which, as they say, you are never prepared for when it happens.
With mom it was a slow decline that we could only bear silent witness to. It was an awful burden but never more awful than her own, a woman who had suffered enough in her life.
I remember getting the call that mom was going to be entered in hospice and it felt like the world had fallen away beneath me. It was early in the year and while there had been talk that she was nearing the need to enter hospice care, her finally entering it meant that the silent clock that had been ticking was suddenly very, very loud.
Time was running out.
For several years now I have had the awful understanding that eventually we would have our last Christmas together as teh full family. I have been very lucky to have my family alive for as long as I have. A lot of people don’t have that luxury. I can tell you though that it was an awful feeling last Christmas, a feeling of sick dread as the day drew on and it became time to leave because I knew that vague fear was turning from cold chill to ragged bone and time was just running out. It was a good Christmas, we had had better, we probably had had worse, but it was good. I won’t say I knew it was the last one but I had a bad feeling.
You just never know.
The reality of hospice care hit me when I went out to see my mom after finding out and saw the packet that was left – it detailed what Hospice was, had a series of forms to be filled out, including a Do Not Resuscitate form, and it ran through the signs that death was imminent. Then it was real. It was all real. I kept going back to that, over the next three months, wondering when the signs would begin and not realizing that things were already underway.
The hospice workers were good to mom. She’d never have to go to a doctor again. Her medications would be ordered and delivered. They brought air for her. They eventually brought a hospital bed for her. Nurses came, a social worker, and everyone we dealt with was sweet and genuinely cared about her. My mom was a charmer, a sweet woman who won over people easily with her humor and laughter and that stuck with her until the end. She had changed, to be sure, but she was still mom. After the stroke the onset of dementia crept slowly in but it did change her, her moods, her mind, bht she was always mom. That, at least, never changed.
The final three months were a slow march towards the end. The hospice care dropped off a photo album which would allow mom to record messages but she never did. Mom and dad were never ones to take to technology and that was just one more thing to figure out and it just never happened. We had a good day, I remember, when all of us got together with my wife and went over pictures together. We laughed a lot. Especially mom.
When the end came you could almost follow along with the symptoms in the material we’d been left. The curse for the living is to live with the regrets. The moments you regret. The things you said. The things you never said. We got our time to say goodbye, before, and at the end. As awful as it was, I am glad we were all there for it. I had taken to staying at my family’s house for the last two weeks of her life, only going to my own home to clean up and change, then it was back to the house. As the last few days came the nurses told us that she was close, that she was holding on though. It’s an awful thing to have to give permission to someone you love to die but I did, my sister did, but my father couldn’t. Until the end he began to believe that maybe she was just sick. She hadn’t eaten in a week and was barely taking fluids. She had lost so much weight she was literal skin and bones. I had the nurse talk to my dad, to insist that yes, this was the end, that we needed to let her go. To let her be at peace. My family was never one to say ‘I Love You’. It wasn’t that we don’t love one another but that it just was not something we did. That changed, for me, when she had her stroke. I probably didn’t say it as much as I should but I said it, and I said it a lot at the end. I was a terribly flawed kid, troubled, and I put her through Hell. I don’t think I could have ever said I Love You enough to make up for it but I tried. All I wanted is for her suffering to end. It seeemed to go on and on and on.
I had mentioned it before but it was a sweet bit of Providence that my wife and I took our dogs out to see mom about a week before she died. She loved dogs and our dogs were so sweet and gentle with her, our one Husky pup, Banshee, wanting desperately to get into the hospital bed with mom. We lost mom not long after and Banshee not long after that. I am glad they got to enjoy one another’s company before the end.
Family came to see mom. Friends came to see mom. People wrote. People called. Mom was afforded the time to say goodbye, though I can’t imagine how you even do such a thing, how you process it, but she at least got to see many people that meant something to her.
We were there at the end, her suffering finally ending after her body finally ran out of fight. We were able to be together, and were together when the nurse came to clean her, then the funeral home came to collect her, and then when we had to start dealing with the fact that she was gone. The finality of it all struck me hardest as I saw her name on the television during a local channels obituary list. I knew she was gone but it was so new it was as if she was a phantom limb but that was the first dirt on her grave, the funeral the last, and since it has been dealing with the aching realization of her absence. That the world didn’t stop spinning. That I was back at work a day after her funeral (my decision, having been out of work for almost three weeks), and that there could still be joy in the world all seemed strange to me. But we HAVE to laugh. We HAVE to move on. We have to or we die with those we lose. It’s only through that laughter, those tears, that love, and that pain that we keep their candles lit.
All of us have a life to give, and, as has been said, the price of loving is to suffer the grief of loss. It’s part of the deal. We are all flawed, and damaged, and most of us try to do the best we can, knowing that it’s never as much as we wish. We never pay the debts we create with people, not all of them, we don’t finish ever project, or live every dream, We do the best we can because a life is not meant to be perfect. It’s a long path that leads us through the dark towards an end we cannot imagine. All we have is one another in the end and the love we share together. Hate is a fast burning fire that will take all there is of you if you give in to it. The hope we have is that we have grace and wisdom enough to learn to let go of the slights done to us, large and small, and hopefully we can learn too to forgive ourselves.
There was no way to repay mom for all that she gave to us but hopefully she knew how loved she was. That was the last and only gift we could really offer – To be with her and to love her through the end.