When I lost mom I felt like I was falling.
Falling and would never stop falling.
There was only down.
When my mom entered hospice it came with it a surreal feeling of deja vu.
Wasn’t she already IN hospice care?
You see, for several months mom’s health had been declining and in that she had been put into a service where she would get home doctor visits, nurse visits, and her medication would come to her house for her. It helped a lot and while it wasn’t a good thing, it helped her and my dad and sister. Hospice though started in February of 2018 and while some of the services were similar, the end game was clear – this would only end with death.
The thing is, that’s how ALL of this ends.
We only leave in death.
That’s the end.
So it doesn’t feel as weighty when you first think about it.
Not that you don’t take it seriously but it’s sort of like starting a marathon and twenty miles in you’re already thinking about the end.
We knew she was winding down but you don’t think about the particulars a whole lot.
Until you do.
I remember going to their house and seeing the binders from the company handling the hospice.
One was on what services they were providing, which were similar to those from before but with more immediate actions being taken and more things available to mom.
The second binder was the one that hurt to look at.
The second binder walked you through what hospice was and what death looked like as it came, as it took hold, and as your loved one passed.
Then it was documents on how things proceed from there.
A Do Not Resuscitate.
A step by step list of actions that will be taken.
And you looked at the binder, then mom, then at the binder, and you asked – but how?
She was still doing OK.
She was failing, it was clear – the stroke had brought on dementia and that was starting to dig its claws into her.
Still, she laughed, she sassed, she was still mom.
She was different but she was still mom.
Mom now had a counselor that came to see her regularly.
She had nurses that came out.
She had her doctor.
She had her meds.
Her decline was slow but steady.
You could see it coming.
As she declined they got a hospital bed for her and put it on the sun porch for her, which was where she took up residence.
Her nurses saved all of us and our sanity. They walked us through everything, answered questions, laughed with mom, talked to her, bathed her and cleaned her up.
You knew mom was fading when her vanity was gone.
Not to say mom was a vain woman but that she took pride in her appearance and in taking care of herself.
When she reached the point where she couldn’t do those things and where it was hard to want to do them you knew that the end was coming.
And it came.
Mom’s last good day was Mother’s Day.
She had a good day, she laughed, she joked, she was mom.
It was like the clouds parted and we had her.
Then they came rolling in and mom was lost in the fog.
That must have been the time I got out of work to stay with her and my sister and dad almost 24/7.
She was dying.
She was dying and there was nothing to be done but help her let go.
And that’s the awful part of all of it.
To watch someone you love clinging to life even as that life pains them.
She had her moments of clarity, but they were few and far between.
She was on liquid morphine then, her body unable to deal with the pain of a hard life.
Her nurses were amazing and loved seeing mom.
But she was going.
And it was miserable.
Watching as family and some friends came by to see her, hoping it wouldn’t be for the last time but knowing might be.
My wife and I even took our dogs over to see her because she loved dogs and loved seeing ours. They were super sweet with her and the girl, Banshee, desperately wanted to get into bed with mom. Maybe like knows like because mom would be gone in a week and Banshee in three.
And you look at the book to record memories from mom that you got from the hospice and how it’s never really been opened and never filled and never will be and you mourn that too.
You have mom’s stories, but not all of them.
And you hear more stories at the end, more of her tragedy, of her life, from dad, and it breaks your heart to know how much she went through and survived.
Nothing really gets you prepared though for the end.
Death comes into the room quietly and waits in the corner until its time has come.
With mom it slowly embraced her and squeezed the life out of her.
At the end she was barely conscious, in a state where she slept most of the time and only woke for a moment here and there.
I remember holding her hand and whispering to her that it was OK, that we loved her and it was OK to let go.
It was OK to die.
Dad didn’t want that, clung to her with all he had, but we had to let her go.
She hung on ‘til the end though, her body slowly shutting down around her until all you wanted was her pain to be gone.
I wanted her pain to be gone.
And one day it was.
She had given up fighting or had just run out of fight.
Suddenly this person who meant the world to me, who was the main part of my foundation, was gone.
I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where that makes sense.
I know she’s gone.
I have seen her grave, though I have only been there maybe three times, but it feels just wrong.
From her entering hospice until I got another full time job, over a year, felt like I was living underwater.
I did my darndest to keep myself together, and I did, but it was hard.
I lost mom, then we lost the dog, and I was still trying to process all of that my boss quit, then I got fired, then I was just falling, and falling, and falling until a friend threw me a lifeline, and then I got a temp gig, and now I am back where I was before and working full time.
I have talked about much of this before, and I know that.
But with the anniversary of her entering hospice it hit me again.
That and the death of a neighbor of my family’s, someone who had been in our lives for fifty plus years.
Someone who, despite having kids, essentially died alone.
And it reminds me of the people I have lost.
That’s the awful thing about aging, that you lose the ones you love, no matter what you do.
You will lose everyone.
Even unto yourself.
In losing mom, in losing my job, I lost a lot of myself.
More than I like to admit.
And I struggled with meaning for any of it.
For any of it to make some manner of sense.
The thing was that there didn’t need to be sense.
It was what it was.
I just needed to learn how to live with it and how to learn how to stop falling.
I would fall, for a long time, but not forever, and I needed to understand that.
Even as we fall, down through the despair, through the time machine in our minds, we don’t have to fall from darkness to darkness.
We don’t have to go from despair to despair.
The thing about death is that there’s nothing we can do about it but there is something we can do about how we deal with it.
It’s in focusing on the loss, on the absence that we falter.
All things end.
All things fade.
But that doesn’t mean that they left darkness in their wake.
In our lives we light fires, from small ones to raging infernos, we are light and fire.
Our passion and energy sparks people and stokes their fires.
Our love builds a temple of light and heat that draws people to us, even in death.
As we lose these people, we must stoke their fires and keep their passions and love alive.
To keep their memories alive.
The dead are gone, and in losing them it will always feel like we’re falling but we can’t fall forever, and we don’t have to fall in darkness.
I lost my mom but her light still burns in me, around me, through me.
Her light burns in all of us that loved her.
Even if she never saw or understood how brightly she burned, we saw.
She still burns.
Even in the darkness of death.
We all burn.
Even when we don’t see it.
All we can do is love those that we love, care for those we care for, and to do what we can to keep alive those things we hold dear.
We’ll fall, we’ll all fall, but we won’t fall forever.
We just have to make sure we know we’re not alone as we fall and to keep that fire burning so that the people we love can find us when we land.
Even if it’s just us finding ourselves.