Friday, November 7, 2008

A Mother's Passing

My mother's funeral was yesterday. She had alzheimer's, but she didn't die from alzheimer's. I think she died because she was ready to leave. She never wanted to be in a nursing home; never wanted to be totally dependent on others for her care. She was a very independent lady -- when she was well. And to be unable to walk, unable to know where she was, who she was - well, that wouldn't be acceptable to her.

I know, because years ago she told me that my 'job' was to do whatever it took to make sure she never ended up in a nursing home: "use a gun, put a pillow over my face, give me pills. Just don't let me be in a space of not knowing." Of course, there really wasn't any way I could ensure that. And I told her then that she better have her own plan to take care of that, because I couldn't do what she was asking me to do. And so I think she did just that. And what I did was to support her decision, her choice and her right to make the choice in the only way that you could. She decided to stop eating.

So she lost weight, but not enough to cause her death. Enough to weaken her, certainly, but not enough to cause her death. I truly believe that she just simply decided it was time to go, that she'd had enough, and so she asked God to take her and God obliged. Because on Sunday evening she was in the 'country kitchen' at the nursing home and I was feeding her dinner. She hadn't felt well that day - a little sick to her stomach, but nothing serious, or so it seemed. They gave her some compazine for nausea and she ate almost a whole bowl of tomato soup. And in between bites, which she took willingly enough, she said, very clearly: "I want to go home." "You want to go home?" I asked, making sure that I had heard her correctly. And she said, "Yes, I want to go home." ( When we talked about her dying, we talked about her going home to God. ) And I told her if she was ready to go home, she could. And she said "I'm ready now. Let's go." Then her mouth opened and everything she'd eaten just came up and out, as if her body were saying "Well, if I'm going home, I don't need this stuff." It was just an easy purging. Nothing harsh or violent. No apparent effort at all.  It was 5:20 PM when we left the dining room and I took her back to her room to get her into bed.

While we waited for the aides to help her into bed, she was talking softly to herself as she was most recently accustomed to doing and her breathing was a bit rapid, but nothing alarming. She still knew who I was. By the time the aides got her into bed, her eyes were sunken, and half closed and all I could see were the whites of her eyes. Her skin was a different color, and her breathing was labored. (Looking back now, I think her spirit was already gone, and her body was just doing what it needed to, to complete the physical passing.) They gave her oxygen, and some adavant to relax her. She was breathing through her mouth in gasps, with long pauses in between. And she couldn't rest her head on the pillow for some reason. I placed one hand on the back of her neck and one on her shoulder and began giving her Reiki to help her relax. "Just let go, Mom, don't fight it, just let go." She rested her head back on the pillow, took a few more breaths, and a few minutes later, she was gone. I looked up at the clock, and it was only 6:10 PM. Those last few minutes seemed endless. But how quickly she was gone.

No real medical reason. In fact, the director of hospice had been in to re-evaluate her for hospice benefits on Thursday and told the hospice nurse that "She doesn't look like a woman who has only 6 months to live." But one of their criteria for benefits is that the patient must lose 5 - 10% of their body weight in a month. My mother had lost 9 pounds in the last two and a half weeks, and the hospice nurse verified that she had become much more lethargic. Because of that, the doctor agreed to recertify her. He was right, she wasn't someone who was going to be gone in six months: she lasted only three more days!

I had planned for my mother's passing; I was ok with her leaving. I didn't want her to suffer and I didn't want her to be in that place of unknowing that she so didn't want to be in. I just wasn't ready for it to be so unexpected, so quick! I thought surely there would be some warning; a day or two of never being out of bed, long periods of sleep, the complete denial of food - something to prepare me, to let me know that she had decided her time was here.

But there was no warning. She was just gone. And when I tried to reach my son, my brother, my boyfriend, none of them was available by phone. It was a difficult time. The nurse was quick to tell me there was paperwork to fill out and that I would have to remove her things from the room "not tonight, but as soon as you can." And they called the funeral home to come. The hospice chaplain came and sat with us; he made a space for me to talk about her, to tell her story, and that was a great help. And then the phone messages I had left began to be answered, and I began to share the news. My boyfriend came, and that was a great comfort.

It was more than two hours before they came for her. I sat by her side, gently touching her arm, needing to keep contact with her, giving her Reiki to help her finish her transition. And then they were there. They asked me to leave the room. I walked past the gurney with the grey body bag on it , empty, waiting for her.......and then she was gone...

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