In retrospect, I can now see the signs that pointed to Mom's decline - shortness of breath on occasion, minor but obvious memory issues, the lack of desire to do things that she enjoyed, a diminished appetite, lack of stamina, sadness that she could no longer do for others, her talk of dreams about her father and deceased siblings, her nostalgia and longing for my father (especially as the anniversary of his death & their wedding anniversary - on the same day, March 16th-approached), her insistence for Myra and me to go with her to see a lawyer with her about her will and estate matters, and her inability to deal with anything that interrupted an easy day / her normal schedule. Yet still, for a 98-year old woman, she seemed to be faring OK.
Back in late February, Mom had told me a couple times on the phone that she just didn't feel quite right. Then, one night, I got a call from my cousin Bill, who was responding to an EMT call from Mom's Lifeline. She had fallen getting out of bed, actually slipped off the side of the bed as she was trying to get her slippers on to go to the bathroom. Bill reassured me Mom was OK, but he felt something wasn't quite right about her. He stayed with her for two nights until I could get home. The next day, I headed to Boone.
When I arrived, Mom insisted that she was "just fine," but I could tell she looked a little weak and puny. So, I moved into the same mode she would have done with others: I fixed her three healthy meals a day, insisted she drink an abundance of water (which she swore she did, but I never saw her), massaged her, assisted with her bath, walked up and down the hall with her for exercise, and got her outside in the spring air - which was abnormally warm for Boone at the time. Over the course of a few days, I began to see change for the better, and the following week, I brought her to OH to spend time with me while Myra and I made arrangements for her care once she returned. (She stayed with for almost three weeks, insisting at the end of week 2 that she was ready to go home. "I've had a good time here, Tanya, but there's no place like home.")
That care, an initial thought that she would enter Brian Estates in Boone, was NOT to her liking. Though she had insisted all her life that when the time came, she would fully cooperate with whatever needed to be done for her care, she grew sad, very sad, and depressed about the thought of "breaking up her home, " as she described the impending move. To make a long story short, Myra and I reworked the plans away from Brian Estates to include in-home care via Hospice in NC so Mom wouldn't have to leave 145 Russell Drive. That possibility resonated a bit better with her, but she was not entirely content with it either.
While in OH, Mom seemed pretty good though I noticed confusion on occasion and a greater indication of short-term memory issues. Still, we drove around in the country, went out to eat with folks she knew here, sat on the back porch, and took a day to go to Amish country. She was fascinated with the Amish way of life and asked me all sorts of questions as we watched men at the stock auction in Kittering, toured Lehmann's Hardware, and passed women and men in their rickety black buggies. That day, Mom seemed as young as a 70-year old: we laughed, stopped to watch men working oxen in the fields, and talked all the way there and back home. It's a day I'll never forget - ever.
Two days later, I took her back to NC and stayed another week in Boone with her until Myra could get home for a week prior to taking Mom to Richmond for a visit there. One day while we were both there, Mom wanted to help with clean up from lunch. She started to put up dishes from the dishwasher but had to cut it short because "I just don't have the energy to do it, Tanya." Her breath was short, she was experiencing waves of nausea, and she mentioned being a bit dizzy. My concern increased as I knew her heart was weakening.
I returned home the Sunday after Myra arrived with the thought that I might not see Mom again. As much as I tried to dismiss the thought from my mind, it lingered and surfaced as I drove home to the point where I almost turned around and went back home. During their week in Boone, Myra and Mom had several appointments, one of which was to see Mom's primary care physician. Dr. Smith checked Mom thoroughly and found her to be in good health - a good blood pressure reading, strong heart beat, etc. Mom was vibrant when I spoke with her that evening telling me, "I got a very good report from the doctor today." At that point, she seemed reassured, for I know now that she was very aware of what was happening in her body. Still, Myra confirmed she also noticed changes in Mom's endurance and breathing, and in particular, Mom's appetite was significantly diminished with tummy upset becoming more and more of a factor.
On the following Saturday, Myra and Mom prepared to take off to Richmond, but Myra called to tell me they might delay a day or so because Mom was just "out of kilter." But, they went out to lunch, got Mom's meds, had a visit with a friend from Mom's church, and talked to Samuel, Eliza, and me on the phone. Bentley, Myra's dog, hung close to Mom all day, and she let him lick the crumbs off her shirt after dinner - something she really enjoyed watching him do. (Mom loved our dogs and Richard's dog, Baxter, is the only animal I've ever known to lick Mom's face.) She sent Myra out to get Japanese food for dinner, but when Myra returned Mom declined to eat it; her tummy wasn't feeling good. However, she stayed up to watch TV until Myra insisted on going to bed, and when Myra left her in her room, Mom was reading her daily devotional and Bible. That was about 11:15 PM or so.
According to Myra, Mom called her in to her room about 2:30 and said she couldn't breathe. Myra knew she was in distress and pushed the Lifeline alert. The EMTs were on the way in no time flat. Mom remained alert until the emergency squad arrived, but shortly thereafter, she lost consciousness and drifted away, peacefully and painlessly, with Myra holding her and sweet Bentley curled up at her head. Myra said it was as if the nurse in Mom knew what was happening and she held on until Myra wasn't alone. Once the squad arrived, the woman of deep faith surrendered to the process and took flight. All of us - Samuel, Eliza, Myra, and I - are incredibly grateful for Mom's peaceful passage. It is as if she wrote the script and followed it gracefully into the realm of light.
At this point, I can't write about much more than the events, other than to say that I've made progress in processing my grief. I'll return to my blog before long when I'm ready to put the emotion in words, if I can. Most of all, I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have had the parents I had, to have had such special time all my life with my mom, to have watched her with Samuel and Eliza, and to have spent 5 of her last 6 weeks with her. That gratitude sustains me as waves of the most powerful grief overwhelms me still.
(taken the first week Mom was with me in March)