Sunday, July 5, 2015

Waiting 1

My mother passed away on July 4th, 2015 at the age of 88. I spent the last two and a half weeks of her life with her, much of it in hospice waiting for her to pass. It was the first time I had been that close to the dying process and I am grateful I had that time with her. During our vigil I recorded my observations which I will share in the next several posts. (1 of 5 posts)

It is 4 am and I am sitting next to my mother holding her hand as I type with one finger. She is in hospice. We don't know how much time we have, but we know the horizon is short.

Family is gathering. My sister and niece are spending this precious time with her as well and my brother is flying in. Yesterday my other niece joined us and brought her children, my mother's two great-grandsons. Mom loves children and lights up when they are around. We got her dressed and in the wheelchair and took her to the gardens outside. It was a good day.

It is not a bad conclusion to a life fully lived. We love her deeply and are grateful. We know we have been lucky. She has had a long life and we are here to ease her transition, to say goodby with all the love we hold for her.

There are moments when this feels very surreal. She is funny and we can see her personality come through. We laugh a lot which seems strange under the circumstances. We write eulogies even as she lies in bed breathing quietly. Life does not always take the form we expect. We are ready intellectually, but the emotions haven't fully caught up. We laugh and then we tear up mid-sentence.

I listen to the oxygen machine breath. I time my own breath to match its rhythm, a count of five. One thousand one, one thousand two... I listen for my mother's breath. She had just entered a care facility for rehab after a stroke. She was doing well. Then suddenly things changed. I came down to visit, to arrange the post-rehab plans. Fifteen minutes before I was to catch a cab and fly home, my phone rang. My first thought was the cabbie was early. "Don't get on the plane" my sister said. Mom's body was beginning to shut down.

We stayed by her side that night and many nights to come. I often can't remember what day it is. I sleep in snatches. One night we google the dying process, trying to learn what we should look for. Unless one is in a medical profession it is not a topic in which most of us are well versed. Friday is especially poignant. The nurses and aides who got to know her stop in during the day. They hug us with tears in their eyes. Many of them connected with her, saw the gentle person we love so deeply. They will not return until Monday. No one knows if she will still be there on their return.

I have never been so close to the dying process. When my dad passed I visited him at the care center and then returned to my home. Later when we got the call we drove through the night to get there in time to plan the funeral. My mother was there for him at the end. We are there for my mother. It is a different experience to sit through the night. To watch her sleep, to listen for her breath, to hold her hand and to answer her questions about long-gone family.

In between I deal with my life. All the practical matters that can intrude. Artwork to be delivered for a show. A pricy new hybrid battery for my Prius that died the day before I left. We need it fixed so my husband can drive down the minute he gets my call. We tell them why we need the car and a two day job is completed in an hour, the battery is comped. Everyone has a mother. I am grateful to my husband for dealing with these details in my absence. He understands too well this strange limbo world of letting go of one's mother.

And so we wait. 

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