Wow. I just read the last update I posted. Last Saturday, wasn’t it? It feels like a year ago or more. I have to sit down and really think, send my brain back in a time machine, to last weekend, to before everything rocked and changed one last time.
Monday morning, I woke up deeply and unaccountably depressed. There was literally no reason for it, other than a weird and unpleasant dream about being served with a legal judgement for $54,700 (really, brain? You have to be that specific? Eh, occupational hazard of writing, I guess). The weather was cloudy but dry, and it was the only day in the week reliably predicted to be that way, so if I wanted to run errands and not have to slop around in the rain, I was going to have to drag my butt up and do it. It took half the morning to haul myself out of this bizarre funk, but I did it.
I was standing in line at a craft store to take advantage of some coupons when I felt my phone buzz. It rides in an outside pocket of my purse, right under my elbow, to decrease the chance of missing a call; the ringer is hard to hear when I’m out, unless I crank it up, and that’s just being obnoxious to others. I fished it out and glanced at the screen. It was Place K.
Daphne, the head nurse, was on the line. I wanted to let you know your mom took a turn for the worse last night, she told me. Dr. L’s nurse practitioner went to see her and found her short of breath and not responsive. We put her on oxygen and she’s resting easy now. I know we talked about you changing her code status; right now she’s still on full code, but Dr. Onuorah signed a form to change it and sent it back with her, so all you’d have to do is sign that.
Code status, if you don’t know, is how a person wants caregivers to address medical issues. Full code is the default setting; it means if anything goes awry, they send you to the hospital. If a person, or their POA, does not want that, they may opt for limited-intervention status, which includes things like pain relief, or DNR, do not resuscitate. Mom had been full code all along, because heck, her mind was going, but her body was pretty healthy! So there was no reason to change it, until the stroke. I planned to change her status to limited-intervention, the most compatible with the wishes she had stated in the past.
I asked Daphne ‘do you honestly think the hospital could do anything?’ and she didn’t think so. That being the case, I really thought she would be better off staying there at Place K with folks who know and care about her, and hopefully she would rally again the way she had the previous Friday. Daphne said they could sign the code form for me as a verbal okay, but I thought it’d be better to do it myself, and I wanted to spend some time with mom. After I shoved a sandwich in my mouth (hadn’t eaten since a donut at 7 AM and my knees were starting to feel rubbery even before the call) I headed that way.
David and Monica, two nurses who knew mom, was at the desk and we talked for a minute. Monica is gentle but frank, and said she felt mom would probably not last the week. It all seemed kind of surreal; the last time I’d spent a significant amount of time with mom was that weekend before Christmas, when she was eating fudge and unwrapping presents and looking at family photos with aunt Peggy. When I went into her room, thankfully, she was indeed resting quietly, even snoring a bit as she usually does. I dragged a chair over and sat down and talked to her for half an hour or so about anything I could think of that would normally interest her: political hijinks, my cousin’s sick dog, the dolls I was making on commission.
David brought the code form in for me to sign, and he had a couple of free minutes, so we started to chat. I started telling him about mom’s work as a caregiver. I teased about how she spoiled the elderly ladies with mental challenges who she had cared for, and as is my wont, I turned to her to include her in the conversation. (Hey, I’m a speech therapist, it’s what I do. LOL) When I turned back, David was looking at her with narrowed eyes. “Is she breathing?” he asked.
I whipped back around, and she wasn’t snoring. Thinking maybe she had relaxed and gone into a deeper sleep, I put my hand on her chest. It wasn’t moving. David hurried out to grab his stethoscope, then more nurses came in to check and I got out of the way. Quickly I sent a text to aunt Peggy, then realized I probably shouldn’t have. She was at work! Too late, though, what’s done is done. The nurses confirmed she was gone, and asked what funeral home to call, and did I want to stay till they got there. I think I mentioned in a long-ago blog post that mom had given fairly detailed instructions about how she wanted her funeral, so I told them what they needed, but decided not to stay. I think it would have been much harder for me, and I wanted to get home and find her notes. Before Daphne left the room she looked at me and said ‘you know she was waiting for you, don’t you’. I allowed as how I thought so. ‘We knew her well enough. She was feisty and she was going to go on her terms,” she said. I threw my head back and laughed and said ‘you have NO idea how right you are.’
I pulled a couple of outfits from her closet that fit the descriptions she had asked for, and took Spooky, who was grimy from so many visits to mealtime with her. Standing at the gas station filling my car up felt so weird, so normal, when something had just happened that was going to change my life for good. By the time I got home, family were starting to arrive, aunts and uncles and cousins with food in tow, and we talked and got things lined up. I begged for their help; I’d never done this before, and they were more than ready to step up. We even laughed, some. For nearly three years, I’d been saying goodbye to mom, and this was really just going to be the final step. As they say, part of the journey is the end. We chose her clothes. I ironed them and put Spooky in the washer.
On Tuesday, I spent the morning on the phone calling people to let them know—mom’s friends, her old doctors and the like. In the afternoon aunt Peggy and I slopped around in the rain (just like I was trying to avoid. Guess mom showed me.) from funeral home (the old family-owned one in the neighborhood where mom and her sibs grew up) to cemetery (mom didn’t want to be buried right beside daddy; she wants me in between them. I ought to be cremated, just for spite.) to florist. Wednesday morning, we spent time with our pastor, getting him set up to do the small graveside service mom had asked for. That afternoon was the visitation; friends and relations showed up, more than enough to make mom feel the love and let us in on it too. Spooky was perched beside her, as he has been for years. Flowers and plants came from folks out of town, some of whom made it in also. More food was laid out, as Southerners tend to do, and my cousin’s musician friend even brought ME some roses, which was touching.
Thursday, the only time on the hourly weather forecast that rain was predicted was the time scheduled for the service, naturally; but though it was windy and chilly, no rain fell. We joked that mom must already be bossing God around. Afterwards, most of the family adjourned to Monell's, just about the best meat and three in town, conveniently located right around the corner. What can I say, Southerners associate loss and food.
And now, with everybody else back to their own lives, I can sit and process. On the whole, really, I guess mom couldn’t have gone much better or easier. The family is convinced she waited for me to arrive, heard my voice—talking about HER, may I point out; hearing is said to be the last sense that goes—and then was able to let go. To take a breath, let it out, and just not take the next, without pain or struggle, seems like as ‘good’ a way to go as there could be, if one can say that of dying. A part of me wishes I had sensed it instantly, wishes I had been looking at her when that last breath passed, the way I’d been looking at her for the previous half hour. Then again, maybe it’s better I wasn’t. I can close my eyes and see her lying there snoring, not looking a lot different from video I had sneaked and made of her snores years ago.
Ever since we initially moved mom to Place K—oh heck, no reason to play that pseudonymous game anymore; it’s McKendree Village, and it is, as I have said, a wonderful place with competent and caring staff—I have worked on rebuilding my life. All the while, though, in the back of my head, I was waiting, waiting for The Call: the one that says ‘we’re so sorry’; the one that says I wasn’t there and now she is gone, and it’s going to seem even more unreal as a result. In recent weeks, as y’all who read my meanderings know, I’ve been worrying about handling her changed situation, wondering if she was headed for a slow and painful decline. And to be honest I’ve been concerned about managing her finances too, juggling all the moving parts that would be involved in keeping her care paid for for possibly years, and whether I was up to that challenge.
Mom took all of that out of my hands. As usual, she did everything her way, even when she didn’t know, really, what that was, right up until she transitioned from this life to the next one. Talk about somebody who stayed true to herself, she did it.