Tuesday, February 6, 2018
My mother says, “Christina come down here. I have a secret to tell you.” I think it is odd my mother would tell me a secret, but I follow her down three steps into a private area. She looks at me, holds my hands and says, “I need to tell you that I will be passing soon.”
Surprised by her proclamation, I ask, “How do you know?”
She replies, “I have lights passing in front of my eyes and across my forehead. They mean I will be going soon. But do not tell your father— he will just worry.”
I try to reassure her, telling her she will be with Jesus in heaven.
She interupts me, saying, “I am okay with this. You do not need to reassure me.”
We hug for a while. Crying, I tell her, “You know, Mom, you have had to work very hard in your life these last few years since your stroke. That work will finally be over and you can rest.”
“Yes,” she says, putting her her head on my shoulder and adds,, “You are right. I am a tired.”
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Buena Vista, CO
Kelly and I have a dinner party at our house with Mom and Dad and our friends Janet, Bob, Russ, and Syd. Amidst the laughter and general merriment, Syd told us about how her parents died. Her Dad contracted an infection in the hosprital and eventually passed wtih the help of Hospice. Her mom, however, went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up, which was a surprise for everyone.
Interestingly enough, Syd and Russ have a niece who has psychic capacities that allow her to contact people who have died. At Syd’s request, her niece spoke with Syd’s mother about her death. Syd’s mother said, “Tell Syd not to worry. It was just fine. It was a breath in and breath out.”
Thursday, February 8, 2018
Buena Vista, CO
Mom and I are in the kitchen together at breakfast. She had on the fluffly pink robe she got this year for Christmas. Her hair was messed up from sleep. She was happy and relaxed.
I say, “Mom, Dad said we kept you up too late last night.”
“Yes, I was so tired when everyone left that I just wanted to go straight to bed. Dad made me brush my teeth, though.”
“Sorry about that, Mom.”
“Oh, it was worth it. I had such a good time.”
I hug my mother good-bye, kiss her on the forehead, and tell her I love her. Kelly and I get in the van to drive to Flagstaff, Arizona for a weekend workshop. We stop in Durango and spend the night. Dad texts me around 6pm and says that everything is fine.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
En route to Flagstaff
Dad calls to tell me that Mom was sick in the night. The nurse practitioner from our doctor’s office has examined her and thinks she has the flu. Mom takes an ambulance to the ER. Dad tells me not to come home, as she is being cared for in the hospital and her conditions doesn’t seem serious.
Mom has been admitted to the hospital and reports are that she seems okay.
I get a phone call from the doctor at the hospital. Mom’s symptoms have worsened. She has been admitted to the ICU. The doctor is asking me about DNR’s. Mom is non-responsive.
Our minister is with her and tells me to come back. Our CNA/helper tells me to come home.
Kelly and I get in the car and drive to Durango, with the plan to spend the night and be at the hospital in the morning.
Friday, February 9, 2018
Heart of the Rockies Hospital
I come into mom’s room and rush to her bed. I grab her hand. She looks at me and says, “I’m sick.”
I reply, “I know, Mom.”
She whispers, “They told me you were coming.”
There are many more details to tell about the trajectory of her last 5 days and her battle with an infection that eventually settled into her lungs and caused the pneumonia that would bring the end of her life, but the final moments we shared as a family seem the most important to share now.
Febrruary 14, 2018
Heart of the Rockies Hospital
As it became obvious that too many things were stacking up against Mom, we made the decision for the doctors to remove the supplemental oxygen she was receiving. She wasn’t intubated, but she was dependent on supplemental oxygen. We agreed the doctors would wean her off the oxygen, allow the carbon dioxide to build in her system, and assist the process of death with morphine. (side note— Even in my grief and tears, I made them promise LOTS of morphine.)
Her case manager had told us that hearing is the last of the senses to go as the body dies and that we should keep talking to her so she would know we were there with her. Even with a lot of morphine, her last minutes of breathing seemed labored and stressful, as she was in an oxygen deficit. Watching her struggle to breathe, while attempting to reasuure her, was heart-breaking.
I remembered Syd’s story about her mother. “It was a breath in and a breath out.”
I put my hand on Mom’s heart. Under my hand was the raspy texture of her breath as her infected lungs struggled for air. I looked at my mother and said, “Mom, it’s going to be a breath in and a breath out. Here is what you are going to do… You are going to make your exhales longer. And as you exhale, God’s going to breathe you back in. We will do it together. A breath in, a breath out. We are with you.”
And so on.
Her eyes found mine. My mom followed my breathing instructions, allowing me to coach her as she did just what I suggested and made her exhales increasingly longer. Her sharp, labored inhales changed. She seemed less afraid. She kept looking at me.
And after a few more minutes of breathing together, she died.
One of my teachers told me that being with someone as they die can be like going into the parlor that sits outside the room of Death and Beyond. You can gain entry into the parlor—if you are lucky— but you can not go through the door with the person who is dying.
No matter how much you love them.
And, of course, once they go through the door, you must leave the parlor and return to the land of the living. Of course, the entirety of that landscape is forever changed.
And, it seems, to me, time in the parlor alters the one who went there.
Given that Mom died less than six weeks ago, I am a newcomer to the landscape of this particular grief. Slowly, little-by-little, I am getting my bearings.
In my current landscape, the sun rises every day— full of its reliable and bright glory— but without the reliable, bright laughter that accompanied my mother every day. And yet, like the light of the sun, there is no place where she is not. She taught me to cook eggs, how to get dressed, how to bathe myself, and how to clean a toilet. She taught me how to do my hair, make a shopping list, and how to water my plants. Every daily activity is a living connection to her and a living legacy of her care.
In my curent landscape, the Grace of my friends has become the very ground beneath my feet, reminding me that no matter where I step, I need not walk the pathways of this new land alone. Shared meals, long hikes, phone calls, letters, plants, flowers, cards, and heart-felt sharing surround me at every turn, showing me that love is real, people are precious, and God does not live in the sky, but lives instead t in the easy-to-miss moments of life where we minister to each other.
In my current landscape, a heavy weight settles daily in my chest, like low clouds that settle in a mountain valley, and make my normal routines more tiring than usual. This weight, impossible to think my way out of, reminds me that tears will soften what is sharp and jagged within me, just as rain will eventually wear down the craggiest of peaks, and spring showers will nourish the driest soil so that seeds of renewal can sprout. And I do my best to let the healing waters of my tears keep me tender inside.
In this landscape, dogs run in the yard, the neighbors have a new baby, and the bulbs I planted for her in the fall have begun to peak out of the earth. Here, in this landscape, life continues with its indomitable spirit and power. Majestic and ordinary, tedious and inspiring, frustrating and exhilarating , life is here to be lived.
My mom did that well. She fell. She got up. She was no perfect person and certainly, she did not give birth to a perfect daughter. She was, however, who she was. And her authenticity will always inspire my own.
There is nowhere I can go where she is not.
That is my mother’s grace.
A breath in. A breath out.
Life is to be lived.
Follow This Blog
"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."