Friday, April 3, 2015

8:30 am, April 3rd. On losing my mother.

7:20 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

It was Wednesday morning. I woke up first. My brother, Dave, Aunt Betsy and I had slept on chair/cots in her hospice room at St. Elizabeth's in Northern Kentucky. Both Dave and Betsy had arrived earlier that day after the doctor reported in his Monday morning visit that my mom had only a day or two left.

The night before, we sat around the bed of my dying mother. I think there was pizza (my brother will remember. He remembers everything I don't.) My vital mother would have loved it. She loved laughing. She loved family. She loved silliness. My morphine-filled shell of a mother would have hated it. She was so restrained. So proud. So private.

We didn't know what else to do.

7:34 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

I woke up first because I had been trained over the last many nights to be vigilant to her needs. The night prior, before family arrived, she had called out "Pauline!" - her mother's name - and I had responded, "What, honey?" If those were the last words we exchanged, it would be a beautiful story. But in truth, the last words we exchanged, before the morphine dose increased, went something like this.

"Mom, you can't get out of bed."
"Shut up!"

She had never in her life said anything hostile to me. Based on my daughterly assholeness, I figured she deserved a dig in her last hours.

I woke up because her breath had turned to rattle in the night. For the last month of her life, I read the list of "death signs" pretty much every day: feeling her extremities, watching for her to pick things out of the air, looking for a burst of energy. Like labor, once it is the real deal, there is no mistaking it.

The hospice nurse confirmed it. She had a few hours left.

7:41 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

Soon after my brother arrived, he took over the role of hospice inquisitor, asking the nurse medical-sounding questions about my mom.

"Are you a doctor?" she asked earnestly, charmed by Dave's competence.

He looked at me with a wry smile. I groaned. My brother's one-ups-man points had tripled. He had just won hospice.

7:47 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

When I say alive, I mean that more as a technicality. Betsy, Dave and I stood around Mom's bed as her body prepared to shut down. I had the impression that her soul had vacated her body (probably when we sat around her room eating pizza!) the night before and we were watching her body go through the final machinations of being a body.

I imagine that there is a spirit that helps the soul ascend and another one that stays behind to systematically shut down the lights.

Her mouth was agape. I had seen this before with Kristin. Maybe that is the way in and out for the spirit.

7:52 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

It was a beautiful morning. Canadian Geese walked around outside her room, just beyond the porch where she had hoped to smoke. Before we left her apartment, on Easter Sunday, just three days earlier, she had said to me "Be nice to the hospice people." My mother was always concerned with my not-niceness. She told me once that she had heard Oprah say that being nice wasn't the most important virtue for a woman. This comforted my mother.

I assured my mother I would be nice. She was again comforted.  "So they will let me smoke," she reasoned.

8:00 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

Coffee. No matter what, coffee.

8:07 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

She had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, metastasized to the brain and bone, four months earlier. They gave her 6-9 months. She never faltered from grace with her terminal diagnosis.

I had written Swimming Naked, my novel about a woman who becomes final caregiver to her dying mother (stage 4 lung cancer,) 12 years prior. It was published in 2004. In April.

8:14 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

The human body is a miracle. Breath is a miracle. Pulse is a miracle. Consciousness is a miracle. A mother's touch is a miracle. A mother's laugh is a miracle. A mother's love is a miracle.

8:16 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

She stopped breathing. Dave, Betsy and I stared at her, then at each other. We held our collective breaths. Then she started her rattle again, her lungs pumping like they were more machine parts then muscle and bone. Her eyes remained closed.

8:22 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

8:25 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

8:26 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

8:27 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

8:30 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother died.

She turned her head toward my brother. She opened her eyes. She took her last breath. My brother fell forward across her, weeping. I was aware of his immediate and visceral grief. My aunt's too. I think I might have left my own body with her.

8:32 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, we didn't have our mother.

For those of you who have lost a mother, you know. For those of you who still have one, we can assure you that all of the beautiful complications of your relationship will make complete sense the second you lose her. So don't wait.

Share your love and gratitude.

Now.







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