It’s taken me a long time to be able to write about the passing of my mom. It was quite a journey for both of us.
It was the latter part of 2006 when she got sick. She called every Sunday night as she had for years and I thought she had a bad cold that she was having a hard time shaking. It had gone on for several weeks and she kept saying she missed church so I knew she must be sick but then one night our neighbor, Mrs. Matthews, called me and said “you know your mother is really sick” which immediately got my attention. She went on to say she hadn’t even gotten dressed in weeks, that she just lay on the couch. Then mom’s calls stopped coming and one night I called her and dad said she couldn’t come to the phone. He said she had been at the clinic that day and her heart had stopped but they managed to resesitate her. I can’t even convey the affect those words had on me. It literally stopped me in my tracks. Intellectually, I knew my mom was old (89) and obviously I knew she wouldn’t live forever but it was at that moment that my heart finally grasped what my mind hadn’t allowed me to absorb in the prior weeks. My mom was dying.
I immediately made plans to go up to Haines. When I got there she was indeed confined to the couch in her pajamas but she would get up to eat her meals. She seemed a little frail but not too bad. A nurse would come by daily and check on her. I can’t say enough about Becky Malone, the nurse in Haines. Throughout the months she was sick, Becky was an absolute angel, lending support not only to my mom but to us, her family. She would advise us of things to come and what to expect of the dying process. My mom had refused further medical treatment so it was a matter of keeping her comfortable. At that point she was still able to get up daily and make a few laps around the house with her walking stick. Just as I was leaving to go back home, my brother Tom arrived so he was with her for a few days too. I think having her kids there rallied her spirits more than anything else could.
My mom was known for being very self-sufficient, no-nonsense and downright frosty. God used those months she lay in bed to soften her entire countenance, to make her more grateful and thankful than she had ever been. Never a word of complaint. As Heather Lende put it in her book, Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs, "the holy spirit had gentled her." She was the perfect patient. She appreciated everyone so much and she couldn’t quite understand why people were making such a fuss over her.
I came back home and worried endlessly. I had just started a new job so I felt torn between my responsibilities there and wanting to be with my mom. A few weeks later my sister Barb came from Cordova and we went up together. We were able to get her in the shower and wash her hair and that was the first time she had bathed in weeks. A local hairdresser came to the house and did her hair. We were all so grateful for the love and support shown to her by the members of the community. The house was filled with visitors every day and I know it meant a lot to her. Pastor Ron Horn stopped by with his wife Jacque and she would massage her legs. Faith Tuhey, from hospice, would come by and assist with changing her bedding or clipping her nails or anything else to make her more comfortable. By then she was requiring assistance to go to the bathroom, even with the use of a walker, and her meals (such as they were) had to be fed to her. We would try to get some calories in her by enticing her with her old favorites but nothing sounded or tasted good to her.
The next time I went up to Haines the decline was unmistakable. She was in a hospital bed by then and had a portable potty next to it. She required assistance as my dad said she had fallen in the middle of the night trying to use it. Now she would ask for a straw filled with water to poured into her mouth. She barely ate anything. It was most distressing. She was also on some pain medicine to ease her discomfort.
A couple weeks later in early April Barb & I returned. She hadn’t eaten in almost a week. She was still alert and was always listening although it took a lot of energy for her to speak. One day my dad was talking about the “Monday Thursday” service and she piped up, quite unexpectedly, “it’s MAUNDY Thursday!” She had been correcting his English for 61 years and she wasn’t about to stop on her death bed. Easter Sunday arrived and the church choir called and sang “He Is Risen” over the phone. She had sung in that choir for over 50 years and they wanted to honor her. It was a very touching moment. That day she was quite uncomfortable, her heart working so hard to keep pumping that she would get really over heated. At her request we’d have several fans on her body at once. We were administering a lot of pain pills too.
I was sleeping on the couch next to her bed when she woke that night thrashing about. Barb and I spent some time with her and gave her more medicine. She seemed to calm down a bit and we went back to bed. When we got up in the morning she was sleeping peacefully. We were going about the process of getting ready for the day when I went into the living room and noticed her lips were blue. Then her breathing seemed a little irregular. Both Barb and I were holding her hands and telling her how much we loved her when she took her last breath. She had fought for 89 years and she was tired. As my dad put it, she just plain wore out.
I’ll never forget those months. Although it was painful it was also the most purposeful time of my life. I have always wondered why God saved me through some very careless and crazy years…years I could have died several times. And I’ve come to the conclusion that if the whole purpose of my life was to help my mom during that time than it was more than worth it.