This is most difficult blog I have ever had to write– the reason for the long lapse of time between blog entries, for my procrastination, why I put it off to another day. Well, that “day” has come. I need to compose my thoughts and put them to paper.
Monday morning I had just finished breakfast and was reading the paper when the phone rang. It was Trinity Gardens. I expected to hear my mother had fallen, again, or worse. What I didn’t expect was what Zairita, the caregiver, said.
“Your mother is transitioning,” she said.
“What?” I answered, “I don’t understand.”
“Your mother is trying to pass. You might want to come.”
I finally “got it”, and certainly, I wanted to go. It was now 8 o’clock. I ran into the bedroom, threw on some foundation, to hell with the rest, and quickly dressed. I pulled out of my driveway at 8:10.
I knew my mother was failing and she had only been at Trinity Gardens three weeks. It was either the fall that was taking its toll on her or the natural progression of her dementia.. Her voice was getting weaker until even with my ear to her mouth I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. It became difficult for her to swallow water, let alone food. They fixed soft food meals for her, but often times she did not feel like eating. I was forced to face reality when the director relayed a message to me from Hospice. They need to know where to send your mother when she dies.
I had no answer for them. The need to make arrangements was a task I had avoided for too long. Mom already had purchased a double plot when Daddy died. She was to be placed on top of him. I had to find a mortuary. After an internet search, I was able to find one in Riverside near our old neighborhood and the cemetery. Arlington Mortuary was very accommodating to my needs. I explained that I did not live in Riverside and wondered if I could take care of arrangements from Palm Desert. They assured me it was no problem and promised to send me some materials to look over. I thought I had time.
I arrived at Trinity Gardens at 8:20. I didn’t know what to expect. I always pictured getting a phone call and they’d say, “Your mother passed away last night.” Zairita opened the front door
“She’s been this way since yesterday,” she said. “Hospice should have called you.”
“Oh, no,” I said. “They didn’t. I wish they had.”
Zairita showed me into my mother’s room and quietly closed the door. My mother lay in bed. Unlike movie portrayals, she was not quietly sleeping. Her was head tipped back, her breathing loud and heavy. She was struggling. And she had been this way since yesterday! I knew I needed to help her.
“Oh, Mom,” I said taking her hand. “Mom, I’m here. It’s going to be OK.”
For the next few minutes I talked with her, telling her I loved her, we all loved her and she was going to be fine.
“Daddy’s waiting for you. and Grandma and Grandpa,” I assured her.
I wasn’t outright sobbing, but tears began to run down my cheeks. Finally I leaned down and gave her a hug. When I sat up again, she took two more breaths and then stopped. I looked at the clock. 8:35.
I just sat there numb. I need to tell someone, I thought, when Zarita walked in the room.
“She’s gone,” I said
“That was fast,” she said. “You haven’t been here that long. She was waiting for you.”
“Yes,” I think she was.” I softly answered, giving my mother’s hand a last squeeze then releasing it.
Yesterday was my birthday, I thought. She almost died on my birthday. Which made me think further, she was there to help me come into this world, and I was there to help her leave.
I sat there for a few minutes, it all feeling surreal, then realized this was exactly what hospice meant. I needed to call the mortuary.
The next hour I felt as if I were on remote. I went through the motions of what needed to be done without really thinking about it. I first called the mortuary, but was told I needed to call the coroner first and report the death.
“Isn’t hospice there?” they asked.
By the time I went to the office to ask who to call, hospice had arrived. They took over, thank God. They called the coroner and mortuary and had me sign some papers.
I went back into my mother’s room and sat down. I looked over at her, but didn’t feel the overwhelming grief you’d expect. It was more a feeling sadness but also of calm and letting go. Zarita came in.
“Maybe you’d like to start packing up your mother’s things,” she said.
I began to lift the things out of the closet when she came back with large Hefty trash bags.
The hospice nurse came in. “The mortuary said they would be here in an hour and a half,” she said.
“I’d like to be here when they come,” I said.
First I called my husband at work and then my sister and daughter who both insisted that someone be with me.
“No, I told them both. I’m fine. I need to be alone for awhile.”
So after I had finished packing I sat quietly in a chair in the room and waited.
While some people would be breaking down at this point, I was not surprised at my reaction. Mom was 96. She’d led a long, good life. At the end she was not the same person I had grown up with. As I watched her struggle, I think I mourned for her a little every day.
I knew I would cry for her and miss her terribly over the next few days and years, but now I had the freedom to remember all the times we had together, not just the last six years of her dementia which were filled with worry and concern.
Mom, we’ve been on a helluva journey together, I thought glancing over at her body. She hated the idea of needing help and apologized and felt badly that she had to depend on me, but she also had given me a hard time, sometimes, when I tried to do so.
While it was happening I felt compassion, but certainly didn’t see it in a positive light. In retrospect, I can.
Mom was fiercely independent. She was never one to feel sorry for herself; wasn’t a complainer. I admire her for this. And her spirit. She was a fighter who fought her dementia all the way to the end.
At 12:30 the mortuary arrived to drive her back home to Riverside, and I left the room after signing the necessary papers. Zarita met me at the door and I was given a big hug.
“Your mother’s roommate, Rocio, wanted me to tell you she is sorry. She prayed for your mother,” she said.
“Oh, I’ll have to thank her,” I said.
I walked over to Rocio who was sitting in a chair in front of the TV where she must have been all morning to give me privacy.
“I am sorry you lost your mother,” she said in a whisper which reminded me of my mother. “I prayed for her all night. I could hear her breathing so hard, I knew, and I prayed for her.”
“Thank you, “ I said. “I’m sure she heard your prayers.” I reached down and gave her a hug.
“You were a good daughter. I saw when you came to see her.”
“You have a nice family too. I looked at the pictures of them on your dresser. One of them is a wedding picture.”
“Yes, that’s my granddaughter.”
“Family is what it’s all about, isn’t it?” I said.
Rocio nodded her head and smiled.
“I wish my mother had been here longer and you could have gotten to know her.”
“ She was a nice lady.”
“She was. But she could be feisty too.” By seeing her reaction to my comment I added, “I’ll bet you were feisty.”
“I still am,” she answered with a twinkle in her eye.