Part 3: Watching Your Mother Slowly Die

Yes, I received yet another phone call. It was another aunt. “you need to stop whatever it is you are planning on packing, and you need to get into your car and drive tonight. She’s calling for you. I need you to sit down and listen to what I have to warn you about.” I did as she requested, both Jack and his mother looked at me. I just looked at Jack “get you and the kids packed up.” then I listened to what my aunt said, “sweetie, there’s a very high chance you aren’t going to make it home in time.” My aunt knew this was a huge fear of mine, I had confessed this to her. I was afraid mom was going to push us away, or push me away until the very last minute and we would be jumping through hoops to get home to her.

Despite the fact Jack kept telling me over the course of these past few months that I was overreacting. Sometimes you say things, or feel things that you don’t totally understand yourself. There have been several times in my life that I had wished my intuition was wrong; this was one of those moments.

This was Friday. Hurricane Eduardo was going up the eastern seaboard and it was the beginning of Labor Day weekend. Jack started the leg of the drive. In the passenger side, I buried my head in the pillow so the kids and Jack wouldn’t hear me cry. I prayed, I told God if he had to take her before I got home, that I would be ok. I asked him to not let her suffer or be in pain. She had enough pain in her life; let her die peacefully. I also asked for strength in myself, because God knew from the time I was five my biggest fear was losing mom. It’s a fear most kids have at that age. I think it’s sometimes worse for kids who have a single parent.

We hit all the traffic in every city up I-95. Oh and we caught up with Eduardo in Connecticut. Jack kept us plugging along at 30 mph on the interstate. The stressful part for me, was mom was wondering what was taking me so long. Family told her I was on my way, but she didn’t believe them. So every two hours I called someone and told them where we were at. We actually got out a head of the storm.

Sunday morning, I got us to 2 miles from the border and asked him to switch with me. I had plenty of time to cry on the way up and get it out. “I need you to drive us across the border and talk to customs. You have more patience when it comes to this. As soon as we get through customs and you get us into the parking lot of the hospital, I am running to the hospital, you bring the kids.”

Jack didn’t even get the car stopped and I had taken off running. An aunt was waiting for me at the doors to the hospital and we just ran to the elevator and once the elevator got to mom’s floor I ran to her room.

It had just a  month since I had left her and she had lost so much weight. Her glasses were off (they had gotten heavy on her face, even though they were light as feathers). She was sleeping and I didn’t want to scare her but I also knew without her glasses unless I got right up in her face she wouldn’t have recognized me. “mama. Mama. I am here.” I whispered. I brushed my hand through her hair, the hair stayed with my fingers due to the chemo. I kissed her gently on the forehead, and then she stirred. “How far away is she now? She’s not coming. You guys keep telling me she’s coming but she’s not.” I smiled, “I’m here mama.” She realized, her baby girl made it. She started to cry.

Then she heard Jack and the kids come in. “I must be dying everyone is here.”

Jack didn’t want me to tell our son his nana was dying on the ride up. I didn’t think that was fair to our son. Our son had a better relationship with his nana than any other grandparent, despite the distance. My son stood frozen in the doorway by his father. I regretted not telling him because I could tell he was scared.

Mom saw him immediately and started to cry. He was a trooper though; he wanted to sit up next to his nana. I explained to him while I was helping him up to her bed, that she might look scary but it’s still the same nana he has always known. She’s on medications so she might do things that seem a little weird. “oh nana.” He said as he crawled up next to her, he kissed her on her cheek, wiped the hair from her eyes. She pulled him close to her. He looked a little scared, “it’s ok, nana just wants to hug you.”

The room was full of family. Later in the day she was showing signs we might lose her. She began to do the deep breaths in. Everyone knew what she wanted. She did not want to be kept alive artificially. The medications and oxygen were to keep her comfortable only.

I sat up on the bed with her as well. I had to be very careful. From the moment I stepped in that hospital there were no tears. I had months of crying. It’s amazing how when put into a situation we just do what needs to be done. I remember thinking as I sat beside her, she didn’t deserve to die like this. It was wrong. The hard life she had was enough, couldn’t the woman die without it being so hard? Hell 28 years prior when it was her and I and, I was coming into the world, she almost died. I had watched this woman for 28 years go through hell and back and this is how it all ends. She had hell before I was born. My mother deserved to die better. Honestly, watching my mother go through this and knowing other families go through this as well, I would have preferred her todie in a car accident, or suddenly in her sleep than this. The slow death takes a toll.

That evening when things looked rough I remember hearing a blood curdling cry come from the corner. It was my son. “noooo, I don’t want my nana to die.” It was then my tears started, I hated my son being in so much pain. We all held him close and explained to him.  The tears only lasted awhile.

Jack hardly said anything to me during the time we had gotten to the hospital. I’m not sure if I would have broken down if he had tried to hold me, or shown me some emotion. I was in a zone. He never tried. Honestly, I don’t think he thought it was as bad as what I had been telling him. I think he too was shocked when he saw her. Mom loved Jack (once she got to know him) like he was the son she never had. He sat next to her and held her hand. Her and him had some good memories over the years. He had taken her fishing, on motorcycle rides. Every important event we had in our lives, mom had been there physically for us.  She had been there more for us, than his parents ever were.. Jack had always made reference; he had always had to go see them; very seldom did his parents come visit him.

Jack took the kids to mom’s house and I stayed at the hospital. I was exhausted. I sleep through almost anything, including last rights. My aunts were laughing because as the minster was giving my mom last rights he had to do it through my snores.

In the middle of the night I got awoken by my aunt. I looked over and there she was wrestling with a 70 lb woman. “What the hell?” I looked at my aunt who was trying to contain her, but not break her. “I don’t know how she got of the bed with the rails up, but she doesn’t need to be walking around coming off these meds. Go get a nurse.” I ran down the corridor in my sock feet. “Mom’s getting out of bed, we need your help down here.” I ran back to go help my aunt. “mama what in the world do you think you are doing?’ She looked at me, “getting the fuck out of here.” I laughed; mom very rarely dropped the f bomb. It was everything my aunt and I could do to hold this 70 lb woman back. Being an older hospital they had window AC units and she was literally trying to CLAW the unit out. “Mom what are you doing, stop this please.” She kept clawing, “I need to fly.”

It was honestly amazing and sad watching the death process. I knew what she meant when she said she needed to fly. Time was approaching. Then she looked at me, the most sane and non loopy I had seen her in hours. “you’re coming with me. I can’t fly by myself.” It sunk to my core and gave me chills. “Mama I can’t go with you. I can go part of the way, but I have to stay here for Jack and the kids.

FINALLY, the nurses came running into the room. The doctor had ordered morphine every four hours; we were at hour two and the nurses couldn’t do anything else. “You can’t call the doctor? She doesn’t need to be doing this. The morphine is obviously not lasting as long as he originally thought it would. She’s going to end up hurting herself.” It was the longest two hours I had ever been in. I am sure for my aunts as well.

Let’s just say it was a long damn night. At one point my mother asked me to lean in and she said, “just put the pillow over my face, no one will know.” She was serious despite her coming off morphine. I still remained strong. I knew everything was happening; I think I was in shock. There’s no time to think when your mother is trying to crawl out a window, or struggling to get the hell out of there. You know some of it’s the meds, but you wonder how much is truly the meds.  No one deserves to die like I watched my mother die. Yet so many do.

I had seen this before, when my grandfather was sick. Yes for those of you, I was by my grandfather’s, the one who molested me, side for the most part when he was sick and dying. Funny how it turns out that the ones that you hurt the most end up taking care of your ass. I don’t mean that to be cruel, because if I hadn’t of helped my mother; she would have done it alone and I wasn’t about to let my mother deal with taking care of her father by herself. She and I did it together. Anyway, by seeing this before, I mean, it could take a long damn time for mom’s body to shut down. Where she had worked in a nursing home I had heard over the years the signs of death. She wasn’t displaying many. You knew her body could not go on this way; but as long as her heart was going and her organs were still operating she could literally go on like this for a long time.

That was the part that worried me; she could go on like this for a long time and I didn’t want to see her like that. Looking at her though, you knew her body would not be able to go on like that for long.

Morning finally came, and more waiting ensued. I had been waiting since the nurses told me they couldn’t do anything for my mother that it had to be doctor ordered. The dumb ass stand in doctor and I (the one that said in his professional opinion a few days before said she wasn’t in the palliative state) were going to have some words. I don’t give a rats behind if this is not how people do things around here. It takes a lot to piss me off. I don’t like confrontation but when I have reached that point where it’s a bunch of BS; I will confront and I will make a HUGE stink about it. However, anyone who knows me; knows it’s because what people or a person are doing is wrong.

The doctor finally showed up and I went out the hallway and waited for him. I had the power of attorney in my hands; along with her living will. He knew exactly who I was. I smiled, introduced myself;  I always give a firm handshake. “We talked on the phone 4 days ago. The hospital all ready has a copy of the power of attorney and mom’s living will and I am going to sound rude and not like I am from around here with my southern accent. The 4 hour dose of morphine you ordered….wore off in 2 hours and her last dose wore off within an hour. I’m telling you I am evoking my power of attorney right now; even though I should have been given the information as soon as this power of attorney was presented to me. However, I wanted to respect my mother’s wishes and do it her way. Doctor, she is unable to make the decision she needs to and I am stepping in to make those decisions for her. Last night was unacceptable. There is no reason that my mother should have gone for two hours in the condition she was in. I don’t care what you have to do, from here on out you are going to make her comfortable.” He hummed and hawed and stuttered. Then said he would put an order in for every two hours if she needed it. I chimed in, “and you are going to call the nurses or you are going to have them call you if that doesn’t work.” I walked away.  I DO NOT like being like that. When I have to be, I will and don’t think I will give up either.

After he accessed her and talked with the nurses he did come up to me and say he would make her as comfortable as possible.

Death is damn weird. I saw this when my grandfather died and I the rest of this day, I saw it while my mother was dying. C-R-E-E-P-Y shit takes place. I don’t care if you are a non believer in the God Almighty. The shit that I saw take, place over this next day sent CHILLS up my spine. For some you might think my thoughts were highly disrespectful. Ask me if I care. I don’t. Some will argue it’s the morphine that made her do this or see stuff. Ahhh you have your beliefs I have mine. My grandfather I don’t recall on any medication and he was seeing stuff….dead people. I can’t say what happens to a person at the end of life because I have never physically been there yet. I wanted to record my mother; that’s how freaky it was. Some of the freaky shit didn’t happen until she died and I talked to people; because I didn’t even know what the hell she was talking about.

At one point my sister and I were in with her. When my mom started to do the stuff she did, we just looked at each other like we had gotten in some time warp. My sister as well had taken care of the elderly and had seen death before; and even she looked at me with a “what the hell” look. Mom began rocking in the chair; that was completely still. She began talking to the “person” next to her. Mom could hear the rocking chairs and she described a setting I had never seen before in my life. It was my sister (who is older than me) that realized “she’s talking about her grandfather.” Mom asked my sister and me to rock on the porch with her. Of course we did as she asked.

From the moment Jack and I arrived mom couldn’t be left alone. Actually, it happened before then. Now I am sure some of you will say “nah uh”. Stuff it. That night I had the melt down, that came on suddenly? Turns out one of the nurses told my aunt (the one I had been on the phone with that night when this occurred) and I, mom woke up in a panic. A friend had to be called because “he” was coming after her. She refused to go to sleep without someone in the room with her in case “he” came back. My aunt and I got chills when the nurse told us the time this occurred. About the same time I went into hysterics. Some people have made fun of me over the years because of this. I can’t explain it; I have never been able to explain it; and it doesn’t occur all the time.  Sometimes people are just connected.

More weird shit took place the entire day. There were times she was doing the “weird” stuff and then she was CLEAR as a damn bell. I saw this also take place with my grandfather in his final hours.

I also noticed that lumps were (large lumps) showing up on her body; one was on the side of her neck. I don’t know if it’s true, but someone said it was the cancer travelling. It wasn’t there the day we arrived.

My mother was a fighter, regardless of how she handled or didn’t handle the cancer. As weak and frail as she was; she still demanded that she go to the bathroom; rather than a bed pan. My sister and I rang for a nurse….it took forever. “Come on mom we’ll help you.” Now I know nurses are busy but I had a problem with the nursing care. 3 nurses for 1 floor. It might be a small hospital but damn it.  There may have been more pressing things going on, however, when the only dignity and independence this woman has is to still be able to get up and go to the bathroom…..damn well help her. We had all ready been told the rules that we shouldn’t help (liability I am sure…blah blah blah). So we helped her. I actually called Jack in to help us. My sister on one side, me on the other side and Jack behind her. In all the years I watched my mother help with the elderly, I had never really took to it like she did. I felt awkward. There was also sadness there as well. No one likes seeing their parent or loved one in this condition. All those years she battled with her weight and now she was skinny as a rail. She had lost the weight so fast; the skin was literally just hanging off her bones. You are also trying to give her respect of privacy by making sure her gown is covering her stuff. Lol When we finally made it to the bathroom I asked her if she wanted me to stay in the bathroom with her. She looked at me, “No, I got enough of that when you were little.” I busted out laughing, “ok mom, I am right outside the door.” Smart ass. My sister and I got in trouble for helping her to the bathroom. Guess what we didn’t care. 45 minutes it took for a nurse to show up finally.

Ok so my aunts and I are all sleep deprived. We start getting damn giddy while all hanging out in mom’s room. Laughing, joking, and just reminiscing about memories we had. We included mom. Even though by this point she was in bed and not talking much, she would smile or make eye contact. That’s how fast this went. That day she was going to the bathroom that night when it turned it turned quickly. We’ve got the entire wing to ourselves and the door is open, the laughter, cackling, literally laughing so hard at all these memories that mom was a part of.  The head nurse came down and we turned when we saw her in the doorway. She was smiling. This nurse was AWESOME. We all turned around at her, laughing with tears in our eyes, about to piss ourselves laughing. “Are we in trouble?” She shook he head and just smiled, “no I am just standing here enjoying this. Not many families do this and this is good for her. It great to see all of you, even in this bad time turn it around and make it full of laughter.” That made me feel good. It was what mom would have wanted us to do. Yes we were sad, we hated that we were losing her. I actually said “mom would whoop our ass if we were standing over her crying and boo hooing. Hell mom whooped all of our asses a time or two.” We then included the head nurse. She had come in to check on mom’s dressing and she also checked what looked to be signs of the end coming. Even in 2012 I remember her name.  I had only met her a couple times but when she was on shift she gave my mother the best care. She treated mom like she was her mother. We told her this funny story of mom or of something that mom did. We had the nurse laughing right along with us. I am sure the pious people in our family would have disapproved. Oh well…lol mom would have been doing the same shit if it were one of us.

Then it started to happen; the signs of death were approaching. I looked at her and her dentures because her face was starting to do something, made her look creepy. I looked at one of my aunts. “For the love of God take her teeth out; she hated the dentures anyway”My aunt looked me “I’m not taking them out. You take them out.” I shook my head “oh hell no, those damn things scared the shit out of me every time I went into the bathroom. I ain’t touching them.” Snicker my aunt did it. She and I were laughing so hard. We told mom we were going to take out her dentures. Honestly, it was a safety issue as well. She nodded with her eyes and once they were taken out we asked if she was more comfortable without them in, she nodded her eyes “yes.” Of course I got the jokes in, I made the teeth chomping motion with my hands, my aunt “stop it.” and was laughing the whole time.

The ending was slow and yet fast all at the same time, if that makes any sense. Her eyes stayed open the whole time. The hardest part was seeing tears roll down her eyes as I fully believe she knew exactly what was happening.  She refused to close her eyes. I too began to panic, even though my aunts never saw it. I kept trying to call Jack, he wasn’t answering his phone. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen once she took her last breath. I didn’t know if I was going to break down and cry (I am tearing up right now just remembering that horrible feeling I had). I just wanted Jack beside me. I had been strong for so long. And like always I couldn’t get in touch with him. It hurt. He had all ready made the excuse when I asked him to stay at the hospital with me; “wouldn’t it make more sense for me to take care of the kids so you can be with your family.” I just said “you’re right; whatever.” And walked away. Again you learn to go numb. It hurt like hell. You learn to put on your poker face and just carry on. Another excuse was “the kids don’t need to be around this.” We had all ready had people say that they would watch the kids; the nurses had set up a place away from the area and people offered to watch the kids. Whatever, I got this.

Is it so wrong to want your husband; the one you love and have loved to just be there for you? Is it so wrong to want to feel his arms wrap around you.  Why was love, compassion, tenderness, and just that reaching out for someone when you know they are hurting….so hard for him? I have always tried to be tougher than I really am. It’s not that I am NOT afraid of that emotion; Lord knows people have seen me cry (I hate it). He hated when I got emotional about things. Whether he realizes it or not, he put me down when I did cry. “You’re crying over that?” You learn to be tough! At what cost?  I didn’t cry from the moment we arrived at the hospital and I continued not to cry.

I was used to him not being there when I needed him the most. I look back now and feel he was never there. In the hind sight of things; by him not being able to give that to me, it emotionally drained me. Show some tenderness, compassion, support, love. SHOW SOME EMOTION. What kind of man can’t hold his wife, or reach out to her. Does a man really need a crystal ball, when his wife’s mother is dying to know she needs him? While I had my aunts, friends and other family members around me; I was going through this alone. Yes we all consoled one another. It wasn’t the same. That’s not what I needed. I needed him. I needed my husband. Why is that so wrong?

The hours moved on; then the minutes turned into hours. The last 10-15 minutes were horrible. She would take a deep breath in and 2 minutes later, she would gasp again for a breath. In between that first labored breath we thought she had gone and then that large gasp happened again. At this point you’re willing her to stop breathing, so it will be over for her. She still had her eyes open and she looked straight at you. Does she know what is going on? There’s tears coming from her eyes as she gasps. Is she aware? Or has that part of her body shut down and it’s just her body doing this? It felt like we all held our breath as her body gasped for air. The gasps then got further apart and you wondered is that the last one. You couldn’t really tell because her eyes were open.  Then…..there were no more gasps for air. Mom was gone. While my aunts cried; I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. How can you be surrounded by people in a room and still feel alone? I had just lost my rock, my friend, the pain in my ass, the comfort, and partner in crime. My body began to convulse (you know where you cry so much you can’t get a breath), but I still didn’t break down; no tears no crying. Two hours after mom was gone; Jack showed up with the kids. I was the one that told the kids “nana is gone.” Yes tears came when I told my son and he began to cry. They quickly stopped when Jack spoke and there was no emotion, consoling in his voice at all. It was literally like he drove up onto a scene being dispatched to a call. I had seen in car video of almost every stop he did, it was the same. A wife doesn’t deserve that.

There was still more to be done. A nurse asked if I wanted to donate mom’s corneas and I immediately said yes. Mom would have wanted that not only because I worked in optometry but she also loved helping other people.

We also had to clean out her room and make all preparations. Jack didn’t go with me even though I asked him to. He did go with me to meet the minister for the memorial arrangements. I still hadn’t cried. There was no time for me to break down.

That Friday was the memorial. I didn’t break down during the service, or when I stood in line for people to give condolences to the family. At one point during the service Jack did put his hand on the top of my leg, but that was all.  If I recall the family and I, estimated about 250 people in the church.

This is how much Jack thought I was overreacting with things. He didn’t bother to bring anything dress up for the funeral. Before the service he told me that and I asked him, “you didn’t bring a set of nice clothes? I told you pack something for a funeral.” His response to me was, “I didn’t think there would be one.” You just drop it and move on because there is more shit going on in your world to bitch about it. Looking back now on this; I see how little he cared about me or even respected me.

Surrounded by hundreds of people, standing in line with the family as people gave their condolences; I felt alone. The only time I never felt alone was when my children were around. I was so thankful that I still had Jack and the kids. Mom was gone.