On Sunday afternoon, I got out of the shower to find ProfX waiting for me. “Your dad called,” he said, “It sounds important. Call him back.” When I called my dad, he told me that the nurses said I should come home. They thought Mom had days, it was possible she had a week or two, but I should probably come home now.
Fortunately, I’d saved up leave time and I’d talked to my bosses about the possibility that I might be called away suddenly. So heading up on Sunday night wasn’t a problem, I just called one to let her know and sent a more detailed e-mail later on to get things worked out.
When we got there, Mom was often confused but still had lucid periods. She had looked like she was on death’s door for months and it was even more pronounced. The family divided sitting with her into 6-hour shifts.
While the hospice nurses were great & attentive, Mom often got so confused that didn’t know she could call them via the call button or give herself an extra doses of morphine for excessive pain via another button. We’d have to do it for her, if she could tell us, anyway. If she looked distressed, we’d try to get her to tell us what she needed, often water because her body was shutting down and her mouth was drying up. Fortunately, they have little sponge things which seem to work well for that. She looked happier after sucking on them.
Sunday night through early Tuesday morning are kind of a blur for me, with a number of little episodes. When Mom was sleeping, we’d try to sleep on the pull-out sofa in the room. And when she was awake, we’d sit quietly with her or talk on the few occasions she wanted to. Sometimes she’d just lie there and whisper “Good” or “Very good.” Mostly I remember watching her chest rise and fall.
When ProfX & I were getting ready for our shift on Tuesday morning, we got a text from my sister telling us to hurry. As it turned out, Mom wasn’t going anywhere right away but she’d slipped into a non-responsive state and her eyes were glazed over. After that, no more shifts…we all stayed there except for a lunch run the boy & I made. More watching her chest rise and fall and her fingers turn sort-of purpler and cold. We sometimes talked to her, tried to let her know we were there and we loved her. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering inside what the magic words to let her go would be.
Around two-thirty in the afternoon, her pastor stopped by. He and his wife are also old family friends. Since he couldn’t talk with her, the family stood around the bed and he said a prayer of thanks for her life. Then my dad said one. Then we opened our eyes and her chest had stopped rising and falling. I guess those were the words she needed.
While having one’s body shut down is neither a pleasant nor often a peaceful way to go (there are some parts I don’t want to write about), I know she was terrified that the cancer in her liver would cause liver failure. She didn’t want to die of liver failure, and she didn’t.
Ever since then, life has been kind of a frenzy of cleaning and calling people and arranging things and returning library books combined with periods of collapsing in bed or getting punchy on the computer trying to read funny things and tweet. The funeral isn’t until Monday because she has international siblings who had to make arrangements. That makes for a long period of waiting, anticipating.
I’m reasonably certain that none of it has really hit me yet. I still don’t really know what day it is and I think my brain is treating this like another one of her hospital stays, where we visit and clean the house extra and water her flowers and baby trees, etc. Sometimes I also end up just sort-of shutting down and waiting for someone to tell me what to do.
We’re realizing how many friends she had and how many people want to help. We’ve had an onslaught of food, which is great because I can clean but don’t feel up to cooking. I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about work either, I got all that arranged with my bosses for a mixture of sick, bereavement, and annual leave. I go back to work this coming Thursday.
I also appreciate all the outpouring of sympathy on Twitter, @s & dms & e-mails & shared stories. You guys are great. There’s also a mysterious gift I’ve only apparently received half of (based on some e-mails anyway), for which I’m very grateful to a handful of blog & twitter friends, some years old and some relatively new. I’ll post a pic when I get the other half.