…and takes a long slow cruise down the coast.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
This was originally written in my personal journal on Aug. 15th, 2010 at 3:04 am as I sat in the hospital room where my mother left her body behind two days later. It is an excerpt from the book that is being written through me. Like all things in life, it is a work in progress…
It’s another long night at the hospital on the night shift. I’ve been here since around 10 this morning and I’ll be here until my sister comes to relieve me of my watch, probably around 10am tomorrow.
My poor sister, I don’t think she’s slept in days. I was glad when she let me take her home earlier tonight.
Today was a day of more decisions. There is a wonderful hospice nurse here who took the initiative and finally offered us some choices. I don’t know what had been going on before this, but everyone was tiptoeing around us doing things and not talking to us about what they were doing. I didn’t understand the logic of some of what was going on. Like why did they keep giving her this antibiotic that one person told us was very expensive if she’s dying? And why did they keep giving her these breathing treatments? Why did they keep pumping her with fluids if her kidneys are shutting down and nothing much is leaving her body?
Barbara, the hospice nurse, offered to help us transition our mother off the uncomfortable breathing mask she was wearing (which she hated) and move her back onto the oxygen mask that was more comfortable. She increased her morphine drip and added an Atavan drip to relax her body and help her with any anxiety she might be feeling. The transition was a little scary, but my mom weathered it and is now comfortable and peaceful and is slowly shutting down the shop over there.
Death doesn’t happen like it does in the movies or on television. It doesn’t happen in between commercial breaks, it can take a long, long time. I know because I’m watching it happen in front of me. I’ve watched her letting go of the pieces of her life, then stop talking, stop eating and finally she’s stopped being responsive. She was still answering yes and no questions yesterday and still sending me messages with her eyes. In fact I think I got the last one she sent and it was the same message she had been sending me since this whole thing started.
The room was quiet and we were alone. I lightly put my hand on her arm and didn’t make a sound. She opened her eyes and looked right at me. She didn’t say a thing, she hasn’t talked in many days, but clearly in my head what I heard was, “Christine, get me out of here.” She closed her eyes then and hasn’t opened them since.
Some of this has been an absolute horror show. It’s been going on… how long now? Over two weeks I think, but it feels like years have passed. I have gone through my entire childhood and back into adulthood in these two weeks. I have called my sister, “Mom” and she’s called her daughter, “Chris”. I have called my mother, “Grama”. It’s been a Freudian free-for-all. Everyone’s roles have gone up in the air like so many mortar boards on graduation day and when they’ve come down they’ve landed on different heads.
I worked through more of my family stuff in the past two weeks than I have in decades of therapy and practitioner sessions. I got very afraid and wanted to bail on this whole thing a few times, but I just hung in there, kept on going and shift happened.
So, I’m still here watching my mother breathe and being the gatekeeper to her room with the door closed. Today I have said no to a lot of things. No, no more antibiotics. No, no more breathing treatments. No, no more bi-pap face mask. No, you don’t need to move her around and rearrange her limbs; she’s fine right where she is.
For God’s sake, leave her alone already. Let her die in peace.
She hated all this. She hated every minute of this incredibly expensive end of life nightmare, but I think we did the right thing every step of the way. I no longer feel guilty about any of it. The decisions that we made, my sister and I made together. Sometimes she made them, sometimes I made them. Always we were in agreement. When one of us didn’t know what to do, the other one stepped up to the plate. Today I was the one who decided there would be no more messing around with, “I don’t know”s.
They asked us about her wishes regarding “the arrangements” and my sister looked blank. I said, “Cremation.” They asked us about picking out an urn, I said, “A paint can is fine.” She didn’t care about any of that stuff. When I go I won’t care either. A body is just a body. It’s just our earth suit.
At one point, my sister and I were standing on either side of my mom’s bed, each holding one of her hands while she made the transition between oxygen masks. My mom was having a rough time for a moment there. I started crying and almost lost it entirely. My sister surprised the hell out of me by saying, “She’s not there anymore, Christine. It’s just her body. She’s not there.” I think that’s the closest thing to spirituality I’ve ever heard coming out of my sister’s mouth.
The strength and steadfastness of my relationship with my sister has been a huge blessing through all of this. I had no idea we could be this tight and this good together. We’ve been deep, deep in this cold, dark water together and instead of drowning or clawing each other in panic like some would do, we’ve become talented synchronized swimmers. I’ve always been of the belief that we have so little in common and yet our basic understanding and our basic beliefs about life and death aren’t all that different. Who knew?
We have still more road ahead to travel, even after my mom is gone, but I’m not worried. We’ve taken everything one step at a time and have talked things out until there was nothing left to say. All guilt and worry has gone. Only love, trust and respect remain.