Today, July 11, 2019, is the 3 year anniversary of when my mom died.
The weeks before her passing one of her four kids was with her 24/7, watching.
The day before she took to her bed, my husband and I came to visit. It was the only time I can say I don’t think she knew who I was for a little while.
I was telling her about the new cat we’d gotten a couple weeks before, and she said she remembered that cat, she liked that cat. But she’d never seen it. Maybe she thought I was my sister, who had a cat she was familiar with.
It was the only time I ever felt any apprehension about Mom’s dementia putting a barrier between her and us.
I started talking about a cat she’d had as a girl, a story she’d told many times, and she joined in and filled in the details, and by the time she got to the end she knew who I was again.
Our stories tie us to our past, our memories, each other. They have power beyond a few moments amusement.
So this is Mom’s death story. Or as I saw it, her continuing life story.
That next day after our visit she didn’t want to get out of bed and slept all day and night, and the next day one of my sisters called us all, feeling Mom was going to pass very soon.
I was sitting at an art class downtown with my youngest when the message reached me. There were strawberries to get, kids to pick up, others to call with the news, a list to keep my mind busy for a while.
Then my family gathered at the nursing home, thinking we were going in to see Mom in her last moments.
My siblings and their families were also streaming in, and everyone was quiet and somber. One group was in with Mom and we waited outside to give them time alone with her. Then they came out to give us a turn.
My younger kids used to go over every couple of weeks when Nanny lived at home to do odd jobs, put puzzles together or play games with her, and take her shopping. They had not liked to visit at the nursing home over the nine months she’d been there, and were nervous about coming now, when she was dying.
So we were all a little subdued, walking into a quiet, darkened room, feeling like we had to whisper.
Except Mom had been asleep for most of the last day and a half. And I needed to know if she was still there, still able to interact with us.
So I sat on the bed and held her hand. And she squeezed mine. I told her we were there, the kids kissed and hugged her. Her feet moved.
Aides came in then to do their periodic turn and tidy up, and asked us to wait outside for a minute. So I stood up and very loudly said, “Mom, they’re going to get you comfortable and then we’ll be back in.”
And she said, “Okay!”
By the time they got done she was roused up a little, unlike the past day, and my family went back in to have a real visit. This time Mom did the hugging and kissing, telling each of us she loved us. She smiled a lot, laughed a little, and seemed to know us all.
Soon we went out and told the others that Mom was awake, and the rest of the afternoon more and more family arrived to talk to her. We rearranged her bed so all could gather around her, and at one time there were more than twenty of us in the room, talking and laughing and singing a little.
At one point Mom was in a state of rapture, talking out loud but not to us. Telling God how she never knew this love he was pouring out on her, praising and thanking him for his tender care.
It was a truly beautiful thing to see, to experience as an observer. Because she was unaware of us all for a few minutes.
It was a glimpse into what was ahead for her.
And then she was back, kissing and patting the great grandbabies, enjoying the fruit of her life with us all.
And a plan had to be thought up and set into motion. The home got her moved to a room by herself, giving an extra bed to rest on and space for more chairs. We decided we wouldn’t leave her alone. We plotted out a schedule for the next day, then week, then weeks.
And we had the privilege of helping Mom transition from earth to heaven.
This is what she had lived for. This glorious, unknowable end that is really a beginning and a continuation all at once.
So we took turns, talking to her and each other, catching up. Singing and telling stories, feeding her until she no longer wanted to eat, didn’t want to drink anymore, her body letting her know it was okay to let everything wind down.
People came to visit one last time, always happy to see her. She had touched a lot of lives and hearts. I got to meet people she had talked about from her church, finally putting faces with names.
She and I had a long talk one night about things I’m in recovery to heal from, and I got some closure I needed. My daughter was there, drawing as we talked.
As she weakened she slept more and talked less. I sang through her hymnal, giving voice to every song I knew during my times with her. She would often join in for a few bars.
Until her last Sunday came, and we could tell there was a change. It seemed more critical to get anyone who needed to see her there. All of us kids decided to stay Saturday and then Sunday night with her. We took breaks running to get food, and eventually were all back, along with several of the granddaughters, as Mom struggled to take in breath.
Gathered around her, in the wee hours of Monday morning, drawn in by the sense of urgency, we knew we were going to witness Mom leaving this body that had served her well for 84 years, and entering into the presence of God.
To know as she is known.
Someone started singing “Amazing Grace”, and our quartet of siblings plus the backup choir of our families that were present sang all the verses we could remember.
Mom’s breaths were sporadic and labored. We kissed her as we sang, held her hands, told her we loved her.
“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.”
As we held out that last note, Mom breathed out her last breath.
And began the rest of her life.