Thursday, September 05, 2013
Goodbye, My Dear Mom
I am currently sitting in a hospice room watching my mother die.
I did not think it would come this soon, but it has.
On Saturday at noon I called Mom like I always do. She was doing great. She was happy, lively, and preoccupied with her not-boyfriend, Harold; still her regular dementia-addled self, but doing well.
Sunday morning I had the dream I wrote about here and was woken up from it by my brother, who had called to tell me about Mom's fall. At that point, her prognosis was good. She would need physical therapy, but she could return back to her home at the assisted living facility eventually.
What a difference the past four days have made and how quickly Mom has declined.
Monday we were told that Mom had severe muscle degeneration which was exacerbated by the fall and that some muscle tissue had gotten in her blood stream and caused an infection. The resulting infection spread very quickly and caused Mom's kidneys to shut down, meaning she would need dialysis for the rest of her life, something that typically is counterproductive and not recommended for patients who are in the stage of dementia Mom is.
My siblings and I have known Mom's wishes for some time now and know she would not want to have her life prolonged if it meant further deterioration of her quality of life. Nor do we particularly want to continue to watch Mom's physical and mental health decline. All of us seemed ready to let her go if needs be.
Jonah was surprised at how quickly we seemed to arrive at this decision and questioned whether we were doing everything we could for Mom and whether we were "giving up" too easily. I also know because of the recent death of Jonah's father, he is still having a hard time and regrets the lost time that he could have had with his dad. Jonah also feels very sad for Mom's grandchildren who will never really get a chance to know her.
I must admit there was a part of me who questioned if what we were doing was really to alleviate Mom's suffering or our own. Were we really trying to help her or ease our own pain? I confess the thought of watching Mom slowly lose her independence, mind, and ability to feed, dress, bathe, or toilet herself as well as lose her ability to communicate and possibly not remember us at all does not thrill me and, yes, I think it would be better for her to go now while she still has what faculties she has and what independence and dignity she has left rather than die a long and slow death.
Then after her renal failure occurred, we were told that the fluid build up in Mom's body had caused pressure in her leg as well as put liquid in her lungs. The muscle in her leg had died and her leg would have to be amputated if we kept her alive. She was having trouble breathing. She was having balance and walking issues and was confused, in pain, and miserable. Dialysis three times a week for four hours at a time and a missing limb and an inability to walk is challenging enough for an otherwise healthy individual. For someone with dementia it is confusing and causes great agitation and often makes the dementia worse. Mom would not want to live that way. She will be miserable and confused. We don't want her to live that way.
All of us were in completely unified agreement: we chose to forego dialysis and amputation. We chose to let Mom die comfortably and with dignity. The three doctors who have been caring for her all concur that this is a wise decision, and I know all four of Mom's kids feel at peace with this decision.
My mom has been my greatest champion, supporter, and friend during my whole life. Losing her is sad, I have a hard time imagining a life without her and her influence (although, of course, her influence will always be with me). I will miss her more than words can express.
But this is the right thing to do for her. I know it.
I am not perfect, but I have been the best son I know how to be to my mother. I have no regrets in either my relationship with her or in how I've treated her and cared for her. I know she knows how much I love her, and I know how much she loves me. She has been the best mother a guy could ask for, and it is now time to let her go.
We are amazed at how quickly this turn of events occurred; we all thought Mom would live much longer than it turns out she will. But she has left us a great legacy in what she has taught us and how she treated us, and hopefully we are emulating the example she and my dad left for us.
Mom was also very generous with her money. If one of us needed help paying for school or a temporary loan or a financial lift, she would help without hesitation, but still taught us to earn our own keep and be financially responsible. I think she would be delighted to know that the money that was originally to go towards her long-term care will be passed on to us, as she and Dad originally intended.
I had planned on coming to Utah in two weeks to visit Mom, but knowing she would die soon, Jonah and I made plans to come to Utah yesterday. Fortuitously, Jonah already had Thursday through Sunday off, and both of our jobs are on-call positions, and both of our bosses have been extremely understanding and accommodating, so we are both on indefinite leave until this all plays out.
As I stood during a quiet moment at work Wednesday evening, I thought about what I might wish to say at Mom's funeral. I am still mulling it over, but I have some ideas, and perhaps I'll share them another time.
It was truly weird driving to Utah yesterday knowing that when I return home, Mom will be gone.
I was really happy she was still coherent enough to recognize me, and she was very happy to see me. Actually, her dementia made her happy to see me three separate times because each time was the "first" time.
Harold, Mom's pseudo-boyfriend, called me this morning. He's very sad, and we feel very sad for him that he is losing his friend. He brightened Mom's life at the assisted living facility, and she, his. I told him if he could arrange it with his family, he was more than welcome to visit Mom. He was surprised and touched by this offer. And he took me up on it. My siblings informed me he visited a few hours before Jonah and I got there. He had dressed up and played his guitar for Mom, and she brightened up when he was there. They also gave each other some kisses. I was glad they were able to see one another. They probably won't get another chance.
Mom is out of it, but still has moments of coherency. She could die today or within the week. The practical part of me is already thinking about things like funeral arrangements and obituaries. I am in a recliner. On my left is my younger sister, who is snoring. On my right is my dear mother, who is also snoring, but more shallowly. Jonah is probably having a slightly more restful night at a friend's, although he is having a harder time dealing with this than I seem to be. I am glad to be with Mom and I feel very at peace with how things are playing out.
I had told my family and the doctors not to keep her alive on my account as I made my voyage back to Utah, but I am glad she is still alive for me to see her one last time before she passes. She was very glad to see me and I, her. I do not know when she will go, but it won't be too much longer. I am reminded of when Mom did the very same thing with her own mother.
I will miss Mom. Anyone who reads this blog knows how much I adore her. But while we will be sad to see her go, it is also a great blessing that she will be released from the tribulations of mortality. I'm glad she will be leaving with as much of her faculties and independence as she had before the fall. I also imagine Dad, who has been away from her for 21 years, will be delighted to be reunited with her again. And Mom will be glad to be with him again as well as her parents and brother and in-laws and all those loved ones who have gone before. I am grateful for the time I have had with her and for the influence she has had on my life, and I am equally excited for her to have her next adventure.
Death takes us all eventually, so I take comfort in the fact that Mom and I will only be separated for a season, and then we will be together again one day along with our other loved ones.
I'm just grateful for Mom and that I can be with her both now and forever.