After doing dialysis in the hospital on Monday, Aug. 20, Mom moved into the hospice facility. Because of her many health challenges and the way she had started to refuse medical treatment, we decided it was time to stop dialysis treatments. That means her first missed treatment would've been Wednesday, Aug. 22. Even though I knew stopping dialysis was the right thing to do, I was in a near panic about how we would respond if Mom realized she was not getting her treatment as usual. In spite of everything, I knew I would not be able to look my mom in the eye and tell her she couldn't have the dialysis upon which her life depended. Mom died early Wednesday morning before that first missed treatment.
That's just one of the blessings that came with the circumstances of Mom's passing. We're still hurting; we're still unbearably sad that she's gone. But we can't deny that the process could've been much worse than what we're now enduring.
Among the many blessings:
- Two moves in 13 months. The big, big clean-out was in April 2011 when Mom moved from her "regular" apartment to a much smaller one in a retirement center. We donated many of her possessions then. Mom didn't understand why she couldn't take everything to her new place, but she was still delighted when items like her sewing machine and washer/dryer found new homes among friends. What we didn't move or give away came home with us until we could sort through it all. We were THIS CLOSE to finishing that project when we had to move Mom to a nursing home at the beginning of this May. With that move, everything else she owned was either donated or stored in our garage. As we packed and sorted and gave the stuff away, I couldn't decide if that process was easier or harder than it would've been after Mom's death. Now that we're faced with full-time grieving, I'm thankful that we're not having to empty an apartment now, too. (The garage, on the other hand... Not sure when I'll have the strength to face those boxes!)
- Financial prep. Because Mom was living in a nursing home, we had consulted a law office to organize Mom's finances for the long haul. Even though we didn't complete that process before Mom died, dealing with her business matters has been simpler than it would've been because we had taken those preliminary steps.
- Our trips. Our 11-day road trip to Florida in July fit neatly in that brief respite between hospital stays and lawyer appointments. Then Brett and I were able to escape to Las Vegas for four days for his classic gaming convention. Mom went in the hospital two days after we returned. Considering the stress we'd all been under, those vacations were desperately needed, and I'm so thankful we were able to enjoy those together. The amazing friends who visited Mom in the nursing home in our absence also provided a timely reminder: They've got our backs!
- Cool breezes. The morning Mom died, it was an unseasonable 64 degrees, and then at the graveside service, the breeze kept us cool. I never would've guessed an August morning could be so pleasant.
- Harsh words. Mom's dementia caused massive changes in her personality. Some of the things she said and did were hurtful—awful, horrible stuff! We knew that wasn't her true self speaking to us, but it was hard to let those awful words roll off our backs. My fear? The bad memories would stick, would cloud my life's worth of memories of my sweet and loving Mom. During the months when the dementia was at its worst, I kept trying to picture those words as if they were written in sand, but it felt like they were in concrete. After she died, it took maybe 24 hours for memories of my REAL Mom to overtake those from the last few confused, angry, paranoid years. The change was almost simultaneous for Brett and me. While it is comforting to return to those wonderful memories and discard the rotten ones, the flood of those recollections intensifies our loss. Still, it's reassuring that we can again recall my real Mom, the true, sweet, loving woman that she was.
- Our last family visit. When the ambulance took Mom from the hospital to hospice, I drove home to pick up Brett and the kids. All four of us got to Mom's room after she was already tucked in and comfy. We knew she had been sedated for the ambulance ride, but we were still surprised to find her in such a good mood. Our last few visits had been so unpleasant; her confusion and pain led her to look right through Ryan and Katie or to not be able to carry on a conversation with us. But on that Monday evening, she was so glad to see the kids. She even told them how nice they looked! We all got to give her a kiss goodbye. Precious.
- Tuesday visit. I left work mid-afternoon Tuesday to drop by hospice. Mom was sleeping soundly. Her nurse said she had been really active late Monday night, so she had been sedated. That afternoon I stayed about an hour but never could wake Mom. I'm sad she didn't wake up that day, but I'm so glad I got to visit her. We had been told that after stopping dialysis, she could live another week or two. Brett and the kids had planned to go with me to visit her on Wednesday, but she died that morning before we could go. My Tuesday visit gave me a private moment to just sit there and watch her breathe.
- Book club. After my hospice trip Tuesday, I went back to school to work for a while and then joined some of my colleagues at our book club. Because of our circumstances, I really didn't think I'd be able to attend, but it worked out that I could go, and boy, am I glad! As usual, we talked books, ate good food, and laughed, laughed, laughed. When Wednesday morning came and I was plunged into our new world of grief, I realized what a blessing all that laughter and time spent with dear friends had been.
- My hair! The stress of Mom's dementia was taking a toll on all of us. In the last few months, that stress was causing me to lose my hair—lots of it! Every morning in the shower, gobs of hair just fell out of my head. Within a few days of Mom's passing, in spite of my sadness and multiple breakdowns through each day, my hair loss seemed to have subsided. Go figure.
- Start of school. What a crazy time of year to be faced with a crisis, right? We've have had some rough school starts lately (remember the fire?), but this one? Wow. Still, I have to admit that it felt good to be able to teach on day 1. The distraction has been welcome; it's good to be busy. Even though I started the year without the preparation I would've preferred, my students and coworkers have been gracious.
- Love. Speaking of grace, we have no doubt that we are blessed with amazing friends and family. I can't even... The words don't... Just WOW. Thank you. Really.
A good friend sent me a card, on which she wrote, "Grief is very hard work." That's so true! There is nothing about losing my mommy that has been easy, but all of these blessings have certainly cushioned the blow, lightened our load, given us reason to be thankful.