This entry isn’t sexy at all. You might want to skip it entirely.
I scolded someone today about missing a post regarding the death of my Mother and, when I went back to find it, realized it wasn’t there myself. I apologize to that reader since several places throughout my blog, I do refer to my Mother’s death but the recount of it seems to be missing.
I had debated writing about it when it happened in January of 2010. In fact, the gap of my posts seem almost invisible now looking back, covered up by Q&A posts that seemed popular at the time. Truth is, I probably did post something but along the way to this platform or in some cleaning frenzy, I deleted it as too overly sentimental or not sexy enough.
Yet that incident has significant bearing on two things in my reportour of posts these days: My extraordinary dislike of smoking and my intense disdain of catfish .
By the way, the photo included here is actually a real photo I told of me holding my Mother’s hand one long and painful night and texted it to the catfish.
A Second Hospital Visit
My job at the time had me travel throughout December through March. I’d returned home in January after another string of visits and my uncle, who’d just left, suggested I go immediately to see my Mother, as she wasn’t feeling well.
About six years earlier, I’d moved back to Georgia from Washington, D.C., to help care for my elderly parents. My father had passed in 2005, all of us by his side. But he was at home in hospice care. I’d been his primary caretaker during his final two weeks, administering the painkilling medicine that eased his discomfort and helped him ultimately make the transition as easily as possible.
To be honest, his passing was almost one of a miracle, as we’d talked about a month before about his wishes at his funeral. As he breathed his last breath, all of the family around him, hugging him, crying and saying good-bye, the television began playing the one song he’d asked to be played at his funeral.
Compared the the gentle but stoic nature of my Father was the truly steel magnolia Machiavellian matriarch that was my Mother. I loved her dearly. But at 78 years old, she would ignore every doctor’s advice (and my orders) and do as she wished.
From almost 42 years of smoking, her chronic obstructed pulmonary disorder made the most simple tasks brutal. Yet she would insist on housework, fixing dinner, driving herself places, and more, her little portable oxygen tank in tow. And I’d drive her all over the family gatherings, with her often upset when I deviated from the old routes to take quicker, new highways.
I’d been travelling all over the country — three cities this last nine-day tour — and I wanted to sleep and rest because the next week I would be off for two more cities. But instead, I dragged my fat ass over to see Mom.
She’d been sleeping on the sofa across from the hospital bed I’d had in her home for the last six months but she refused to use because there wasn’t a lamp close enough to it.
More petite and frail, her hands and arms dotted with bruising from whenever she’d bump up against anything, she insisted “something was wrong.”
I struck a bargain with her: We’d go to the hospital but when she came home, she’d have to learn to do what I said. After all, I reminded her how she bossed around her Mother (my Grandmother) for 10 years before her passing. I told her she needed me let me get a little bossing in.
Now that I look back, she agreed too quickly.
It was the second time I took her to the hospital but the first time she would be admitted.
Nothing Out of the Ordinary
Mother had bronchitis. When I moved home, I went to the doctors with both of my parents and spent time with their primary care and any specialist, learning as much as I could about their chronic conditions. I also learned what to expect when the time would come.
For Mother, it would be a series of lung infections that would get steadily worse over time until essentially, she could not get enough oxygen and would suffocate.
“The process is beginning,” I told myself.
When I moved home, Mother’s lung capacity was at 23 percent of normal. Even though she’d quit smoking about five years before I came back to Georgia, her lungs would never heal. That’s one of the myths about smokers. If you quit, your lungs don’t get better. Actually, they continue to deteriorate — just at a much slower pace.
Each year, Mother would lose between 1 and 2 percent of capacity. She currently hovered around 17 percent.
She began making a rebound quickly with the antibiotics and everything seemed fine. But one afternoon, she told me something was wrong.
“What is it, Mom?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
My Mother’s eyes contained sheer terror in them. I noticed the her oxygen saturation in her blood on the monitor suddenly dropping. I hit the nurse call button.
In the next 30 minutes, we were in the Intensive Care Unit. The doctors wanted to intubate my Mother — that is, put a tube into her lungs to breathe for her. And in her fear, my Mother consented. But I overruled her, pulling out my power of attorney. One of the healthcare directives she’s insisted upon in it was to never be intubated and the doctors agreed, saying if we did, she’d likely never be able to be taken off since her lungs would never be strong enough.
She was put onto a machine that strapped an oxygen mask onto her face so tight, it made bruises all over her face. It would force her to breath.
She cried through the night, hating that machine. I was there the whole time, holding her hand. She asked constantly for it to be taken off. But I asked her to bear with me just a little longer to see if it would help.
But in 24 hours, her condition didn’t improve.
My only companion other than some family and friends who would stop by was a words at the other end of texting. The person was comforting in so many ways. And I was at my most vulnerable, here, next to my dying Mother, feeling the most alone in the world.
The reassurance of his care and love for me seemingly helped. But later, I would discover it was all a lie. He didn’t exist. And I’ll be honest — what that person did, the betrayal just reaches so deep into places where I’m still scarred and hurting that I can’t even begin to explain or even discuss it. It’s actually easier to talk about my Mother.
Relief at Last
With no improvement and really no hope, I spoke to all the doctors the next day to assure that switching to palliative care would be the right choice. I wasn’t prepared for this decision so early. I’d expected to take Mother home and have a few more hospital visits before this event. But that wasn’t to be.
I then spoke to my sister and my aunt to make sure they agreed. Turns out I was the late one to the decision, but I had to be there. It was time for me to talk to Mother.
We turned that horrible machine off and took it away. My Mother was so relieved it wasn’t working on her now and she could breathe at whatever pace she wanted. I went and sat down, alone, next to her, put my hand in hers, feeling the warmth and the knotted knuckles from the arthritis. Her poor body was just so battered and bruised, but through it all I could see that beautiful woman who cared for me through all my years, kissed my boo-boos. She guided me kindly and occasionally spanked me. I pulled her hand to my lips and kissed it, feeling that rough skin that still contained a softness. I brushed back her gray hair from her bruised forehead and looked into the dimming brown eyes.
“Mother,” I said in a quiet tone, managing to keep it together.
“Yes,” she said.
“We had a choice and I want to know what you think,” I said. “I know you hate that machine but it’s your only hope of getting any better.”
I paused, as I could see the recognition come across her face.
“We can put you back on it and try to make you ask comfortable as possible,” I continued. “Or we can leave you off of it and you can go see Daddy.”
A single tear streamed down my left cheek.
She didn’t answer immediately. But she did finally speak.
“I think I’d rather go see Daddy. I really miss him.”
My Mother and Father were married 53 years before he passed away. Of course she missed him.
I hugged her.
Over the next few hours, Mom seemed to feel better than ever, visited with so many people. It’s one of those miraculous gifts we get before we die and we get to say goodbye. I have a precious video of her time with my nephew that just would tear anyone apart to watch.
She laughed so much. I was so glad to see that. I hadn’t seen her with that much joy in so long.
It was then I began to realize just how sick she’d been.
And if on schedule, as the final people left and the last prayers were uttered, she slipped into a silent, fitful sleep. With all the paperwork signed, I had the nurses begin to add morphine and other calming drugs to make her sleep more restful.
Just after midnight, she stopped breathing in this world. But she got a lung-full of air somewhere else.
I screamed, not in pain, but at the top of my lungs, “She can finally breathe!”
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