I stopped writing the day my mother confided to me that she knew her time was short. I knew the truth of her words. It’s not that there were no longer stories to tell, it just became harder to find the right words. And easier to retreat from the reality in the moments it wasn’t staring you down in the face, rather than dig a little deeper into the raw to tell it like it really is.
It became easier to tell the story in pictures (Thanks Instagram), but memory is often fleeting for me and those still-frames in my mind will fade along with the photographs unless I find my words. I need to record some of the bitter as well as the sweet. Lest I forget.
So I will try to find the right words to paint the moments that strike me to the heart throughout this journey.
They won’t be in any particular order – maybe I’ll sort it out later. Maybe I won’t.
I’m standing at her fridge, helping her find room in her freezer for the groceries I just picked up for her after work. Marie Calendar frozen dinners (Mongolian Beef, Turkey Pot Pie, etc). and another year’s supply of Häagen-Dazs (white chocolate raspberry truffle, vanilla swiss almond, milk chocolate almond covered ice cream bars) and Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. (note to self: write Häagen-Dazs a thank you note. She came to love you late, but I’m pretty sure you added months of quality and life to her shortened time here as your ice cream became the one thing that always sounded good to her.)
She mentioned her obituary, which I had offered at the middle of the summer to write for her. Her words caught in her throat and tears welled up in her usually sparkling eyes,
“I feel my time is running out.”
Sensing her fear for the first time at this stage of the battle – she has fought bravely and stoically this whole time – I looked her in the eyes.
“You will not go this alone. And there will be a sweet reunion. I know this.”
“I will have to trust your knowing.”
I hugged her, no longer able to fight back my own tears.
“You have been holding this in. You don’t need to carry this alone. We are here for you. You need to talk to us.”
“I’m not holding it in.”
“Look me in the eyes. You are holding this in.”
I hugged her again, then we turned back to fitting the Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars into the packed freezer. It was easier to move on.
Last Friday the hospice nurse brought up the hospital bed. There was resistance. She knows what that means. We know what that means as well. It’s time for round-the-clock care. Her sister, my Aunt Jean, has been there this week. My SIL D’Dee and I schedule the weekend until my sister, Jayne Anne is set to arrive Wednesday. D’Dee and I tag team the weekend until I get sick and D’Dee has to go solo.
“I am amazed at how things come together. Ready or not, here it comes.”
(note to self: someday recount the game of telephone that was played as we tried to run interference for Mom to reduce the number of incoming texts and calls that were overwhelming her. Nurses orders: reduce stimulus, help her simplify her life.)
As Saturday night draws late and Sunday morning draws near, ideas pop into my head of ways we can simplify and shorten Mom’s bedtime routine – both for her and for her caregivers. Sunday morning is the first fall. Mom’s legs gave out from under her. It’s a good thing she still has some upper body strength, because I can barely get her upright again. I couldn’t have done it if she weren’t helping. First I say a prayer of thanks I was here – falls have been our worst fear, particularly as Mom has insisted she continue living in her home alone. Next I wonder what I would have done had she not been able to help a little. I wonder what D’Dee would have done if Mom had fallen on her watch. “We need a short list of neighbors we could call,” I think to myself. We take the door off the bathroom. I run home long enough to shower and find a ward I can join long enough to take the sacrament and then head back out to Mom’s. Until D’Dee comes to take the night shift. Later that night I realize I’m coming down with something. Worst possible time. We’ve only just begun and things are about to get more difficult. I do everything in my power to fight it. Monday morning there is another fall. The hospital bed becomes mandatory and a wheelchair is recommended. Resistance is futile. Hard reality checks are coming by the day now. Both are delivered on Tuesday.
Acceptance juxtaposed with denial. Mom talks freely and specifically about her wishes for “after.” Yet says things like “My drivers license expires on my birthday (Jan 31, 2015). I hope the swelling in my cheeks goes down before I have to get my picture taken.” and worries over whether she canceled the long-term health policy too soon (warning – read the small print. Waiting through 90 days of helplessness before becoming eligible for the help you’ve been paying for isn’t so helpful with cancer). Sad truth, she doesn’t have three months. We are down to weeks. Even as I type this and knowing what I’ve witnessed this week, it is difficult to accept.
Week before last (out of order, I know) my SIL told me Mom said, “I hope I make it until Christmas. I would really like to have some carrot (steamed) pudding Dalene makes every year.” That Saturday I let go of some of the cleaning and took the time to mix up a batch. She was on bedrest that weekend due to the fluid seeping out of her swollen legs and D’Dee and I were taking her meals in.
Yesterday I got up and dragged my still-sick self to Shirley’s bakery at 6:45 am. Thanksgiving dinner at Mom’s is a go and since I am sick I won’t be baking pies, but have been assigned to bring the rolls. Shirley’s are not only the best, they are Mom’s favorite. But I found out Tuesday afternoon that you have to start ordering them in October and they stopped taking orders three weeks ago. First come first served when the doors open at 7. There is already a line when I arrive well before 7. Bug hugs and special love for the sweet beautiful woman – younger than I – who shed a tear for my mom and hers (whose last Thanksgiving was last Thanksgiving) as we shared a tiny piece of our stories while we stood in line together. And for the kind woman ahead of us who lost her dad this past year. The consensus “Holidays are hard.” I love a stranger who will share a piece of her soul with me.
That’s enough for today. Except two images I wish never to forget. One I caught the after effects on camera, the other I did not, so I rely on memory. There is nothing like watching the process of going from the blank look of surprise, to recognition, and then the mixture of tears and a big joyful smile as a loved one surprises Mom with a visit. This spring it was Aunt Jean, who braved the long solo trip from her mission in Hong Kong to see my Mom at a time we were afraid she wouldn’t make it until Jean came home in June. She has fought hard and long past June and continued to surpise us all with her strength. Then again last late November night as my baby brother and his family walked in after driving straight here from Idaho. Pure joy. Families are forever!