My mother passed away last Saturday.
It was not unexpected.
She has had Alzheimer’s for eight years…and the disease has slowly taken her away from us. She was been my best lifetime friend. My true sister, my confidante, my advisor, my supporter. She always had my back….There have been many, many goodbyes over the past several years. But, despite the fact that “my mom” was really gone, I dreaded the thought of the finality of it all. I was scared, for fear I couldn’t face the trauma of losing her. I am only one of two people I know at my age who, up until a week ago, had both of their parents still alive. I didn’t want to NOT have my mom alive.
I got a call from my dad on a Sunday afternoon. He asked me to come down as soon as possible. So within three hours I was on my way to the airport. A few hours earlier, I’d had an amazing experience with a Southwest Airline agent, who took a ticket that I'd gotten at a REALLY great price (that I was scheduled to use this week…) and allowed me to use it with no extra charge. When I was wheeling my bag onto the plane, tears streaming down my face, I thought how sweet she was to give me that ticket…and then the voice… The voice that said SHE didn’t give you the ticket, *I* did. Whew. I was taken back to a familiar place from my past. To a story I hadn’t thought about it for probably 25 years!
Years ago, I read an inspiring book called The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. And not too long afterwards, I had the honor of caring for her when she was admitted to the hospital I worked in. She shared a story (which was also in her book) and although I don’t remember it verbatim, it was related to a question that was asked of her. “HOW did you endure all those horrible experiences? I don’t think I would have the strength to do it”
She asked the question back, “When you are a child who is going on a trip with your father, does he give you your ticket months in advance? Absolutely not. He knows that as a child you would lose it before the time came when you needed it. No, he gives it to you just as you are getting on the train… And so it is with our strength. We get it ONLY as we need it.”
Was it an easy week? Although the hospice agency was to provide 24 hour nursing coverage, my dad was very anxious, and asked me to sleep in my mom’s room at the Alzheimer’s center. I can only imagine what it must feel to lose your life partner of almost 70 years. But, do you know what it feels like to sleep with a strange nurse in the room, and oxygen concentrator running, and all the lights on? To have only two changes of clothes (one that you slept in every night???), and no shower for five days? (Yup. I perfected the Shirley Maclaine role in Terms of Endearment). Worse than that was watching my mom struggle to breathe, and simultaneously struggle to let go. Having to suction her myself because the hospice agency failed to send nurses as promised, and when they did, they sent a one who couldn’t stay awake at night (therefore I did, for three consecutive nights), and an evening nurse who was so sick she had to be sent home. (Yes, I WILL be following up on those issues….). Throw in typical family dynamics, and planning a memorial with my dad and you begin to get the picture. It was probably the most challenging week of my life. But, every time I thought I was going to totally lose it, I reached into my pocket and held onto “my ticket”. And you know what? I found strength that I never knew I could have. I found courage, compassion, and patience. I went to many other previously unknown and beautiful places on my “train ride”. And as painful as it was, I would not have traded that experience for anything.
It was like I always knew it would be. The two of us together at the end. Not my sibs. Not my dad…just us. I was able to hold her hand, stroke her head, and play her favorite music (see links below) as she transitioned out of her prison of a body with a demented brain. I was there to whisper words of comfort in her ear. And now, she is free now to visit me once again. I feel her smiling as I write this and it brings a grin to my face.
Now, just to prove everything was as it was meant to be? I was upgraded to first class (complementary) on my way home, and my first day back (yesterday) I had the most amazing massage and an acupuncture treatment. AND…I am eating really healthy to compensate for the chocolate I ate last week, and to boost my immune system before we leave on our trip to India in 17 days!
Life goes on...
These are the songs I played. In sequence.
The Jazz Band Ball Orchestra sang this to my mom on her birthday in 1989.
She used to play this on the piano. Many nights as a child I fell asleep as she did.
Josh Groban, her favorite. As this was playing, the angels lifted her up and carried her away. No better way to go.