I need to write. This is how I deal with things.
On March 31, 2015 my dad died. It was sudden, painful and hard to learn about. 5 days ago my mom died. It wasn’t sudden, painful or news. It couldn’t have been more different. Dad died quickly, more in the way he wanted to go. No fuss, just gone. Mom, on the other hand, had been living in a nursing home for several years. She had multiple admissions into the hospital over the last few years, leaving me to wonder which time would be her last.
Mom and Dad at a High School Dance
There were the ICU admissions, the ones that really work you up and cause you to panic. Then there were the “routine” admissions. Her body just not metabolizing her medications as expected. She was on dialysis. She had Parkinson’s disease. Her mobility was severely limited and I wondered how we would do the holiday’s this year.
Mom spent almost a month in the hospital this time. She was not herself. She couldn’t communicate verbally anymore. When she did, it was nonsensical. She actually got angry at me one day because I wouldn’t move the chair in from the dining room so she could step off the table. I knew where she was…she was standing on the kitchen table in her childhood home and wanted to get off. I wouldn’t help her so I was “being difficult”. When the doctor came in, he asked her where she was and she told him. He gently said,
“Ruthie, you are at the General. You’re in the hospital.”
She looked at him, paused for a moment and then a big smile flashed across her face. As her eyes twinkled, she said, “Now you are doing what she did! You’re trying to tell me I’m somewhere I’m not!”
That’s the last complete sentence I heard my mother say other than “I love you”. The diagnosis was that she had a stroke sometime in September. They couldn’t pin point when and the truth is it didn’t matter anymore. The damage was done. As the days went on, she spoke fewer and fewer words. She could no longer feed herself. Then, just to add insult to injury, she contracted C-Diff, a horrible intestinal bacterial infection that was triggered by the antibiotics used to rule out a systemic or brain infection. It was a mess. I never wished so much that she could talk again. She couldn’t tell us when she had to use a bed pan. We had to wear gowns and gloves to visit. We couldn’t explain why.
The day finally came when the hospital said there was nothing more they could do for her and that she needed to go back to the nursing home. My brother and I had a decision to make and it wasn’t going to be easy.
When I was about 4 or 5, my parents were living in an apartment somewhere in Pennsylvania. There would have been company over that evening, and I really don’t
Dad at my wedding in 1997
remember much aside from the stories told to me. Apparently it was time to go to bed and I didn’t want to go. Mom did her usual, “One…….Two…….” and I took off running looking over my shoulder right into the sharp side of a door casing splitting my eyebrow. I still have the scar.
In 1995 my mother survived a ruptured brain aneurysm. That she survived is a testimony to her character. But it robbed her of so many things. First her vision. The aneurysm had bled into her optic nerve and blinded her right eye. Because of that she gave up her driver’s license because she didn’t feel safe. Then her job. At 57 my mom was forced into retirement and she couldn’t get government assistance. That lead to her losing her home. As much as I wanted to help, I didn’t. I couldn’t. She didn’t want it. All of the above. She wanted to live in Lowell and I am in another state. I didn’t have enough money to support her.
After a few years of really trying it became clear to her and to us that she needed nursing home care. She wasn’t able to control her diabetes on her own and after several close calls with congestive heart failure, we all saw the writing on the wall. She adapted well to living in the nursing home, attending church regularly and coming to our house for holidays. Things were going as well as they could.
Then the stroke came, and then the decision. We were faced with 2 options: continue dialysis or not. Because of her economic situation she could either have hospice care or dialysis but not both. (Optimally we would have chosen palliative care WITH dialysis.) Agony ensued. How do you choose? The choice was basic: longevity or comfort and it was clear. But abruptly that all came crashing down when her government medical insurance refused to pay for her new reality and dialysis; where she had been able to be transported by chair van, she would now need an ambulance because she was confined to her bed. She would never be able to get in a wheelchair to even go to the dining room in the nursing home let alone 3 times a week to go to 4 hour-long dialysis and the government was simply not going to pay for that level of care. It was, in the end, out of our hands.
Thanksgiving 2017 at my house.
My brother and I stayed with her round the clock. He took the first night shift sleeping on a cot in her room while I stayed at the home of one of her church friends. I couldn’t do that again. I needed to be where she was. So we scrounged up another mattress and set it up next to the cot in mom’s room. My brother and I traded off sleeping that next night, and the rest will remain close to my heart until the day I die. It was the first time in many, many years that my brother and I shared a room.
On Monday evening, October 29, mom slipped away into the gates of Heaven. It was peaceful with her favorite singer, Roger Whittaker, softly playing in the background. I was with her, but not at her side. I think she wanted it that way.
So now they are both gone from this life but not from my heart. Although divorce tore them apart when I was 16, my love for each of them was never stronger than it is now. And I hope that’s ok. They each moved on in their own ways, and I moved on in mine. Now it’s time to move on, yet again, from the pain of the loss. But I think I might just linger here a little longer because the little girl in me doesn’t want to say good night just yet.