Last year I thought my mother was dying. We’d put her on hospice in June of 2021 and watched her decline over a few weeks. And then she rallied. She didn’t come back a hundred percent, but she did come back. She had lots of visitors between June and year’s end, and we celebrated her 95th birthday along with the rest of the world on New Year’s Eve. A month later we discovered a water leak had caused lots of damage and excessive mold in the house, and with that, my siblings decided it was time to bring mom back to Michigan. Within a very short time, we met my brother and his wife at the airport, and mom left us to go to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to a very nice apartment in an assisted living facility where, at 95, she would live by herself for the first time in her life. Even with lots of family members nearby, it did not go well.
Confused, disoriented, looking for her family, she only seemed herself when one of us was with her. She had her walker on hand, but left alone, she would always push it to one side and then hold onto furniture as she made her way around her little place. She couldn’t remember what the SOS bracelet on her wrist was for. Day to day she could not seem to remember why she was there, saying she felt like she was just dropped off and left. Her forgetfulness grew even worse, and though she had visitors every single day, until they came, she was lost. My sister had cameras in place to check on her, but it was heartbreaking to see and hear her confusion at night, knowing there was little to be done but call in and ask someone to please check on her.
And finally she fell. Twice. The first was just a scraped knee. She was shook up but quickly forgot about it. A day later, in the early hours of the morning, either her bad leg gave out or she had a slight stroke. They found her on the floor in the hallway near the bathroom, her left shoulder dislocated. At the hospital, under sedation, they tried to put the shoulder back in, but due to a fractured humerus and her extremely fragile bones, all they could do was strap her in a brace and send her ‘home.’ That day, Monday, February 28th, was the beginning of the end.
I was already scheduled to fly up to see her the following weekend. But after my sister called on Wednesday and asked if I could come sooner, I got on a plane the next day to offer her some much needed relief. Mom was confined to her hospital bed. It took nearly 24 hours, but with Kindred Hospice’s help, we found the right medicinal cocktail to ease the pain and anxiety her ordeal had caused. She had difficulty forming words with enough breath to speak them. She’d stopped eating and drinking.
It was a fast decline from there. All my Michigan siblings came to see her along with many nieces and nephews. She would ask what was happening, and we tried to be honest with her. I slept on the couch in her living room not wanting to be too far away from her. On Friday she kept trying to get out of bed, pulling herself up, saying the word, ‘pee.’ I told her she was not able to get up, she had hurt her shoulder, but she was insistent. When she tried to move further, the pain in her left shoulder would stop her. I talked with my nurse friend back home who suggested she needed a foley catheter. I immediately called hospice, and within an hour a nurse came out to give her relief. She filled the bag, poor thing, but her agitation finally stopped. Friday evening I was sitting next to her bed, my head resting on my arm on the half rail combing her hair with my fingers the way she did when I was a child. She turned to look at me and said in her garbled speech, “I love you so, so much.” I said, “I love you more.” She smiled and said, “We could be sisters!” I laughed and told her, “That works for me!” Then she smiled and made a low, breathy, “Huh-huh” laugh. Saturday and Sunday there were lots of visitors, but mom was rarely alert enough to do more than squeeze a hand. Nurses and aides asked if she had said her goodbyes to everyone. We assured them that we had told mom repeatedly that we were all going to be okay and that she can go be with dad. “But has she heard from them all?” She had not.
So Sunday evening I contacted each of the three siblings in Florida and told them we would be calling them and putting the phone to mom’s ear so she could hear them. And this woman, this mother of 11 who had not moved for close to 36 hours, turned her head at the sound of her child’s voice and listened as each one said their separate goodbyes.
Everyone went home, and I eventually went and laid on the couch. I fell into a deep sleep only to awaken suddenly about 12:35 a.m. I quickly got up and went into mom’s room finding her in the same position, but not breathing. I sat down, put my fingers on either side of her throat and felt a faint pulse. I attempted to sing to her the same song she sang for dad before he died, “Goodnight sweetheart; well, it’s time to go…” In less than 10 minutes, her heart – her big, beautiful, loving heart – stopped beating, and she died at 12:45 a.m. I sat there with her, combing her hair back, so grateful for being woken to be with her at the end, smiling through my tears thinking about the glorious reunions happening in heaven.
How did I get so lucky, out of 11 kids, to be the one to be there when this sweet, wonderful woman left this earth?
*In the words of Ed Sheeran’s “Supermarket Flowers ©,”
You were an angel in the shape of my mom.
You got to see the person I have become.
Spread your wings, and I know that when
God took you back,
He said, ‘Hallelujah, you’re home.“