Saturday: Her Final Hours

by Lisa on March 8, 2014

This time the sound is not so pleasant. As a matter of fact it’s horrible. Extra torture to the soul.

Her breathing has become even more labored. More difficult. She is working hard. So hard. Each breath requires a major effort. And though she is still lucid and able to say what she wants and does not want, I just know it is coming. Soon. Too soon.

The hospice nurse was here visiting this morning. She said her lungs actually sounded pretty good but her pulse was high. Her heart is working overtime. And, it may actually be her heart that gives out before her lungs. The nurse predicts that she would pass from this life to the next by sometime Sunday—or before. Not exactly the suspicions I had hoped, or wanted, to be confirmed.

I hold her hand and keep whispering in her ear. Praying without ceasing. Quoting scripture. Singing. Whatever I can think of to help her in this end-of-life transition. But it’s hard. So hard.

As the day wears on I can barely look at her any longer. It reminds me of the amazing creature David and I watched die in Mexico. The one we fought for 30+ minutes as we reeled it in with all of our might while the sun beat down. The one we hooked through the gills even though we were striving to do a catch and release. The one that weighed 191 pounds and had bright green-blue, iridescent and luminous skin before we pulled it onto the boat. The one in whose big shiny black eye I could see my reflection as it desperately took in its open-air coffin. The one whose mouth opened and closed non stop as it frantically gulped for water and air. The one who died slowly, alarmingly, right before our eyes. I look back to Gord. Her eyes look like that marlin—glazed over—shiny and black. She is looking around the room—at what I am not sure. I put my head on the pillow beside her so I don’t have to see her face.

“It’s okay. You’re not alone. I am right here with you.” It’s become my mantra the last thirty hours. “It’s okay. You’re not alone. I’m right here with you.” I say it again even though I just said it. I don’t know what else to do. “It’s okay. You’re not alone. I’m right here.”

She looks above her bed. Is she looking at the crucifix and the rosary beads? I’m not sure. She looks to the middle of the room. Her skinny little arm lifts up and starts flapping in the air. “Heaven. Heaven,” she says pointing. “Do you see it?” she asks. “See what?” I say. “The tree. The big tree.” “I don’t see it,” I tell her. “But I bet it’s beautiful. I know they are all waiting there for you—Mom and Lu, and Angie & Jen, and Ken & Ren. I bet Pete and Marcella are there. And, Kurt & Caroline and Dorothy & Buck. They are all there. Waiting.”  She sort of smiles and then drifts off to sleep.

Every hour I get up to re-dose her with Lorazapam and morphine. It seems to be helping. She said she is not in pain. Her tongue gets thick from dehydration. She’s having difficulty swallowing now. I start dipping a wash rag in water and putting it in her mouth to try and wet it. Sometimes she sucks the rag. Sometimes she tries to move away from it.

Time keeps moving forward.

Another sound. Only this time I do not remember fondly. It reminds me of those last 20 minutes my mother fought for her life. They call it the “death rattle”. I even hate the name. I call to Bob. Ask if either he or Mike would call hospice to see if there is anything else we can do.

They talk. We decide to try more drugs. Change a patch. Fill the syringe. Get another pill. The phone rings again. It’s hospice calling back. They have one more thing to add. Mike hands me the phone. I go to the kitchen where Bob is so I can talk without her hearing. Mid question Mike comes out and says, “Don’t bother. She’s gone. She’s not breathing.” “What? No!” I hang up on hospice. A sob catches in my throat. Bob hugs me.

I rush back to the bedroom and to her side. Two final exhales leave her body and then silence. She is still. Gone. No more gulping for air. No more gasping. No more struggling. Gone. I can’t believe it. It’s too soon. Mike walks over and turns off the oxygen tank. We each try to close her half-open eyes but the lids keep popping open. I try to close her mouth but her muscles are too loose.

Finally I lay back down on the bed and grab her hand. I rub it. “It’s okay. You’re not alone. I’m right here.” But in reality I am alone. She is gone. To the big tree. The one with all the people waiting for her. The big tree in heaven.


Friday Night

by Lisa on March 7, 2014

A sudden, and unexpected, warm rush of comforting and happy childhood memories fill the house.

Over the din of the machine I hear it. I close my eyes and for a moment I forget my present place. I go back to my girlhood days and nights in this house listening to that sound. Loving that sound. Coveting that sound for my own home.

The start-up hum of the tall tower in the laundry room is much louder than the blue machine in the corner. From two rooms away it moves into action. I listen to the flicker for the next five seconds as the pilot light cranks up. A great big thrust of air is next. Woosh. I can hear the steady stream of blowing as the hot air gets pushed down through the ceiling vents. Small crackling noises penetrate throughout and around the ceiling almost as if the heater is whispering its tune to the other parts of the house. The big furnace hums and rattles for several minutes before it finally turns off.

I glance down at frail woman in bed next to me, struggling for her next breath. I put my hand on her shoulder and whisper, “It’s okay. You are not alone. I’m right here with you.” I close my eyes and pray.

The warm air puts its arms around me and hugs me close as I think back to those times as a small girl when I was laying in the bed of my Mom’s youth. The bed on the south wall of the “blue room”. The bed with the sway in the middle and the mottled baby blue comforter that was new when I started junior high. The bed directly across from my Mom’s hope chest and kitty corner from the twin on the east wall where she, my Grandmother, slept when we were visiting.

I remember their voices drifting though the awakening morning down the narrow dark hallway into the blue room from the kitchen. Two early birds, priding themselves on their crack of dawn risings as if someone was going to give them the first-person-out-of-bed award. They would sit: Gord always at the north end of the small, vinyl-clothed kitchen table and Mom at either the east or west side depending if the curtain was up and there was sun peeking in or not. I can almost smell the coffee that had been brewed into the glass Mr. Coffee pot on the counter beside the toaster.

She interrupts my trip down memory lane and asks for a drink of water. I push the covers back, stand up, and pad around the foot of the bed to the secretary on the wall next to her side of the bed. I grab the glass and bend over her tilting the straw so she doesn’t really have to move if she doesn’t want to. She drinks. And, then lays her head back on the pillow almost instantly dozing again. I move back around the bed and crawl into my spot.

 The heater kicks on again. My eyes close. I can see them sitting at the table chatting about who knows what. My Mom’s feet pulled up under her on the small chair. Gord has her glasses out and on the table. She’s hunched over the gray-blue dictionary with the duct tape holding it together at the spine. The newspaper is open and turned to the word jumble. There are all sorts of scratched monosyllables and polysyllables in the margins around the cartoon—penciled in beautifully scripted cursive. One or two words have probably been filled in the boxes and circles by the time my Mom gets up to pour a second cup of coffee.

She stirs again beside me and memories come to an abrupt halt. This time she needs to use the bathroom. Her strength has been sapped today. She can’t really stand and I can’t really lift her back and forth to the bedside commode on my own. I go wake Bob in the other room.

Bob, her youngest son and my Mom’s brother, comes in and tenderly helps her to the new potty. He waits bleary-eyed for her to finish. Then he gently restores her to her spot on the bed and then heads to the back bedroom at the end of the hallway.

I go back to my place in the bed. She is already asleep again.

Dying is hard work. Hard on the one whose body is shutting down. Hard on the caregivers with no control—just watching and waiting. Hard on thoughts and emotions. Last night was rough. Really rough. But tonight I have help—and the heater and my memories.

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