This is a difficult essay to write, folks. One week after I wrote the last essay, my mother fell at the nursing home, lacerating the back of her head and, we learned a few hours later, sustained a subdural hematoma. The fall occurred on July 4th, my 42 birthday. She died at 4:25am the following morning. She was 84 years old.
I had been praying for weeks, months, for my mother’s peace. She hated that she was losing her memory. I have precious friends who’ve shared with me that the early stages of Alzheimer’s is hard on the afflicted, but that it gets easier in time. It’s those later stages that become difficult for the family. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I will say that watching her struggle for every day words, trying to keep people and events straight, and giving up in frustration, lapsing into silent frustration was difficult for me. I prayed so hard that her pain would ease.
I’ve been telling folks that God had fingerprints all over the events of July 4th and the hours that followed the call I received at 9:15pm that evening. The first example is that I was not supposed to be home that night. It was the 4th of July. It was my birthday. We had a choice of places to go. One, a picnic we’ve attended for a few years now, is beyond cell phone service. The second was a concert followed by fireworks. I doubt if I’d have heard the soft bells-and-birds ringtone on my phone over the amplified music in the park. We stayed home instead, and I got the call.
My brother, who’s much closer geographically, takes medication at night that renders him unable to drive. The nurse who called me indicated that Ma was stable, that this didn’t seem to be an emergency, so I called my brother, asking if he could go and be with her at the hospital while she got a few stitches. He couldn’t. So my husband and I, both of us in night clothes and watching a movie, changed our clothes on and headed in to the hospital.
My mother was lucid, perhaps as lucid as I’ve seen her in recent months. The only frustration she expressed was her inability to remember getting out of bed and falling. She kept telling me, “It all happened at once. Everything hit me at once.”
A CT scan revealed the subdural hematoma, which was small in spite of the blood thinners that she takes daily for her heart. The laceration hadn’t even bled much. I asked the doctor, very evenly and calmly as I stood on one side of the hospital bed and he on the other, “Is it serious?” He replied in the same tone, “Yes, yes it is.” The decision was made to send her to another hospital for treatment. By this time, it was well after midnight, and I struggled in prayer with my ability or my husband’s ability to drive a couple of hours in the middle of the night without sleep. I asked if she was stable enough so that I could go home, sleep a few hours, and meet her at the hospital in the morning. The doctor said yes, that she should be okay.
Before I left the hospital, I asked my mother how she was feeling. She said, “I feel pretty good. My head doesn’t hurt much anymore.” I told her I loved her and I left. Forty minutes later, I arrived at home, and before I had a chance to put my nightgown back on, the phone rang. She would be taken to a different hospital, via LifeFlight – a helicopter. She’s never flown in her life. I struggled again. Should I go and fly with her? No, the nurse said. She’s stable. She’ll be okay.
Twenty minutes after we arrived home, I got another call, this one from the doctor, this one telling me that she’d become non-responsive, the doctor asking, “She has a Living Will. Do you want it enforced?” I couldn’t speak. I wasn’t sure what was being asked of me. It took a moment to realize he was telling me my mother was dying.
I did something selfish. I asked, “Can you keep her here until we get there?” And I hollered back the hall to my nocturnal children that we needed to go, right now, right now.
Second fingerprints. My youngest two children, my biological children, were both present when my father passed nearly four years ago, as was my husband. The same four of us, with Ma. And now the four of us were on the way back to the hospital.
What happened over the next two and a half hours, I struggle to put into words. We were assured that hearing is the last sense to leave the body. She could not respond, not even to squeeze our hands, but I feel certain she heard our voices. You see, there are things in my past, in my relationship with my mother, that still have a sting to them. Or had. In that last couple of hours with my mother, I was able to let go, give them, I pray, completely to God, not holding anything back. And my own part, the things that those memories clouded from my view, were revealed to me. I was able to tell my mother, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Ma, and I will try to do better. I believe God allowed her to hear me.
Just moments after 4am, we were asked to leave the room while an attempt was made to thicken and clot the blood leaking into her brain. I stepped outside into the night air, praying, and I turned to my husband and said, “Do you hear that?” At 4:05am, we heard a bird singing. A song bird, well before dawn. I knew in that moment it wouldn’t be long. My mother took her last breath twenty minutes later.
A few weeks ago, I asked a friend, “Am I a terrible person that I think she’d be better off dying?” She hated the nursing home, hated her memory loss, hated that she had lived long enough to see her oldest and dearest friends and relatives go on before her. I prayed for her peace, and I believe she is at peace. Although this is not the answer I would have liked, it is an answer, and even through grief, wanting her to be here where I can show her the love that was, I admit, clouded by pain and resentments, I accept that God knows better than I do. I was given a gift, the honor of seeing her out of the world. My husband and children received the same gift.
I don’t think that my prayers and wishes for her led to her climbing out of bed, uncharacteristically, and falling. Not now, anyway. There was that moment, on my way back to the hospital when it occurred to me that thoughts become things, as my friend, Gabe, likes to say. Or thought manifests, another way of saying it and something I’ve believed for a very long time, seeing evidence of it in my life through good times and not-so-good times. I believe that a loving God took mercy on my mother and provided a way out of the world that spared her and those who loved her from experiencing and witnessing the spiritual and emotional pain she had been suffering a long time. And I believe the Hand of God guided other events, made it so that Ma would not be alone, that she would be with the same people who shared her pain when my father passed, four years minus ten days ago.
At the funeral, my youngest son, my father’s special grandson, and I placed his ashes in the casket with my mother. I realized that I had buried both my parents on the same day, together as my mother wanted it. I said to a friend, “I’m an orphan now,” and she reminded me, I’m a Child of the Universe, never an orphan. That thought has softened the grief, and when I think about calling my mother and remember she’s not there anymore, or wonder if my father will call after a good rain to ask if the grass needs cutting, I can smile, knowing they, too, are Children of the Universe, gone back to the Source.
Peace & Love,