Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Final Days

We left today for Minnesota. After vascillating back and forth about flying vs. driving, we decided to load up the Sienna and do the drive. That way, we could have all our food, our 3 carseats, etc etc (etc) and have some control about end dates to come home. We weren't really sure what we'd find when we're there. During the trip, I sense now why we drove instead of flying. I'm not sure where all to begin.

My dad called during the trip with his update. Things aren't progressing well. She's exhausted and her breathing is getting worse, not better. Since all recovery hinges on the breathing, this is horrible news. Heartbreaking and yet clarifying. Once we know resolutely that my mom is in a place where there's more pain then progress, our next steps are pretty black-and-white. My dad said they would try to keep her as alert as possible until we arrive and then bring in hospice care to focus solely on comfort care.

We now know, these are going to be my mom's last days.

He warned me that I might not be able to have a conversation with her, and yet...what I'm needing isn't really to hear back from her. Perhaps that would make it harder to lose her, if I felt like "she" was still in there was such lucidity - even as her physical shell is breaking down. I'm not sure. Is there really an "easy" option? That I'm within days of losing my mom? My brain can't fathom it. My heart doesn't know what to think. I'm at a Holiday Inn in the middle of Kentucky while my mom is dying. It's unthinkable. I have this overwhelming need to curl up next to her in the hospital bed and just stroke her hair. Run my thumb over her brow the way she used to help me fall asleep when I was little. Tell her that I'll talk about her all the time with my children. That she'll never be forgotten.

Steve and I talk often about what is truly certain about spirituality. And what would we think if we learned that there was definitely not an afterlife? Could we still find peace in death? In losing loved ones? What if there's no heaven and hell? What does that do to the meaning of my mother's death?

I want my mom to know before she goes that she made a difference and left a legacy. That her life meant something to the people she met and loved. It's the one certainty I can give death. That she raised three kids who adore her. That she gave a lot to the world. That she was really loved.

We stopped tonight at a hotel, and Steve suggested we get two rooms. He'd keep the boys in one room so I'd have some quiet space to grieve - without the background chaos of children jumping on the bed. When we first arrived, he took Simone too...and I crawled into the bathtub in my room and soaked for...I don't even know how long. I lost track of time. I spent a long time staring at my hands. They look just like my mom's hands. I was thinking about how we are these patchwork quilts of traits from our family. I have her hands. Her nose. I love Latin and Greek roots like my mom. We both get a nervous sensation chewing gum and have to swallow it, because it drives us crazy to chew it too long. I get a swollen node along my jaw when I'm going to get sick, just like she does.

Regardless of what happens after death, what a person passes along in life is what gives me comfort about her death. It sounds really comforting to think of my mom joining an afterlife and living this blissful existence, and I hope that it's true. But I also find peace in knowing, resolutely, that I will always think about her. Talk about her. Remember her. That the woman we called "Crazy Nana" to our kids can still be a part of their childhood, even if only in spirit. She loved them so much! She couldn't get here fast enough when they were born. Couldn't wait to see them as early as possible. She loved picking out the perfect presents for them. Writing cards and letters and including little stickers for them.

I can't even conceive of what I'm going to be feeling in the next few days. Weeks. Months. How long will it hurt? How many times my heart will keep re-breaking when I realize I can't call her to share a story about the kids? But I can handle the grief ahead of me if I know her death was one that honored her, and I'm feeling like this will be a "good death." One that would have comforted her greatly to know lay ahead of her.

Steve and I were talking about how much she would love knowing that all the medical care came after they hit their deductible, so it was covered 100%. That it came right before Steve's 2 week Christmas break, so he didn't have to take much time off work. She would love that too. We'd have a good laugh about how thoughtful she was to die like that. To make sure I could be back. And, that it came after she was able to meet Simone a couple of times. Do a couple of shopping sprees for little girl clothes. She was so excited to have a little granddaughter. Steve commented on the probability that in 61 1/2 years of life, in her last 4 months she met her granddaughter. Knowing that does give so much more peace to a devastating loss in my life.

Oh my. What lies ahead in these next days and weeks?

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