PART V – DEATH
Thursday, November 27. Mom ate a little turkey on Thanksgiving day. Like, one bite. She went outside and enjoyed the sunshine. She was lucid, and very happy to be home. She liked the set up.
Then Hospice nurse number two came to visit. We were told we would have a nurse come twice a week for a couple of hours. And an aid would come three times a week to help bathe Mom. I pulled her aside and asked, “How long do you think she has?” She answers, maybe a few weeks.
Gosh. That leaves us alone with Mom for an awful lot of time. Do we know what we are doing? No. But we know we love her and will be by her side.
She examines mom, and shows us a few bottles of medication that arrived. Mostly painkillers, 20 ml of percocet every four hours. And a couple of things for thinning blood, and other stuff. Why would they need to thin blood? It was already a challenge for mom to swallow. The antibiotics for the phenomena caused a yeast infection in her mouth, which made swallowing difficult. How could she take pills?!
We decided to hire a private aid to come in every morning to deal with daily bodily function clean-up. Since it was Thanksgiving, she would come tomorrow to bathe mom.
Mom enjoyed an afternoon on the porch with her daughters and grandchildren. The relief of having her home took a huge load off of all of our shoulders. No more worrying about her waiting to go to the bathroom. No more worrying about her falling on a floor and being left! No more crap food. No strangers waking her up at all hours. She could relax.
Dad slept next to Mom. She in the chair, dad in the hospital bed. And my sister Deborah on the couch. I went home.
Friday, November 28. After several calls to medical equipment rental companies, I found none of them having “lift” chairs for rent. They are apparently too expensive to carry. Like two grand to purchase.
Nurse number 3 from Hospice shows up, while Mom is being showered by the aid we hired. Mom’s toe on her left foot is turning purple, and her legs continue to swell and leak. When her bathing was done, some of the blisters had now popped. There were open wounds on her legs, and we had to use surgical gloves to gently handle her. But again, she said there was no pain there. The percoset was doing its’ job, thank goodness. I, on the other hand, felt anguish for her condition, though I didn’t feel disgusted by it. It was my mom.
“How long do you think she has?” I ask. She says, a few days to a week.
Honestly, at this point, watching her deteriorate, I was hoping the sooner the better. I do not want my mom to suffer. We were all thinking the same thing.
But we wanted her to be as comfortable as possible. Dad and I went to a local consignment shop that had about 8 Archie Bunker chairs available, and they were willing to deliver immediately! We looked around and lo and behold, in the back of the showroom, there was a (drumroll) LIFT CHAIR! It had just been marked down 50% because it had been there for a long time. We grabbed it. On our way back, we received a call from the last Hospice nurse. She recommended Mom to stop taking the blood thinner pills. She said they were for making sure the new stent would continue working. She said, if mom had a heart attack and died, it would be a blessing. We said, okay.
That afternoon, mom was extremely comfortable in her new lift chair. It was perfect. My brother and the remaining grandkids arrived. The entire immediate family was there, and we all had quality time with a coherent mom, grandmother, and wife. She was so happy! We all piled around her, ate our dinner, and then watched her sleep. Her breathing was so strained. She would inhale, and then over ten to twenty-seconds went by, before she would exhale. We timed it. I called Hospice.
What if we can’t wake her up for her pain meds?!
Did you get the silver bag? She asked.
What silver bag?
It should have been in one of the deliveries.
I looked through a pharmacy bag, and found it. Inside were three syringes with morphine. One bottle of percocet. And a bottle of Ativan.
She said that was the “emergency kit”. And it should be kept in the refrigerator so we all know where it is. She then said that I could smash-up the percocet and make a paste out of it. Then I could take a surgical glove, and line my moms inner cheek with the medication. SHe said it would absorb into her system that way.
My cousins drove in from Los Angeles.
Dad slept next to Mom in her electric Archie Bunker chair, and my brother slept on the couch. Mom slept like a log. Her family was here.
Saturday, November 29. I woke up at 6am, after tossing and turning all night, thinking that I had to do something extraordinary for Mom. What can I do special? To make her smile? Ahh. She loves music! Wouldn’t it be great if I could get my friends, a Mariachi band, to come serenade my mother?! Yes! Yes! I have to do it!! I don’t care what it costs! I must make this happen!
At 8am I called the band leader, Angel. I asked if they could come at around noon. I just need you guys to play for thirty minutes! Please???
Mom has been pretty wide awake midday, and has been spending it out on the porch. How wonderful would it be if she heard music, and then the band just came through the gate and surrounded her?!!!
Angel said he could not get the guys together until 5:30. Damn it. 5:30? Would she be awake? Would she be coherent? Would she be alive? Okay. Let’s do it.
Mom slept most of the day, and we had another hospice nurse visit. Upon her examination, I asked…”How long do you think she has?” She answers a few weeks to a couple of months!
My father and I are completely confused, and overwhelmed. This can’t possibly go on for a couple of weeks, let alone a couple of months. She is falling apart! She can hardly breathe! What kind of life is that??!!
5:00 o’clock comes around. Mom is out cold. 5:15 the Mariachis arrive. Mom is still sound asleep. 5:30 they come up and play on the porch to the rest of the family. My father smiles, and starts to cry, as the sweet violins played a charming melody. We all peeked into the window. Mom still fast asleep.
“On no!” I thought. I don’t want mom to miss this! Please. What a backfired plan! Even though the family was enjoying it, we were all thinking the same thing. Is mom ever going to wake up?
5:45 I made the bold move of having the six players pile into the living room. They started another song. Mom did not budge. And it was certainly not quiet. So I had the band go back outside. Suddenly, as they began the next song, mom awoke!
The band piled back into the living room and continued playing. My dad had tears in his eyes, while exclaiming, “Shirley, this is not a dream. It’s real. It’s real! You are still with us. I love you.” He is sobbing. I am sobbing. The entire family is sobbing.
Dad sits next to Mom and she requests a classic, La Malaguena. She is aware. She is high, but is tapping and bobbing her head to the rhythm. Then she is smiling. They do three songs for her, she applauds. It was a magical moment. Mom loves music. Our entire family loves music. I video taped the whole thing. I will cherish it forever.
My Aunt and Uncle arrive from Rhode Island late that night.
Mom sleeps very soundly. Dad next to her. Dianne on couch.
Sunday, November 30th. All of mom’s friends pay a visit in the morning. Mom is in and out, falling asleep in-between sentences. She is shutting down. Her breathing is really difficult. Dad calls hospice.
“Isn’t there away to not prolong this agony?!”
She can no longer swallow. We are instructed to go to the liquid percocet. There is no liquid percocet!! Only morphine. We were told my one of the umteenth nurses that we should stick with one or the other. We can’t get you the liquid percoset until tomorrow. Use the morphine. There are three vials in the emergency kit.
Another nurse comes in to examine mom. “Has she had any anxiety?”
Like, has she shot up, panic attack?
“No, but I have seen her face scrunch up in pain, and her eyebrows wiggle like she is confused.”
That’s okay. You would know if she was anxious.
Well, I don’t want it to get to that point. I would love her to just stay asleep, now that she has said good-bye to everyone, and just go in peace.
If she gets anxious, give her the liquid ativan.
There is no liquid ativan!
We can get it tomorrow, she says.
That afternoon, as she opened her mouth for her inhale, I squirted the morphine under her tongue, and then pasted up one half of an ativan, and mixed it with ice cream, slathered it into her mouth with the glove on.
My sister gave her next dose of morphine four hours later. But no ativan!
I was thinking, lets give her a whole one. What the fuck is the difference?
But mom was sleeping soundly. It was now midnight. The entire family is there.
I am in the kitchen, and I hear my sister, Deborah say, “SHE’S AWAKE!?”
We were all surprised, and scared, because her breathing was worse, her legs were purple. What would she feel?!!!
She tried to get up! Her eyes were bulging! They were wide open, and she could not speak!! She looked terribly frightened.
I quickly got out the ativan and started smashing it up with my nephew. Scott accidentally knocked me! It spilled on the floor! Mom is having a crazy anxiety attack. Like something you would see in Pulp Fiction! I am tearing up, frantically smashing up another ativan. I should to Dianne to get the morphine! Hurry!!
I put on a glove, and sat right in front of my mother, who is sitting up straight, looking right at me with a look of terror. She can barely breathe. As she takes an inhale, I stick my finger in her mouth, with some of the paste. Then again. It is hard to get the entire half of a pill on my index finger in this form! I used too much ice cream!
If I could read her expression, it was almost like, “What are you doing to me?!! Why can’t I speak? What is happening” She looked into my eyes. I was hysterical, while I applied the last finger tip with the last of the paste. I said, “Dad, please go in front of her now! Make her calm!!” I walked away and collapsed, bawling my eyes out in hysterics. I had to go far away because my whaling was loud. I started to hyperventilate. I saw that look on her face. WHY DID SHE HAVE TO WAKE UP?! WHY DOES SHE HAVE TO SUFFER SO?! Please let her sleep.
It took about a half an hour before the fucking ativan kicked in, and she was peaceful again. She was calm.
I, on the other hand, was traumatized. I took a fucking Valium. But that expression of terror on my mother’s face, is still etched in my mind! I can’t help it. I can’t get it out! Why did she wake up? What was she thinking?! My poor mom. She does not deserve this.
Mom fell asleep. The entire family was traumatized.
I went home.
Monday, December 1. My phone rang at 4;00 am. My brother, in a somber voice, said, it’s over. She’s gone. We don’t know what time, but between 1 and 4. I started to cry in bed. I was relieved, but so frustrated that it had to end this way. That her last moments awake were horrific. In fact, I was angry.
Why didn’t the Hospice nurse just tell us “MAKE SURE YOU GIVE HER THE ATIVAN REGULARLY. EVERY FOUR HOURS.” She did not deserve to go this way. It was inhumane. If she had the ativan, if we had the knowledge, if we were allowed to put her down peacefully, she would not have had that episode, and it could have been the fairy tale ending of, “She waited for the entire family to show up, and then she died peacefully in her sleep.” You hear that all of the time. Not this time.
I went over in my pajamas and saw mom in the Archie Bunker chair. Still.
She looked beautiful.
A hospice Chaplin arrived. We all made a circle around her and spoke. We took turns and said something. I don’t even remember what I said. But my family was wonderful. I am lucky to have them.
The funeral home came to pick her up. We all kissed her.
Then the family gathered around Mom, and we gently picked her up by lifting the sheet under her, and placed her onto the gurney. We all kissed her again. My father the last to kiss her yet again.
“My Shirley. My beautiful Shirley. Love of my life. Love at first sight. I love you.” And he sobbed. Together over 60 years.
We all sat together sobbing and hugging. She was gone. But I can’t get that last scene out of my head? What do I do?