Harsh title huh. I’ve been working on the post ever since it happened, because it’s a hard post to write. It’s now 2 1/2 weeks later, so maybe I can get it all the way out.
I’ve been saying it over and over and over again as I’ve made calls on my dad’s behalf.
If details of a death would alarm or offend you, don’t read on. I’m going to go through it though. I’m not sure I want to remember it, per se, but I believe one’s leaving this world is just as important as one’s arriving into it.
I’ve mentioned some of this before. But some readers may be new to me. I was born to a woman named Jeannette. She was never meant to be a mother, except to bring me, two sisters, and a brother into this world. I’m superficially in contact with one sister although I haven’t laid eyes on her since she was 6 months old, I haven’t seen the brother since he was about 1 1/2, and one sister doesn’t know I exist. They all went off to live in other homes, or with their fathers when I was four. I didn’t have a father – it is suspected that I was the result of Jeannette taking her dancing clients “home.” When Jeannette decided to leave, we had been living with her aunt and uncle, my great-aunt and -uncle. And so, they raised me. They are the ones I call mom and dad.
Jeannette died September 3, 2006.
Over the years mom and I butted heads. We’re both Kee’s, and rumor is? Kees are STUBBORN. S.T.U.B.B.O.R.N. A Taurus and an Aries – who are BOTH RIGHT, DAMMIT. We definitely had our ups and downs. Eventually, we moved next door to my parents for financial reasons (they gave us cheap rent on a house they owned). But soon after we moved, I realized that we probably wouldn’t be moving again anytime soon. While my parents had other children, they weren’t close, and the thought of them helping my parents out in later years was laughable. So we stayed.
Mom had a whole host of medical problems. And about a year ago, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s on top of them. Dad was her caretaker. I helped him out mostly with decision making because he second guessed himself a lot. I helped him learn to do his bills, and understand paperwork like health insurance (mom always did all that stuff – so after 40 some years, he needed a tutorial). Every once in a while I would help out by making her mad. He didn’t have the heart to “make” her do anything… Like Eat. And so he would call me. I would go over there and make her mad, and she’d eat out of spite. And then wouldn’t talk to me for a week. But I didn’t care – she ate! (If she didn’t, she’d end up in the hospital. So, small price to pay.) It eventually got to the point where she couldn’t be left alone, and so I would take my computer and work from her house while dad worked in the yard and ran errands. Eventually, while I still did that, she couldn’t get back into bed without being lifted so Poe would have to come with me so he could lift her back into bed (I wasn’t strong enough).
About a month ago, Mom couldn’t get in and out of the bath without falling, and couldn’t get to the bathroom in time. Dad had promised her that he wouldn’t put her in a nursing home, and I eventually convinced him that he either needed to break that promise or get help. I convinced him that she was probably far enough along that she would qualify for hospice. I was right and he listened to me. So – Hospice would come and help dad with all the meds. They would bathe her, and do her hair and nails. The chaplain would come talk to her. The nurses would come and make sure of her vitals and such. I helped dad go through their paperwork on their end of life plans (mom handled all that stuff). I helped him make some decisions ahead of time, helped him remember some of the things that mom had wanted over the years.
On Father’s Day, we took over some cards. We got out of there pretty fast – mom didn’t want us taking his time, frankly. The last couple weeks, due to fear from not knowing people, I think, mom was very jealous of anyone talking to dad. But he called me back over there not too long later to talk about mom. He was concerned about her breathing, and how much she was spitting up the previous night. Her lungs were filling with fluid. I reminded him that she wasn’t going back to the hospital. I told him that if he was concerned, he should call hospice and have them send a nurse out to check on her. He hemmed and hawed at that, because their regular worker/nurse (the head lady assigned to her case as an overall contact) was coming the next day. I took a listen to mom’s breathing, and knew it was a death rattle. I didn’t want to tell dad that – the facts wouldn’t change, and it wouldn’t make things be any better for him to be scared on top of it. I went home. I told Poe – I think this might be it.
A few hours later he called me again. He had put her on oxygen. He gave her a little morphine, and another drug I can’t remember, as he was told to by hospice on the phone. A nurse was on the way. On top of it, her eyes were open, and she was watching something without blinking. I was able to get her to make eye contact with me briefly before she continued staring at something very intently. My guess is, it was her mother or father. She didn’t speak. She couldn’t it was too hard to breathe, and you could hear the fluid. I reiterated to dad that weren’t going to the hospital, and we were doing nothing but making her comfortable – he said yes, that was the plan, but he was still in denial about what was going on. I knew it was the end because she wasn’t panicking about the breathing. She’s always been extremely fearful about death and the afterlife. The fact that she wasn’t panicking told me this was it. I called Poe and let him know it was imminent. I just knew it. Hospice still hadn’t come. So, I climbed into bed with her. I put my hand on her arm, and just said, “I’m here. Dad’s here. I love you.” Dad kept futzing with everything around. Are her pillows good? Was she wet? Did he need to change her pad? Did she want a breathing treatment. I finally was afraid he’d lose the moment. I finally told him to stop what he was doing and just BE with her. No more. She’s as comfortable as she’s going to get, there’s nothing more we can do, just let her know you’re here. Be with her. So he hollered at her that he loved her – I think he thought she might be in a coma but I wanted to tell him she wasn’t deaf, just sort of between worlds at the moment.
The fluid in her lungs got worse and worse until it filled completely. She stopped breathing. She took a few last breaths with a lot of time in between, but there was no breathe to be had. Her skin was so thin that I could see the pulse in her neck and knew she was still alive, but not breathing. The fluid kept coming, and eventually started coming out of her mouth. We just kept cleaning her up. Cleaning her up. Cleaning her up. I didn’t want her to pass away with stuff all over, so I just kept cleaning the fluid away as it came. And then I saw her pulse stop. I stayed with her body for a little while while dad got his head on straight. We couldn’t do anything until hospice got there to declare her. I called Poe to give him the heads up that yes, it really happened. He called in to work to let them know he wouldn’t be there.
I then went home to put other clothes on and see Poe, and, well, give dad some time alone with mom before the potential after death chaos ensued. We didn’t tell the kids yet.
I went back, and dad had called his son and daughter-in-law, and mom’s best friend. I went out and met the hospice nurse to let her know what happened before she just walked in on someone with no vitals – that has to be awful. And once she declared her, we called the institution we were donating her body to.
You see, have I mentioned mom had her own ideas, and was stubborn? We knew she did NOT want a funeral. She hated them, said they were for the living (true), and she could choose for herself not to have one. She had a whole host of odd medical issues, and had a rare heart tumor that made its way into medical journals. So she decided cremation over burial – but she’d rather donate her body to science. So I made it happen.
That’s why afterwards, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. We had no funeral to plan for. The hospice nurse made the call to get the donation going (a medical professional had to let them know it was a “go”). And we had to wait a few hours for the funeral home to pick her up. I had a bunch of paperwork to do that couldn’t be done prior for the science center, so I went home for a few to handle that via phone and computer, and then basically just told dad to sign here, initial here, etc. No way he could’ve handled it – and it needed to be done within 12 hours. Since passed at about 7:24pm, it couldn’t wait until the next day. When I got back, dad’s son and his wife were there, and mom’s best friend and her son-in-law (she doesn’t drive at night). And so we waited with her body. I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible – I knew this was their last chance to say goodbye with no funeral.
Poe called me and basically said he couldn’t stand it anymore. Could we please tell the kids so they would know what was going on? We knew it should come from me. I went back home, and sat down with the kids on the couch and told them. And then I sat and held them while they cried. When they seemed like they had gotten that out, I explained why we weren’t having a funeral, but that in the future I would set up some kind of memorial – a tree, a bench… something. Joseph asked if it would be something he could visit, and I said yes. A tangible something we could visit. That satisfied him. I left Poe to pick up the pieces while I got back over to my parents’ house.
The funeral home came. We each said good bye to her, one by one. I told her I loved her and would miss her. I had so much more to say, but that would need to be done alone, and I didn’t get to be alone with her. Later – I’ll write a letter to her. Dad didn’t want to watch them load her into the body bag, so my sister-in-law and I told him to go outside with his son, and we would stay with her. I didn’t actually watch them do it, it seemed too weirdly intimate and cold at the same time, but I did stay with her while they did it. Dad said a final goodbye at the door when they wheeled her out.
The friends left. My sister-in-law and brother stayed a while and talked. Eventually they left too. I made sure dad would be okay for the night. And I finally got to go home and lose it with my husband.
The next day, June 17th, I had to make all the calls. I’ll leave that for another post.