Wednesday, May 9, 2012

It ends

Yesterday afternoon, Mom died. Five months and two days from the day she had the stroke. She developed pneumonia the week before. In the middle of the afternoon, her doctor called to say the regular antibiotics weren't working. He wanted to confirm with me that we didn't want to try more aggressive treatments. I agreed that continuing would be against the spirit of Mom's living will, so we decided to continue with the current treatment, keep her comfortable, and wait. I left work right away to visit her, and spent an hour holding her hand. She was beyond sleeping at that point. I went home to start letting family know what we decided and that the end might come soon. Less than two hours after I got home, I received the call from her doctor.

I'm not sure how I am at this point. Right now I have the distraction of a long to-do list, as I did when she first had the stroke. I spent most of last night on the phone, letting people know what happened. Today I meet with the funeral home to decide what to do next. I've long had general instructions from Mom on what she would prefer, but there are still a lot of decisions to be made.

I've been saying goodbye to Mom for a long time now. I know she didn't want to continue suffering from this stroke. I could only pray for God's mercy, and accept whatever form that mercy took. There's still grief, like I'm starting over, near the beginning. Maybe taking a slightly different path of grief. But there's also relief. For her and for me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Mom's been in the new nursing home a bit less than two weeks now. I've had a care plan meeting with the staff; and overall, I think I'm comfortable with the care Mom's getting there. One thing I like is that each floor has a common lounge area. Every day, Mom is dressed in her own clothes, put in a chair, and taken to the lounge area for at least a couple hours. I don't know how much she's interacting with the staff or the other residents. The one time I visited during her lounge time, she was mostly sleeping. But that tends to be true more often than not.

Several weeks ago I was talking to a friend about how often I visit Mom, and about my feelings of guilt that I don't visit more often. My friend asked if Mom even knew when I was there. It turned out that she thought Mom was all but vegetative, based on my descriptions. I felt terrible, realizing how negative I must have been to give her that impression. But at the same time, I knew that what I had told her reflected how I felt. Most of the time, I do feel that my mom is gone. I've been aware for some time that I've stopped calling her "Mum". I've called my mom "Mum" most of my life, even before achieving high levels of exposure to UK media. I didn't call her that exclusively (I tended to use "mom" and "mum" interchangeably), but frequently enough to make it our preferred variant for cards and such. Without making a conscious choice about it, I seem to have stopped feeling that "Mum" still applies to this person.

But Mom's presence in her own body seems to come and go. It's hard to tell how much of her usual lack of responsiveness is owing to a lack of awareness. I have seen her respond better to a third person, her doctor or a staff member, while I got nothing but stares. I sometimes wonder if she just feels more obliged to respond to these near-strangers, while I'm same-old-same-old, so no effort is required. I do believe that she knows who I am, knows me as her daughter, and (usually) knows my name. But who she is as a person, that's often hard to see. I can seldom persuade her to even express a preference with yes/no questions. I can only try to set things up according to what I know her preferences once were and hope that makes her more comfortable. (I know that means I should continue to call her "Mum", but somehow the word never comes out.)

And yet, once in a great while, there will be a fleeting glimpse of her personality, as there was once in January. The night Mom was moved from the hospital to the new nursing home, a succession of staff came in to check her vitals, skin condition, and every other aspect of her physical health that they needed to record as her status at admission. After this long and thorough examination was done, and I was free to sit with her till she seemed rested, Mom mumbled "I'm a wreck". "Yes," I told her, "yes you are. We'll just have to find a way to work with that."