Updated: May 15, 2021
The end of Mom's journey. The beginning of mine.
Mom did not die peacefully.
She did not go gentle into that good night. Rather, her healthy-for-an-82-year-old body protracted the process. When her eyes ceased to perceive us, her surroundings, this world, still her heart kept beating on into the weekend. Mother Minder had to leave on Sunday to tend to her own family affairs. My sister kept vigil while I, emotionally exhausted, stayed downstairs straining my mental capacities to write out the final days of our journey lest I forget. ("We're close...")
Monday afternoon I finally came up for air to make taco/tostado dinner for The Other Girl and The Boyfriend in the Basement - The Last of us Mohicans bearing witness to Mom's departure. Her breathing was erratic - slow, with big gasps of air bursting from her rattling throat. At times it was a sing-song moan. I kept administering morphine as needed - The Other Girl decamped to the patio for some emotional respite from the cacophony.
As I made dinner I would stop at her bedside to continue urging her to let go, stroke her forehead, smile into her blank eyes. I opened the front window as my sister had read that souls need an open window to encourage their passing.
I weaved in and out of death vs. everyday life incessantly: brown hamburger, check on Mom, grate cheese, check on Mom, chop onions, check on Mom.
When dinner was ready the three of us filled our plates and sat down to watch a movie. The Other Girl didn't last long, she had spent the majority of the afternoon with Mom's moans and gasps grinding her down. She slipped away to a back bedroom for some relief.
I choose The Personal History of David Copperfield as I knew it would be lighter fare, and Dev Patel is a potential Oscar contender for best actor. (You know how I love forcing Mom to watch Oscar noms with me!) TBitB sat at the table behind me while I pulled the rocking chair next to Mom and promptly began shoveling heaping bean tostados in my face. About 20 minutes into the movie I realized I hadn't heard from Mom in awhile. I turned to her.
She had finally passed.
I told TBitB and then double checked to make sure I was right. She was cooling. There was no longer the faintest of pulse in her neck. When I went to wipe sleep from her empty eyes she did not blink. I went down the hall and broke the news to The Other Girl.
Then I fell apart.
I collapsed into The Boyfriend in the Basement's chest as an avalanche of grief consumed me, sobs erupting from fissures of pain as deep as the earth's core.
The next couple of hours are hazy, shrouded in grief. I eventually came-to enough to call hospice who in turn called the funeral home. My sister made the majority of the calls to family as she deemed I was a bit too much of a mess for that task.
But eventually I was able to stop weeping long enough to professionally handle it when the folks from the funeral home called for Mom. They were kind, gentle with me, while I repaid them with that sense of humor I just can't keep a lid on.
"Is this Gloria?" The lady inquired with empathy as she stood by Mom's bed. I gave her a sly smile, "Well, we only got one dead body here, so yeah, that's her."
Later we laughed about it wondering how many households they visit where double checking is necessary. Does anyone ever answer "Nah, that one stays. The one you're picking up is down the hallway."
The Other Girl, TBitB, and I toasted Mom that night, her courage in life before and after dementia, her overcoming that final challenge to pass, and her being reunited with my father.
The next day I woke up happy. Truly happy. Elated even! Happy for Mom, happy that she was free. The dogs and I walked the park in the sunshine, my happiness spilling over to every tree, every blade of grass, every beetle, worm, clump of dirt "She's free!" I told them. "Be happy for her, she's free."
I spent that day reading through all of your responses, laughing at some, tearing up at others, grateful for your sympathy, and even more grateful for so many of you raising a glass to "Cheers!" Mom.
I had no idea how good it would feel to know that friends, family, and clumps of folks all over the world toasted Mom, their dementia loved ones, and themselves for their caregiving courage; it was extraordinarily healing.
I also took heart in thinking that some of your dementia folks who had preceded Mom to the hereafter were there to greet her saying, "Didn't our people do good by us?" Mom, of course, would have required proof that her daughters pulled this off before agreeing to any such thing, but I loved imagining our family members connected in the afterlife because all of us have connected on this dementia journey.
I have had some bouts of melancholy in the six days since Mom died. But mostly I have been happy. Oh, and occasionally terrified of my future, but more so excited that I'm now available for opportunities that may come my way, or even better, have the courage to create my own, no longer pulling all my strength and guts together in service of Mom's journey.
Of course, the flowers, food, AND WINE folks have been sending us has been a big boost on the delighted meter too.
Though grateful for this infusion of joy, I've been puzzling out my deviation from the norm on this grief thing. Yesterday I think I finally figured it out.
Through all of Mom's dementia she has always remained "Mom" to me. Dementia was a wall that separated us from the mother-daughter relationship we had prior as it slowly closed doors on us, but she has never not been "Mom."
That dementia wall has now been replaced by a wall of death.
However, death has not severed those ties either. I have been talking to Mom non-stop since she died, because now she can understand me! Whether she is listening is a whole 'nother story, but when/if she does tune in she comprehends my words, thoughts, feelings - something she has not been able to do for so very long. And I'm grateful for finally being understood.
To me, Mom is not gone, she is just elsewhere, having the time of her not-life.
Cheers, beautiful! Smell 'ya laters!
p.s. Just to be on the safe side I'd avoid any Dev Patel films in the future - his acting apparently killed my mom. (Mic drop! Booyah! Thank you! Good night!)
p.p.s. Read Every dementia caregiver is different; The Other Girls perspective on Mom's death.