Updated: May 16
Actually, we are close. Mom, however, is taking her own sweet time.
Mom is steadfastly refusing to pass. She is peaceful, pain free, and seems to be in no hurry to change her situation. I'm not sure why anyone would want to prolong their time with the The Other Girl and I, but she is intent on doing so.
Our first "We're close..." was uttered by hospice last Wednesday prompting a tear-filled call to The Other Girl which in turn spurred a migration of loved ones to Mom's side for the next couple of days.
I was puzzled to find myself taking a back seat during the initial hoopla. Perhaps I intuitively knew to save my strength for the long haul that unknowingly loomed on the horizon.
Nah, I'm not that smart.
Ridiculous Tall Grandson #1 took the Mom night shift both Wednesday and Thursday so my sister, MotherMinder, and myself could get some sleepy respite from the logistical details of a death watch (meds administered, cleanliness maintained, hands gently cradled in support).
Friday morning our awesome hospice bath aide was surprised to find out Mom was indeed still alive and her weekly date to spiff up Mom was still on the books.
She was the first to introduce us to the concept of Active Dying Plateau; a point when the dying process takes a hiatus, neither moving backward nor forward, just anchored in the moment.
In the early evening Mom became very agitated, moving arms and legs erratically, her throat filling with fluids. "She sounds like she's drowning!" my sister cried as I quickly called hospice. They determined we had been under medicating her, We had not fully understood that the active dying process required more relief more often from the painful process of a body shutting down.
We got through that but it was traumatic for us all.
The second "We're so close..." was uttered by Ridiculously Tall Grandson #1 later that night when he had to suspend his 24/7 support of the dying and a'living females in the house to return to his workweek, remarking when he left that there was no way Grandma would survive until morning. We felt much the same way with her color drained, eyes sunken, face slack-jawed. The Other Girl and I sent a sorrowful MotherMinder to bed, and took turns keeping Mom medicated and pain free throughout the night.
The hours were quiet between us, numb from our emotions. Both of us switched sitting with Mom, holding her hands, comforting her.
When MM took over around 7 am Saturday, Mom's breathing had slowed and become even more irregular, but persistent in its faltering continuation.
The Other Girl and I went to bed, leaving MotherMinder to hold down the morning. She woke us back up at 10 am with our third "We're close..." tears in her eyes, heartbreak playing across her face. We all met at Mom's bedside, sleep-deprived, saddened by her further decline, fresh new grief piling up on emotions stretched to the limit.
We chose a Pandora station that featured John Denver, a past favorite of Mom's.
One evening when we were kids, Mom, pickled from a bit too much "grape" juice, referred to him as Don Jenver - a favorite family reminiscence that has brought many a giggle to us in the years since.
So with bittersweet songs like Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Same Old Lang Syne, Like a Sad Song as our soundtrack we held Mom, we cried, sometimes softly, sometimes in big gasps, we spoke words of love and devotion, we laid our heads next to her.
She kept breathing.
A couple hours into this we began rotating from the chairs on each side of her to the sofa or recliner to snatch uneasy minutes of sleep. One of us - MM, The Other Girl, The Boyfriend in the Basement, or myself - was always holding her hand while the rest of us played a sluggish game of musical chairs.
She kept breathing.
Well. After about 4-hours straight of intense grief you get a little more worn down than you were when you started. I noticed we all began to peel away - one to go get us food, another for a shower, someone else grabbing a smoke-break on the back porch that turned into two or three while smashing through phone games.
She kept breathing.
It was about this time that I began telling Mom to let go, soothing any fears she may be having, compassionately urging her to move on, that her next adventure awaited as well as all those dearest to her who had gone before.
An hour later, seeing that my request was not being granted, and as far I could tell not even entertained, I all but told her "Alright, Mom, time to wrap this up."
As the afternoon turned into night I was surprised to find out I was actually angry, snapping at MM and my sister over some slight infraction about which wine was going to be opened.
I went outside to cool down and realized I was pissed off at the lack of release for us all; Mom not being released from this world, her soul ready but her body clinging to a thread of life, and none of us released from this journey in which we were now powerless to deflect or redirect her current suffering.
After calming myself somewhat I made my way back into the anguish of the room to apologize only to hear my sister say, "Mom, I hate to say this but you are wearing out your welcome."
We all burst into laughter. We all had been feeling it. I knew I was understood and forgiven, no apology necessary.
Wine was poured and the three of us gathered on the back porch (TBitB had already made his way back to the basement). We laughed over Mom stories (both before dementia and after), our own failures and successes as caregivers, and the apparent road block we'd run into to finish the job, .
I said to The Other Girl, "I'm sure Dad was on his way to get her. Do you suppose there's something so fun in the afterlife he got distracted?" She didn't have an answer but we did find amusement in conjuring up the kind of things that might have Dad saying, "I'll be right there, babe," and then forget to come back, like an airplane show, or a free ice cream cone.
As we went in separately to refill glasses or go potty, we would check on her.
Our final "We're close..." came from me. One such trip to her side offered no pulse in her wrists, and the faintest of heartbeats visible in her neck. I immediately alerted the others.
We all tramped back into the house to take up our death watch positions. Fresh tears were spilled, hands were again cradled, kisses were bestowed. Her eyes, no longer tracking this world, would widen at times giving us the impression that she was just a few seconds from "following the light" into the hereafter.
She wasn't and she didn't.
At this point even Pandora didn't seem to know what to do anymore. Apparently we had exhausted its supply of poignant 70's soft rock. As my tears fell on Mom's bony hand I realized in horror that the Rolling Stones Paint it Black was playing in the background.
The next selection was even worse as the theme to Smokey and the Bandit filled the room. I sent up a prayer to the music streaming service gods to not let that be the song forever seared on my brain as the tune Mom died to. Later that night it was a fresh source of hilarity as we realized we had all been thinking the same thing
This time around we only sustained our grief for about an hour before we congratulated Mom on fooling us yet again and fell back on the healing powers of humor, of camaraderie, of the shared ups and downs of a hard, hard journey. Oh, and of more wine.
At around 1 am we were so silly with the giggles - some teasing of each other that involved Fozzie Bear and "Waka-waka" hands - that we couldn't catch our breath while next to us Mom struggled to take hers. I sincerely hope she was grateful for the laughter that surrounded her. MotherMinder, tipsy herself, noted how perfect it was that Mom - a woman partial to a glass of wine or two at the close of her days - was finishing her journey with her two girls in drunken stitches, letting go with laughter the pain of letting go of Mom.
Today we are still waiting (although we have since changed to a relaxation playlist on Pandora - thank gawd). We're close we just don't know how close. We will let you know when Mom passes as soon as Mom lets us know she's passed.