Morning came, and Mom was still with us. We all just got up and began to move around and get coffee and rub our gritty eyes. The hospice aide came in to clean Mom up, and we all went down the hall. My brother-in-law Todd was coming with coffee and breakfast. I felt weird. When I went back into Mom’s room, she looked so much better. She was clean and smelled good. She responded to my brother Ken and his wife Sara. She actually moved her head around. I said, “Oh, okay, I guess you’re the favorite now, Ken.” He smiled. We were funnier in the middle of the night. My family looked so weary.
We knew we should take turns going home. We all agreed with Kristi when she said, “When I leave, all I can think about is how fast I can get back up here.” Ken and I sat in the family room for a little bit. He said, “Isn’t it weird how the rest of the world is just moving on and working and being normal while we are just here?” “Yes, it is very weird. Everything for me has stopped,” I said. “It’s like time standing still in this room.”
It was sacred space. We sat and waited. My sister-in-law Sara arrived. She took one look at me and shooed me to go to Kristi’s and take a break. I left gladly, and I drove somehow to Kristi’s house. I showered quickly and lay down on the couch. I woke up an hour later inhaling sharply while I tried to figure out where I was. I sat up fast, and grabbed my keys. I checked my phone, and there was nothing. It was about 4pm. I found my sister Kristi also asleep in her bed. She sat up and looked at me. “I’m going back,” I said. She nodded.
Mom looked the same, and her breathing was still labored. Everyone there was tired and had pinched faces. A nurse was in there that I liked a lot. I asked her why she thought Mom was still with us. She said mothers do not like to leave their children, and perhaps because we were all there she just didn’t want to go. “I’ve seen it a lot. The kids walk out of the room, and the mother goes. Even if God is calling, it seems mothers will tell God to just wait a minute while she takes care of a few things,” she said. I went down the hall to the family room, and as a group we decided to keep the big group in the family room and have 2-3 people with her at a time.
That evening, someone brought chicken spaghetti. We all ate. Our party was exhausted and subdued. Tensions were a bit high as we all dealt with the stress in our own way. Everyone needed some rest. My brother Ken and I offered to stay the night with Mom since we didn’t have our families there. As we hugged everyone goodnight, I assured everyone that I would text them as soon as anything changed.
I changed into shorts and a t-shirt and settled into the cot in Mom’s room. I felt like a noodle, but I also was ready for the vigil. Ken settled himself in the recliner and got out his iPad to watch a movie. I let myself doze, and then I slept for a bit. I sat up when the nurses came in. I knew they were coming in more often, and I knew what that meant. I kept a mental log of her blood pressure and her pulse. Her pulse was getting weaker, and her blood pressure was getting lower.
I kept hearing her breathing become more and more liquid. I must’ve fallen asleep again, because I sat straight up on the cot when Mom began to moan loudly. “What’s wrong?” I said. Ken got right in her face and said, “Mom, what’s wrong? Are you in pain?” She quieted right then, and I said desperately, “Push that red button!” The nurse came and administered more morphine, and Mom settled.
I lay back down feeling my insides rattled like her chest. I had to take deep breaths to relieve the pain in my own chest. I didn’t know then that it was sorrow, but it was. Ken just sat back down in his chair. We just looked at each other and then I closed my eyes. I heard the nurses come back in and they were talking to each other about suctioning. I sat up again, “Did you say suctioning? We decided we aren’t doing that already. Her doctor said it doesn’t really help and we don’t want to hurt her.” The nurses nodded and left. Ken looked at me. Mom sounded like she was trying to breathe underwater. “Maybe we should let them suction a little,” he said worried. “Okay, if it’ll make you feel better. That’s just what we decided yesterday,” I said feeling helpless, too. “Let’s ask the nurse what she thinks,” Ken said. Just then, she came back in, and she agreed with us. “Is there anything else you can do?” I asked. The nurse said that she could sponge out Mom’s mouth a little. We said that would be great.
I was proud of Ken. He’s generally not bodily-fluid-tolerant, but he sat supportive while the nurse tenderly sponged out Mom’s mouth. “Now, y’all don’t drink this water I’m using,” she said. My eyes shot to Ken’s face which was blanched white. I started laughing. “I think you’re in the wrong chair,” I teased him. The nurse gathered her things. I slumped against the wall and turned just in time to see my brave brother take a brush and run it gently through Mom’s hair. I sucked my breath in at that display of tenderness.
The next thing I knew the nurse was back and feeling for Mom’s pulse. She stood for a long while. Then she moved to her neck. My throat began to close. Then she moved to her feet. I asked, “Can’t you find it?” “Only in her feet,” she said softly, “You might want to call whoever. I won’t be able to get a blood pressure now.”
I tried hard to summon the panic instinct, but my clumsy fingers moved slow on my phone as I sent the message out to each of my siblings. I got up to use the restroom and stretch. It was about 6am. My sister Kristi rushed in with my brother Don and my sister-in-law Terry right behind her. We sat in our chairs and waited.
Minutes passed, and Mom’s breathing changed to shallow and quiet. I received a text from my brother Bill and my sister Barbara that they were almost here. Mom stopped breathing for several seconds. She made a gasp. Kristi stood up and I knew she meant it was time. I looked hard at her making sure…having this conversation without words…and she nodded.
There were more pauses in Mom’s breathing, and I was beside her. We all were. I knew everyone’s presence, but I only saw Kristi. The nurse came in and said Mom’s heart was still beating but we probably only had a few minutes. Finally, her breathing ceased. I exhaled. Weeping began. We hugged each other. We hugged Mom. We said goodbye. I held her hand. It was so warm…still. I kissed her forehead. “I love you, Mom.”
My other two siblings came in, and we gathered around her bed. I said a prayer. I couldn’t tell you what I said. I felt like a piece of wood in that moment offering a wooden prayer. God was breathing for me I tell you …making holy out of wooden.