December 2004. It’s a time that will forever be etched in my memory. I had made plans to take my vacation at Christmas and go to North Carolina to spend the holidays with my mother. Little did I know how it would turn out.
Mother was a fixture in my life. She had been there through thick and thin. Her grasp on reality was getting to be more and more tenuous and I wanted to have as much time with her as I could. My scheduled vacation was for a week. It seemed to be too little but at the end of the calendar year, I couldn’t justify being off more days.
It wasn’t long after I let her know my plans that Mother took a turn for the worse and had to be hospitalized. She was in the hospital long enough to qualify for skilled nursing. Once in skilled nursing, the only thing that would justify that level of care was physical therapy. She refused to cooperate so the only thing to do was to put her in the nursing home close to my sister. Making such a decision is never easy but I was confident she would bounce back and be home in no time. Mother was resilient, to say the least.
There was a phone in her room so I would call her and we would talk and laugh. Before we’d hang up, I would always tell her, “Mother, if you need anything, be sure to ring for the nurse. Just push the button and someone will come.” Once, she didn’t quite get the receiver back on the hook and I could hear her. She was talking to herself and, one time, broke into song. “The Old Grey Mare” was what she was singing. There was nothing wrong with her lungs. Then she started yelling for help. I yelled into the phone, trying to get her attention, but it did no good. Finally, one of the aides came and, seeing the phone off the hook, she put it back and I heard no more. All I could do was pray that she was getting the care she needed. I began to wonder if my optimistic outlook was realistic. I’d reserve judgment until I was able to see for myself what was happening.
The days crawled by until it was time for me to head east. I packed up the car and left.
I would be staying with my sister and her husband during the time I would be in North Carolina. They lived very close to the nursing home and it was possible to be out the door and in Mother’s room in a matter of minutes. The first evening, we went together but I wanted to stay longer than they could so, after that, I would drive my car and they would come in theirs.
Mother seemed to be in her element. She was enjoying the Christmas season and had big plans for putting on a program the next year. An aide had taken her into the day room where there was a piano and she had played for all the “old people” even though she was probably the oldest one there. She was glorying in her ability to entertain.
Her room faced west. She was in the bed next to the wall and her roommate who was able to get up in a wheelchair was next to the window. In the evening, the sun would flood the room with light and I seemed to be the target. Once, I was sitting with the sun in my eyes when Mother looked at me and said, “Your hair looks like gold. It’s beautiful!” I had been thinking of my own comfort but Mother was enjoying the view. I couldn’t help but think that she was adding in her mind, “But I do wish you would lose weight.”
Mother had her favorites among the staff but I guess that’s true of anyone anywhere in that situation. There was one aide, especially, that Mother doted on and she doted on Mother. When she was on duty, I knew there was nothing to worry about.
The days slipped by. Mother was getting good care but I wanted to spend time with her, anyway. I’d go over in the early afternoon and stay with her until dark. There were times I would feed her her supper but other times, she would refuse to eat. “I don’t know why the Lord won’t just let me go.” That was something she would tell me at least once whenever I’d visit. Then she’d say, “Don’t ever get old.”
She’d get restless. One of the aides gave me some lotion so I could rub it on her arms and legs. That seemed to calm her. One afternoon, I was putting it on her legs and felt something wet. Thinking she had drenched herself, I pushed the call button. No, she was dry. It was a huge blister on her leg that had popped.
Her condition continued to deteriorate and the doctor was called in. The preliminary diagnosis was pneumonia. The doctor took my sister, my brother-in-law, and me out into the corridor to ask what we wanted to do. My brother-in-law asked what would happen if she were taken to the hospital. The doctor said there would be lab work, x-rays and more tests. She said pneumonia is also known as “The Old Man’s Friend”. It is relatively painless and eases a person on to death. She advised keeping her there, giving her an injection of antibiotics, making her comfortable and letting nature take its course. We agreed. There was no use prolonging the inevitable when there was no hope for recovery.
Christmas came and I prayed that God would give her the ultimate gift of her heart’s desire. Then I found that my sister was praying that He wouldn’t take her on Christmas. He honored my sister’s wish and not mine.
Mother was always concerned about giving gifts and this time was no exception. My sister asked what I would suggest so I said a Walmart gift card. She got a $10 card and put it in a little wooden box with shredded filling, wrapping it nicely. I still have it. I’ve never spent it. It might not even be any good any more.
The day after Christmas I was with Mother as usual. She was talking about an aunt that everyone, including her, had made fun of. She sounded remorseful about her part in all the jeering. “Her boys were so hard to handle. They were mean. I guess she wore her husband’s little hat because she couldn’t afford anything else.”
She’d calmed down and dropped off to sleep so I left.
Early the next morning, I was roused out of a deep sleep by a knock on the guest room door. It was my brother-in-law. “Someone just called from the nursing home.” I jumped up, pulled on my clothes, ran a comb through my hair and was out the door.
When I got to her room, there she lay in her pink nightgown. I went in and put my hand on her chest. She was warm. Then I noticed she was still. Too still. I rang for the aide. The person who came was Mother’s favorite. I said, “She isn’t breathing!” She said, “Yes, I know, honey. She was gone when I called. I put her teeth in because I knew that’s what she would have wanted.”
Mother had gotten her wish.