Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Saying Goodbye Today

It didn't take long. Mom passed at 5:55 am on Saturday, March 5. I felt sad but at peace. Her suffering was over, her pain at an end. Thursday night had been bad, apparently. She had 3 rounds of morphine and 2 doses of Ativan... 

She was out most of Friday. I went down Friday afternoon and spent three hours with her, just sitting in the silence. Then I talked to her. I again thanked her for all the gifts, and I expanded on what I'd said to her on Sunday. Once upon a time, I would have let loose, knowing she couldn't have responded.  But now, eh, what would it have mattered? It wasn't important, truly. Only the good stuff really mattered. 

Then I sang to her. I sang some Pearl Jam and Chris Cornell songs. I could have sung hymns but my brother had done that. Somehow, I needed to sing things that would soothe both her and myself. God forgive me -- hymns were not going to cut it. I told her that she needed to fly... that when it was her time, she needed to spread her wings and SOAR!! That if anyone in this life deserved to soar, it was her. And my God, did she ever need some unfettered moments.

So many times in life, she found it hard to fly because she was weighted down: helping her disabled parents, taking care of her mom after her father’s sudden death, and being a wife and mother and having a career herself. She was also weighted down later by a body that wouldn’t work properly: hypertension, fibromyalgia, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, chronic bronchitis, and many other ailments – worst of all,  anxiety and depression. I think those ailments, while being partially treated, weren’t explored well enough. My mother could have benefited tremendously from talk therapy, but none of her medical team ever suggested that she seek it out. What a tragedy. How many years might have been added to my mother’s life? My mother also steadfastly refused to do anything that she didn’t want to do….. Didn’t want to exercise? Wouldn’t. Didn’t feel like eating properly? Okay, no problem, junk it is. As much as I loved her, she didn't exactly help her own cause.

We had made the arrangements in the prior week: cremation, with burial of the ashes. Visitation the night before the funeral services, everything at the mortuary. And so we did just that. We followed through with the plans, gathered pictures for a slideshow at the end of the service, and began a mad frenzy of housecleaning. The only snag -- what song to use for the slideshow? 

I'd been singing Pearl Jam's "Given to Fly" quite a bit to Mama, conveniently leaving out the F-bomb in the song. But there went that idea -- no way to take that out. Richard thought about "Time" by Alan Parsons Project, which I love but couldn't have handled. Richard suggested a hymn, but I said we already had a religious song in the program, and this one didn't have to be, so we had wide options! I thought about "The Last  Farewell" by Roger Whittaker, a song Mom liked and I did too but we both immediately thought "Naaaah..." Finally, Dad said, "Oh, I never did my Scripture reading today..." My brother said, "How about reading Ecclesiastes 3? You know, 'a time to be born, a time to die'..." I looked at him, he looked at me and we said, "THAT'S IT!" We knew we would use "Turn Turn Turn" by The Byrds. 

The visitation turned out beautifully -- the line began about 5:30 and didn't end until 8:30. I don't think I stopped talking from 5:15 until 8:45 by the time all was said and done. The flowers were absolutely amazing, once I got a moment to view them. Flowers from our workplaces, from churches, from dear friends -- including one gorgeous arrangement from my brother's football buddies! He was shocked, and they were beautiful. And the line seemed to go on forever!! What a testament to Mom that she was so well-loved and that her children's friends and loved ones came to offer their condolences as well.

The one amazing part was the photo.... We used a solo picture of Mom. I have no idea when it was done. Dad thinks it was maybe her senior year? I think she was a little older myself. But at any rate, it was a Glamour Shots type photo, only waaaay less soft focus and troweled-in makeup. She looked so beautiful!!! And everyone said so -- while also saying, "oh my gosh, you look so much like her."

I never ever saw either of my parents in me. I have Daddy's eyes for certain, and the McClellan feet (give me the boxes, thankeemuch). And I got Mom's abdomen... Ugh!! But facially, I never saw them in me. But a couple of years ago, in my mid-40s I finally started seeing just the tiniest bits of resemblance of Mom in me. And now everyone is standing there, telling me I'm her clone. I smiled and took it as a compliment. Many years, I would have sneered and aimed for their jaw. 

At the funeral itself today, I held strong -- I was proud of myself for not falling apart. Not to say I didn't cry because I did. But I did not have a meltdown. In fact, most of the time, I sat there beaming, thinking how Mom would have been proud of the send-off we gave her. It was not too stuffy, not too casual, not too maudlin, and not too insincere. It was perfect. I had quite a few folks tell me they felt good when they left .... THERE! Is there no better compliment than to leave a funeral feeling good?

And I was so glad to have my family there. A good many of Dad's siblings, nieces and nephews and their families..... all saying goodbye to their Aunt Nancy. Others came to the visitation who couldn't make the funeral. That was such a tribute to her. And one of my favorites was from a cousin's child who said, "I always felt that she never forgot us" (after her folks split) -- and I replied, "Gosh no, and she made sure we always remembered you as well!" To feel such familial love and their shared grief has been a blessing, especially since so many have now lost a parent or grandparent too.

But even with all that, there is always going to be a void for me. There will always be a hole that cannot be filled. I will always miss my mom. I've not even begun to unpack my feelings, to explore the depths and breadths of every emotion I have. I don't know where to start. I still feel a lot of numbness, as if I know it's real but my mind is slow to let the rest of me warm up to it. I don't know when I will reach tat point, that meltdown moment. I've joked with Richard that if Pearl Jam sings "Given to Fly" or "I Am Mine" I might lose it, but if they play "Release Me" then they'll need a spatula to scrape me off the floor of The Well. It would be ugly, ugly tears..... I can't even listen to that song right now. I can listen to "Fly" all day long and smile -- because I think of Mama soaring, free at last from her earthly impediments. 

Mama, I think of you .... I am looking for strange spots in the sky. I see feathers and scars on the sky, and think of you. I sing loud and proud, and hear your voice. Like I told you last week, we didn't always see things the same way, and we butted heads an awful lot, but there was no doubt that love was present.

Big Nance..... You were definitely one of a kind!

Thursday, March 03, 2016

A Difficult Decision

Yesterday, I logged in to work from home. I needed a distraction from the chaos that has been my life this week, ever since our own "Black Saturday." But at 10:20 AM, Daddy called, "Hey, the doctor wants to meet with us, how soon can you get here?" An hour later, I was at the hospital.

The news was not good -- labwork showed that Mom's small upswings were not indicative of recovery. In fact, the numbers were getting worse, especially for the kidneys. She was approaching, if not already in, renal failure. In addition, her liver was beginning to lose function. The lungs still had fluid in and around them, so much so that she doesn't even have one fully functional lung. All of this is putting extra pressure on an already overtaxed heart. What did we want to do? How did we want to proceed?

We had already begun the discussion of this on that Saturday. What would we do if it came to this? Well, now it is here; what do we do? We knew we only had one choice -- Hospice. We went back to the hospital, found Dr. Jay, and gave him our decision, through a veil of tears. Dad and Richard went home and I stayed with Mom a while longer.

Today, we met with the Hospice nurse and they accepted Mom as a patient. They moved her within the hour, and she's been there the rest of the day. The feeding tube is gone; oxygen remains. A pain med patch is on her to assist with the discomfort.

I hated to leave her, but I had to...... We had to. We are absolutely exhausted. Hours on end at the hospital have completely drained us. We come home utterly limp, and we stare into space and fall asleep......

Hospice care workers are angels. Absolute angels. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Two Weeks

Two weeks.

Two weeks ago, Tuesday, February 16, 2016. My mom was here at home, with her usual limited mobility, but here. She was able to pull herself up out of a chair, albeit slowly. She was able to swing her legs off the bed and bring herself to a seated position. She wasn't in the best health but able to manage.

By Friday, February 19, she was requiring assistance for everything. She could not pull herself into a stand. She could not remain in a seated position. My dad was having to help her get off the bed. He would follow her into the bathroom, fearful that she could fall into the glass shower walls.

Monday, February 22, 9:35 PM. I got home from a cappella practice to find mom and dad in the bathroom. He was loudly saying, "Sit up! Sit up!" because she was seated on the toilet and doubled over. He gently pushed her up into a seated position and she began sliding forward. I heard the commotion and suggested to my brother that we go help. It took all three of us to get her out of the floor and into a stand. It was like wrangling Jell-O, a five-feet, 170-pound lump of Jell-O. She pitched forward toward me, doubled over at the waist. My dad tried to get her to stand up straight so she could walk out but she couldn't support her own weight. The knees buckled and we gently lowered her into the floor into a horizontal position.

She was shaking, twitching. Her mouth was moving, like she was trying to say something, or even chew food, but no words came. All she could say to anyone was, "I'm sick." Well, Mom, that's everything from a cold to death's door; can you be more specific?

I looked at Dad, and said, "That's it. You may not like it, but I'm calling an ambulance." And off I went to call EMS. They brought a gurney and took her to the ER. At 4:00 am, Dad came home to pick up some clothing and other things and informed us that she was being sent to a larger regional hospital.

I didn't go until Wednesday because Tuesday was complete chaos -- find doggy daycare, go to work, keep up with the hospital news.....  But when I got there, I was shocked. There was no progress. She was just lying there. She had already had an MRI that day because they suspected she might have had a mini-stroke during the night. Thankfully, this was not the case. She did have a pretty strong infection, however, that was causing issues.

There were still no changes the rest of the week. Saturday was an awful day. Her vitals were slipping, and her kidneys were failing. Even her doctor appeared to be giving up. He decided to move her to CCU for some individualized care, but otherwise, we needed to decide -- and SOON.
We came home and began the hard business of making those difficult plans. How do you do that? How do you possibly put a timeframe on someone's life, to put a value on how long you give them? How did we get here so quickly?

We looked back at the previous ten days. What had we missed? How did we not see it? When should we call people? What did we want? What would mom want?

We visited Sunday..... Eyes were opening a bit more but I wasn't holding out a lot of hope. I thanked Mom for everything..... Basically, saying my goodbyes without using that specific word because (1) I wanted my father and brother to have their opportunity to do the same and did NOT want her to fade out on me!!!!! and (2) I did not want her to believe that we were giving up on her. I wanted her to believe that we still had hope for her, even if it was dim. I felt like I was lying through my teeth, even though I wasn't. I still have hope that she will come around, that she will want to get better, that at last she will choose to participate in her own recovery.

We visited yesterday.... Eyes opening even more but still only able to keep them open for a second or two. Trying to talk to us but I'm still telling her, "shhh, you don't have to say a word, OK?" I said something about our dog and she smiled. My aunt told her about their great-grandchild, and Mom smiled. Her vitals are improving slowly -- mostly her BP and her kidneys but the rest isn't improving as well.

It is frightening to think what can happen in two short weeks. We still don't know where things will go. Today, Dad and I will go to the mortuary to make plans just in case. We need to have something in place, because you don't know. Mom could continue to improve or she could take a sudden nosedive ......

We are in a strange place: the in-between. We are in suspended motion. We wait. Every time the phone rings, I hold my breath. Is it the hospital? Is it Dr. Jay, telling us to get there post-haste? I go to sleep each night praying "thy will be done," knowing those are the four hardest words that can ever be prayed. I wake not knowing what lies ahead. I've been given the okay to take whatever time I need at work, or to login from home if I need the distraction. I am putting guitar lessons on temporary hold until I have a better idea of what lies ahead. The in-between is a difficult place, indeed.
If you see this, please say a prayer for us, for our peace. For God's will. For sanity. That's what we need most.