She died on a Tuesday. The day began just like most with coffee and the newspaper. The phone rang. I jumped. I had this feeling it was going to be the call. But it was only the hospice nurse asking if I would mind if she spent the day in my mom’s room evaluating my mom. She wanted to bring a nurse in training so that she could learn more about the latter stages of hospice care. I was thrilled since I planned to be there all day and would love the company. For the past few days mom had only snippets of consciousness and although I knew she knew I was there it was still a lonely vigil.
The last time I had any substantive type of conversation with my mother was the Friday before. I brought my laptop with me so that we could watch our favorite holiday movie – the George C. Scott version of “A Christmas Carol.” My mom and I must have watched this movie a thousand times over the years and we could almost say the lines verbatim. I pulled the tray table over to her bed and we began to watch. At first she seemed happy to be watching the movie once again. She even said some of the lines as she would normally do when we watched it. About half way through she began to say, “I’ve never seen this movie before – I’ve never seen this movie before” and she began to get agitated. I decided to stop playing it and put the laptop away. I sat on her bed and she looked at me and asked, “Jan, what is happening to me?”
“What do you think is happening,” I replied. “I think I’m dying” she said. I shook my head to say yes. She got tears in her eyes and said, “I’m sorry I won’t be able to go Christmas shopping with you this year.” I looked at her and said, ” Mom, you will always go Christmas shopping with me because I will always carry you in my heart.” She smiled, closed her eyes and went to sleep.
The last food she requested to eat was orange sherbet, the last words she said to me were “I love you.”
On Tuesday I spent the entire morning in her room with the hospice nurses just talking about mom, her life, her recent struggles. As we talked the hospice nurse explained that if my mother wanted me to be there when she died that I would. But if she didn’t then I most certainly would not. In her experience she had all too often seen family members keep vigils over dying loved ones only to walk out of the room for a minute and come back to find that they had passed away. She wanted to prepare me for the fact that my mom might choose not to involve me in the process. I was fine with that. I wanted to be there for her but I also wanted it to be easy for her, if that was at all possible.
At about 11:30 a.m., the hospice nurse suggested that I go out and get some lunch. She felt a change of scenery for a short time would do me good. She told me if anything changed that she would call me on my cell phone. I was just finishing lunch when my cell phone rang. Her heart rate had changed and her breathing was becoming more shallow. I needed to get back to the nursing home as soon as possible. Five minutes later I was there. I walked into the room but nothing really seemed changed to me. I walked up to my mom’s bed, sat next to her and took her hand in mine. The dying process began.