Monthly Archives: June 2015

On the Road to “Home”

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mother portrait

It happened a few days before Mom departed her body. She laid in her bed and looked dreamily at the ceiling. “Home soon,” she said softly as if speaking to some unseen person. “Home soon,” and she smiled faintly and exuded a sense of deep calm. Sitting on the bed next to her, I mused on her comment. We had never used the term “home” for the afterlife or heaven, but she clearly saw it that way. It was she who introduced me to this idea — only one of her many parting gifts before she had free reign to teach us whenever and whatever she chose. She would soon be unrestrained by her body.

As we thought on what to share with you today, it seemed that we were getting ahead of the story, that we needed to give context to the progression of events. We would have preferred to write only of the miracles and joys that emerged later, all so full of love, but this would not give a full picture. So, it is even now with tears that we tell you of the weeks preceding Mother’s departure.

Another bout with heart failure had landed Mom in the hospital. Only a short time before, she was hospitalized and then needed to have rehab time in a nursing home. It was there that her indomitable spirit began to waver. Even though she had been through much in her life time, now, at age ninety-eight, it was the first time I saw signs of giving up. It was heartbreaking to witness.

I was with her everyday, trying my best to make her happy. I decorated her room with objects familiar to her and then placed autumn leaves and Thanksgiving, then Christmas decorations everywhere I could. We brought her home for dinner to sit by the fire and hold her precious cat. But she felt abandoned in this “home” where she lived and not of her choosing. She had grown too weak to walk and was now reliant on a wheelchair. One by one, her freedoms were disappearing. We were both desolate, especially knowing it was now next to impossible for us to care for her at home.

The dreaded recognition sunk in. Even in this highly acclaimed facility, she was not treated with dignity or given the attention she deserved. I spent much of my time asking staff questions like “Why did you plunk her in her wheelchair with everyone else in front of the TV running old black and white films? She asked you to please take her back to her room so she could read and do puzzles?” Or “Why did you leave her in her room to read and not turn on any lights when you knew she cannot reach them herself?” Or “My mother is lucid and aware. She objects and is afraid when dementia patients are allowed to roam into her room and her bathroom, open her closets and drawers and no one makes sure they leave.” We were saddened and angry that she was not being seen as herself, a person deserving proper care and attention. I was trying to fight a battle that could not be won.

Given the incompetence, it was no wonder mother landed back in the hospital.

Being in the hospital was not much better. Many days it seemed she would not live until another. I, like most caregivers, was burning out rapidly, in a mad rush to improve the situation and give my mother some peace and happiness. Finally, we made the decision to bring her home with us. We wanted her to be with us, and safe. This was the home she had grown used to. It was the only place she wanted to be. She knew we would try our best to support and cheer and help her. She would soon be back in her bedroom and with her frisky and beloved little Siamese cat.

We promised her that, no matter what happened, we would not send her back to the hospital. She was with us to stay.

I sat with her at the hospital until the ambulance came to drive her home. It was just after Christmas (the most bleak and sad Christmas of my life and probably hers as well). We had filled her room with holiday decorations and the fluffy talking toys she and I used to amuse ourselves. We begged the hospital doctor to let her come home for Christmas Day. A festive dinner was planned, the tree she had helped us decorate just weeks ago was bright with cheer, her carefully wrapped gifts were under the tree.

I had hope she had lost track of time and would not remember it was Christmas Eve, a time special to us since my childhood. I left her at the hospital and cried all the way home. My husband and I were determined to have Christmas Eve together. On one of the many calls I made to the hospital to check on her, one of the nurses told me they heard my mother playing with one of the Christmas toys. It filled the room with merry songs of Christmas. Then, I was told, Mother asked her if it was Christmas Eve. They turned her TV to a celebration of mass. Again, I cried at thinking of her alone, lying in that lonely room watching mass. She wasn’t even Catholic.

On Christmas Day, I entered the hospital through the decorated halls and the staff wearing Santa hats. I was all ready to bring her home for her few hours of celebration. But the doctor stopped me outside her room. As wheelchairs rolled passed me, with patients going out to celebrate the day, the doctor warned me. Those few hours at home would cost her dearly. Did I want to take such a chance? Sadly, I concurred. So Richard and I packed up whatever foods we had prepared that could be transported to the hospital. We tried to make merry, serving her foods she liked to eat, like pate and Brie and crackers and apples. We all tried hard to “make merry,” but Mother never even opened her presents. She was too tired.

When Richard and I returned home, we ate a bowl of cereal and went to bed. We could see that the hand writing was on the wall. This would be Mother’s last Christmas with us. We decided that we would bring her home with us. We had always felt that we could make her well and take care of her best with us. But this time, we would be bringing her home to die.

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The Miracles and the Moon

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mother portrait

Ah, the moon! Something mysterious happened with the moon at the exact moment my mother took her last breath. I would call it a miracle. It has taken years to try to decipher what it was meant to show us. We are still pondering it. But whatever it was, it seemed that a powerful spiritual message was being sent. Was it a tribute to my mother? Was it a way to soothe us as we came to terms with the final departure? Was it a coincidence?

Both my husband and I witnessed this inexplicable happening. Unbeknownst to each other, we each did our own “quasi-scientific” experiments to test the veracity of what was happening. Days later, I was still “testing” whether it could have happened at all. And, to our surprise, several people said they looked at the full moon on that same night and immediately were drawn to thoughts about my mother and us.

I remember, as little girl, my parents taking me out into the yard to look at the moon. It was an adventure to be out in the dark, gazing at the moon, but with my mom and dad close by. At times we used a telescope to look more closely at the gleaming moon. At least once we stood to watch a lunar eclipse. We were a little family, looking and talking and telling tales of the moon. “Hey, diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle. The cow jumped over the moon.”

As years passed, I paid little attention to the moon, except for the time we Americans landed on it. Gee! It isn’t made of green cheese after all!

But then, a new relationship was born with the moon. It had to do with a guru, a spiritual teacher, who, unexpectedly, sent powerful energy to me. Some of it was conveyed through the image of the moon. At first it seemed incredible to me, but later I got to know that this was an acceptable and even welcome way to “know” things. Often the knowing came with a full moon.

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.” What a silly song. But the moon spelled a kind of love within me. So it was not surprising that something was happening when my mother, whom I loved so much, was moving ever closer to her departure.

I am not sure how I knew this. It just became clear to me that my mother would not die until the moon was full. In the three and a half weeks she clung to life, she was often chatty and lucid even as her body was turning to bones and she could barely eat. We fed her carefully crafted milk shakes, dipping the straw into the liquid and transferring it to her open mouth. She lacked even the strength to drink on her own through a straw. So we fed her, like a little bird. Sometimes she seemed to rally and I would plunge into every endeavor to bring her back to the vibrant mother I knew. It was a loosing battle. Everyone from hospice who visited our home and cared for her told me so.

Still, I would stand out in the yard and plead with the moon as if bargaining with God. Please don’t let the moon be full yet. Please give me a few more days. Then, in time, it would be one more day or one more night. Begging and pleading, I would stand in the dark, as if I had some power and could influence this outcome. How naive and desperate I was – until I was taught the final lesson — of surrendering.

For two or three nights I was mistaken and thought the moon had turned full. Even one sportscaster mentioned the team playing under the full moon, then later commented that he was wrong. No it wasn’t full yet. I was relieved.

But then the night of the full moon arrived and I could not turn it back. That was to be my mother’s last night with us in the world. I can easily feel the exact emotions I felt and how the angel-like hospice nurse guided me to give a special gift to my mother.

There will be much more to tell. Now my mother, my seeming co-author, tells me to rest.

My Mother’s Love Brings More Signs for Us to Enjoy

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Many of you have shared how comforting it is to read about all the funny and fascinating, touching and sweet ways my mother has left signs of her presence. If you know of others who would find this writing of comfort, please feel free to pass it on. The more love is shared, the better. Especially when a loved has recently departed, we are helped in feeling ever connected to those who have left their bodies. It is important to remember that, even if you have not noticed clear “signs,” it does not mean they are not happening. Most of us find it all to easy to discount the little coincidences or to fear that, in believing if they are from one who has “died,” it is a little too spooky (like a spooky ghost), to accept them.

At one point, I was “spooked” by these things, particularly because the signs were so frequent. Luckily, my husband and I were usually both witness to my mother’s messages. We could testify for each other. The fact that both of us experienced these events is not so common. More often, there is only one person receiving the attention of the departed, and usually the signs do not come in the form of hundreds and hundreds of signature pieces.

I say “signature” because the spirit world often chooses common themes or forms to communicate their presence. Some of these are butterflies, dragonflies, various types of birds and other wild life, feathers, rainbows, fragrances, certain tunes, lights flashing, water running, the moon. There are many. Over time, my mom’s special forms became clear to us, but they weren’t at the beginning.

In short order, we knew that butterflies, violets, Dvorak’s Symphony “From the New World”, and the moon were some of her favorites. But she was ever creative, almost as if she was playing a fun game with us. We had the feeling that she was grinning from ear to ear when one of her carefully grafted events were recognized. At times, we thought she was getting carried away and we would say, “Mom, we get it; We know you are here with us!”

As we continued our Memorial Day Weekend activities, Mother came up with a few new ones to entertain, not just Richard and me, but my brother and sister in law as well.

As the four of us walked through the greenhouse and garden areas, selecting plants to adorn her and my father’s gravesite. We discussed the merits of each we considered. Would they be hardy, survive without the need for watering, what combination of shapes and colors were best? Judy, with a bit of whimsy, suggested we plant some catnip. Good idea! Mother adored her many cats and maybe some cats would be attracted to visit her at the cemetery. (Not that she was still restricted to the place where her body had been placed.)

Where we live in Connecticut, there is a lot of wildlife. My mother, Richard and I grew to relish seeing the many that came onto our property. I even went so far as to name some of them. The deer were special favorites; we spent countless hours watching the drama of deer life – the does expecting their young in the spring then later bringing their fawns for an introduction, the mighty bucks regally displaying their antlers of all sizes, some with as many as 12 points. We were honored when the bucks “dropped” their antlers on our property. We saw this as a priced possession that they left for us to enjoy and a form of thanks for the corn we fed them in the deep of winter. The deer, however, could be destructive, eating plants and shrubbery. With this in mind, I asked my brother if we needed to get deer resistant plants, something we always consider for our property.

“I’ve never seen deer at the cemetery,” my brother said. So we let it go. Most of our relatives, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, in Michigan were buried there, so there had been many visits to this place.

With shovels and all the usual gardening equipment we arrived at Bethlehem Cemetery. It was the first time I had been there since the markers had been changed showing the year of Mother’s death. I steadied myself for the experience and felt again sad when I read it. To me, it had always seemed that the second date was far away when, of course, it wasn’t.

We did our work, said some words of comfort and personal feeling. I took one of my mother’s little ceramic Siamese cats she had collected and cherished for years and quietly placed it next to the head stone. I told her that it was from Dasher, the cat that was with her to the end and now was our cherished friend.

As we began to drive through the cemetery to stop at the graves of other relatives, something caught our eye. It was a large deer running among the stones. Aha! There were deer there after all or did one just drop by to bid adieu to my mother? We were surprised.

Then something else caught our eye. We were stunned to see a woodchuck roaming about with its head stuck in a large pale green can. It careened with each step. We all became concerned and longed to help it, the sight was so pathetic, but there was nothing we could do. The cemetery attendant was not present so we drove home. As we did we wondered if this was some vision mother had arranged. When she lived in Ann Arbor, she did many battles with groundhogs that made a home under her deck, then chomped away on the wood siding. She complained about them all the time. “So there,” she might have said, “I just put a can on your head. No more chewing on my deck!” But Judy and I fretted all day about that poor woodchuck and even made calls to seek help for the little creature.

A few days later, we returned to Connecticut. We were greeted by a family woodchucks waiting for us under our side porch – a mother and three little babies. We found them charming. We had never had a family reception like that before.

As I was midway in writing these words and looked out the window, right on cue and by our side porch were a mother and four little fur ball groundhogs. It was the first time they emerged, as I said, right on cue. Another signature theme, the groundhog.

Oh! Something else. Also midway through this writing and also right on cue – Dvorak’s Symphony was playing on the radio again. That makes three of the four times I have written, Mother struck up the band. You must have quite an orchestra up there in heaven.