Monthly Archives: July 2015

Casting Off

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mother portrait

A new cycle was beginning.

Jean, our hospice nurse, spent time examining mother. She spoke with confidence and gentleness to my mother. Everything had changed. Since the episode a night earlier, Mother was now too weak to leave her bed. She was confined by her own weakness. Her world began to change. Only days earlier, she had sat in her wheel chair, eaten a normal meal and laughed with us in another room. That was to be her last foray outside of her bedroom and her last burst of energy. Everything was shrinking – her appetite, her mobility, and her own body. But her mind was still quite acute. There was no way I was giving up on her. I still thought she and I could get her through this, despite what the doctors and hospice said.

After Jean took time to get acquainted with Mother, she asked all of us to join her in another room. The mood was sombre as we listened intently. Now we were in the world of hospice, a very foreign country to all of us. Already installed in Mother’s room was the humming oxygen machine to assist her breathing when needed. We had refused bringing in a hospital bed, wanting mother to be in her own usual bed.

Jean explained what it meant to have palliative care. She showed us the powerful drugs, like morphine and lorazepam (for anxiety) that would be available for Mother to help ease her through the process. Luckily, Mom was not in pain, and we were grateful for this. Jean warned us that we should not count on our memory to remember when and how much medication Mother was given. We should have a journal. My brother, the ever organized and with a Navy pilot thoroughness, prepared the journal for us.

I made the decision immediately that I would be the only one to give Mother the heavy drugs. I was still her protector and wanted to prevent her from being drugged unnecessarily. Then we learned of the array of other hospice workers who would be available to help. Ever polite and grateful, we walked Jean to the door, thanking her along the way.

When the door closed, we stood stunned but coping. Bill and Judy would soon be returning back home, but they knew they would never again hear Mother’s cheery voice or see her smile. Each took private time with her, holding back tears as best they could until they left the room. They also knew that this would be difficult for Richard and for me and asked us to call whenever we needed help, no matter the time of day or night.

The four of us talked as Mother rested, still with her ever faithful Siamese cat by her side. We agreed on the plans for the funeral and who would be called in Ann Arbor. This would be the key part bill and Judy would play as we held vigil. As we talked, Judy continued knitting the pretty pink afghan she had been making for Mother as a Christmas gift. The afghan was only partially made.

On the morning that Bill and Judy departed, I stood in the kitchen alone with my brother. He said, “Judy cast off the afghan last night and is leaving it for mother just as it is.” She cast off, a knitting term that was a kind of closure on the item being made. Casting off is also letting the ship or boat be free to go out to sea. Mother was casting off her life as she knew it, and we were with her. The destination seemed certain, but the final journey was not yet charted. That was to be revealed to all of us, along with the ethereal lessons and miracles.

Judy left the afghan draped over Mother’s shoulders as she laid in bed. I tried to keep it there as much as I could, placing it to warm her neck. It was a parting gift made with love. At the time Mom took her last breath, that pink afghan was still warming her. But then, Mother had cast off permanently. She was sailing through clear and vibrant seas, and free at last. Soon she would bring us along.

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A Shift was Taking Place – for All of Us

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The next morning dawned, and Mother was still with us. We were bleary eyed from the night before. Mother was not the only one who changed that night. In ways we were yet to learn, so did we.

May, the aide who had stayed with mother and been her companion and caregiver at times when I could not, arrived and was told about the events of the night. She had a kind nurturing nature and a special gift we came to value, she was spiritually attuned and not afraid of death. Mother was comforted by just seeing her.

While we waited for the arrival of the hospice nurse, we made Mother’s room our gathering spot, drawn by the constant awareness that she may not have awakened to this dawn. Mother began counting and naming each of us in the room as if keeping a tally. “One, Deanne, two, Richie, three, Bill,” and on. Sometimes she dozed off. When she awakened, she would again begin the count. If someone was not present, she would say words like, “Judy, where did Judy go?” and we would reassure her that she had just gone to the kitchen.

Bill and Judy announced that they would change their departure day. They knew this would be their last time with Mother and recognized fully what our future would be. They understood how hard this would be and took on a new level of support. They became our rocks.

When Jean, the hospice nurse, rang the door bell, I rushed to meet her. As I had done with all the many people who had, at various times, entered our house to assist us with Mother (the aides, the nurses, the physical therapists, the social workers), I immediately thanked her for coming. Then I began almost speed talking to be sure they knew everything about mother that I could share. I was her protector and wanted to be sure they knew who she was and what I thought she needed. “My mother’s mind is good. She has some vision and hearing issues. Don’t touch her left shoulder where she has terrible pain from the shingles she had many years ago.”

But this time was different. Jean, a tall and strong women, with graying hair and a kind face, who had years of experience as a hospice nurse, stopped my monologue in mid stream. “You can tell me all about your mother, but first, how are YOU? How are you and your husband doing?” I hesitated. I was dumbstruck. Then I started to cry. It was, in my mind, the first time anyone had asked about us. Even now I cry as I write this. It never occurred to me that someone would care so much about the caregiver and all of our stress, fear and fatigue. In time I began to see Jean as some kind of angel – though angels were not something I knew much about in those days.

The relief was palpable. I think my breath slowed down and my shoulders dropped (just as I taught my yoga students). I did not need to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders anymore. There was someone else who cared and, more than that, knew how to make this work. In time, I saw that Jean had wisdom to share and advice to give that far exceeded anything I could imagine.

Finally and gratefully, we could begin to learn to let go. We were not in this alone. And when Mother met Jean, I think she knew it too. A powerful force had entered into our lives. What it was, we did not necessarily know, but we were relieved and grateful. The surrendering would now begin.

The Light. She Saw the Light.

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As I stood by mother’s bedside, talking to her and trying to reassure her, I was distraught. We brought her home and promised her that we would not send her back to the hospital and now the worst had happened. We did not yet have everything hospice would provide to help her and, from what I was witnessing, she could die at any moment. I felt helpless and wanted to cradle her in my arms for safe keeping. I kept telling her I loved her and everything would be okay. Even if she didn’t respond; I knew she would hear me on some level.

Over the years, I had many times felt that it was up to me to save mother. It was, of course, a foolish thought, but one that carried a shared agreement between us. She and I would both do our best, so we could enjoy more time, laughs and adventures together.

Now, I found myself running in and out of her room, down to the kitchen to get anything I thought might make her feel better – peppermint tea, cool water. I held her hand and talked quietly to her, I used some of my Reiki energy, moving slowly over her body and calling forth all healing. I prayed. I chanted my mantra.

In short order, Bill and Judy heard the commotion and came from their bedroom on the third floor and met up with me in the hallway. I don’t know why I hadn’t wakened them before. They would surely have helped.

“What’s going on?” they asked urgently. I told them I thought it was possible Mom was dying. It was the first time that they saw her in this state, even though it had been happening frequently in the hospital. They gathered around Mother’s bed, talking with her and trying to soothe her. Now they saw firsthand how grave the situation was. I told them I would call hospice and see if they could help.

As I spoke with hospice, I explained that mother had not yet been admitted to their system. She was scheduled for this the next day.
It never occurred to us that one day would make such a difference. We had none of the powerful drugs hospice would bring the next day. I begged them to tell me what to do. They did their best. We were all helpless. They suggested we dial 911. We all said no. We were on our own and frightened beyond measure. Mother would have to make herself live through that long night. And she did. But something happened to her that night that I did not, at the time, fully understand.

When Mother was again able to speak, she looked up at the ceiling and repeatedly pointed to something. “The light” she said, wistfully, “Look at the light.” She smiled slightly and turned to me. She thought that I could share what she saw. I could not, but I was very familiar with these words as a common statement made by those who have had near death experiences. They usually saw a light not describable in this world and one that brought enormous peace.

I believe now with certainty that, during that night, my mother parted the thin veil separating life and death, as we termed it. She had crossed into the Light of Eternal and Divine Love. Now everything would be different for all of us. Now she would be teaching and showing us, in her own way, that she had already seen where she was going.

The Veil Parts and the Vigil Begins

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As a note to you: These excerpts reflect my thinking at the time they occurred. This is because it is important to demonstrate the actual events, unscreened through a lens of greater wisdom and knowledge. Of course, I already knew that life and love are eternal, but I did not know this through the Truth within my heart. I had not yet experienced the Truth of this knowledge. That was to be my mother’s mission. As we were to learn, she took that mission very seriously so that we would “get it” in no uncertain terms.

The story goes on…

As the ambulance pulled into our circular driveway, we were all waiting on the front porch and with excitement. We were Mother’s reception committee. Besides Richard and me, my brother, Bill, and his wife, Judy joined us. They had driven from our hometown, Ann Arbor, Michigan when they learned that this may be the last chance to be with Mother.

The sun was shining brightly as the ambulance attendants opened the back door. We clustered close by as they brought mother out on the stretcher. Our family’s quirky humor brought rise to a silly comment. “Oh, you have the wrong person,” someone said, referring to Mother. The attendants looked alarmed. How would they know we made family jokes? Hahaha! Mother never heard the comment, but, if she had, she would have laughed along with us. In truth, the laughs held a measure of anxiety. As they carried mother toward the house, Mother shouted to the attendant, “Hey, my slipper is coming off”; as her foot hung over the edge. We laughed again.

Through the door of our classic colonial home and up the sweeping stairs they carried her, into the bright and cheerful room we created for her. Much of the furniture was that which our parents had purchased years ago, a dressing table and chest of drawers. Mother’s collections were on the shelves, her ceramic and varied cat collection,and photos of her with the many cats she had owned and loved. Her favorite books lined the shelves.

This was her room, made just for her. The thrill she exuded was palpable, especially as she broke out in the biggest and most sincere smile when, now lying on her bed, her petite Siamese cat leaped onto the bed to greet her. It was true love and a beautiful reunion. Even in the hospital, we had arranged to bring her dear little cat to visit. The doctor bent the rules and agreed, given Mother’s dire situation. it was one more attempt to “breathe life into her.” it helped, but it was nothing like this.

She was home, safe and sound!

We let her rest and have time with Dasher, her adored cat, as we went to the kitchen to talk and plan. it was a time of mixed feelings. Happy that she was home. Worried that her time was short.

Now that Mother was with us, Judy and I took on the nursing role. In the hospital they hadn’t bothered to sit her on a bedside commode. Instead, much to our and her objection, they painfully inserted a catheter each time. No more of this, ever again, we promised her! Between the two of us, Judy and I could move her onto the commode. Not being used to any of this, we had to figure out what to do next, spilling some of the contents on the bathroom floor. Even this we laughed about. Nervous and happy at the same time.

Mother was rallying. She was excited to be home. We prepared dinner and wheeled her into the upstairs room we had turned into a den with a large TV. No need for her to maneuver the steps. We all sat together eating on trays, talking, laughing and enjoying each other. We went to bed early that night.

By the next day, another turn of events occurred. Mother, the sweet serene person we knew also had skills at getting what she wanted. She seemed so healthy now, we began to wonder if her serious problems at the hospital were an attempt to convince us to bring her back home. She seemed so miraculously better. Our worlds had been turned upside down to welcome her back home. The four of us pondered this together and were not sure what to think.

We had scheduled a long-standing and trusted aide who cared for mother for many months, even going to the nursing home and the hospital, to come and be with her during dinner time. We had important decisions to make and decided to talk about it while out of the house. We left Mother in good hands. Our conversation had to be about final plans for Mother and we did not feel we could do this in our house.

When we arrived home from dinner, we were told that Mother refused to eat dinner and was uncharacteristically upset and angry. This was not like her, and we were not sure what was happening. I sat with her a long time as she went to sleep. As was my habit during her time with us, I got up to check on her during the night. She was in terrible shape, having trouble breathing, seemingly in pain and worse, seeming near death. There was panic in her eyes. In retrospect, I believe it was that night that she had a near death experience. I am convinced of it, given all the signs and changes that came later. She had already parted the veil, but not yet for good.