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.