Thursday, July 21, 2016

Still Cute

I realize that my siblings and I are not the first people to experience the decline of a parent, but lately the reality of how life ends is forced in front of me. The geographic distance between all of us makes the logistics of care difficult. North Carolina is where our mother resides with our step-father, but we, her three children, live in Connecticut, Minnesota and Arizona. Our step-father is not capable of providing the kind of continuous care his wife needs now. We want to honor her wish to die at home. Not knowing how to plan and for how long is inconvenient, but shouldn't be my main concern. Now that Mom is under hospice care, I have taken on the role of primary caregiver. Thank goodness my sister can arrange her work schedule so we can take turns.

With all this, I try to take heart with a few positives:
Mom isn’t in pain.

Her dementia has kept her from worrying as much about her liver cancer as a more cognizant sufferer might.

She still knows who we are and accepts our care without embarrassment or resistance.

She has flashes of humor, reminding us that she’s beautiful inside and out.

Mom is so weak, she requires assistance to stand, to turn over, to move her legs out of the bed. She barely eats and drinks only when the offer is in front of her. She has no bowel control or awareness of having gone. She’s so emaciated, her bare torso shows every rib.

Her norm over the past few weeks has become communication with a look, a nod or shake of the head, especially when she’s sleepy. Sleep is her life right now. When she does speak, it startles me. When she spoke in full sentences to a former colleague who called her the other day, I was amazed. Then she became tired and I had to take the phone.

Our mother took care of herself throughout her 77 years, making her cancer seem that much more unfair. She was active, never over-weight, regular doctor visits, no smoking or drinking, brushed and flossed…all those things you’re supposed to do. She always been a positive person and looked amazing for her age; never even had to color her hair. At this late stage, she has gray roots for the first time. Her signature heavy eyebrows and dark lashes are barely visible with their light color, making her look dramatically different.

So we focus on moments and try to freeze those in our memories. I was on the phone with her hospice case manager, a wonderful woman named Joy who had called to check on her before the weekend started. As I spoke to Joy, I walked into Mom’s bedroom where she lay and she opened her eyes, wondering who I was talking to about her. I told her, “Joy wants to know how you’re doing, Mom.”

“Tell her I’m cute.”

Post Note: My mother passed away peacefully on August 2, 2016.