Saturday, August 13, 2011

What I'm learning about death

Over the past two weeks of dealing with my mom's death, I've gained some insight that I only knew on an intellectual level before.

My dad told me that no matter how much I thought I was prepared for my mom dying, I wouldn't really ever be ready. I thought it was good advice then, but now, I see it as nothing less than pure truth.

My mom scared us back in July of 2009 with her ischemic bowel incident. At that time, I wrote her a letter telling her thank you for all that she did for me and to tell her how much I loved her. Since then, I have tried my hardest to put things in order with her so that when the time really came I wouldn't have deep regrets.

As the past two years have seen her in and out of the hospital, each time I've wondered if "this was it". I've tried to prepare myself that it might be, but hope that it wasn't, and then be pushy enough with the docs to make sure she got the best care possible. She always did, and at the end of each hospital visit, she got to go "home", whether it be to her apartment or nursing home.

So when my brother called me that Saturday morning two weeks ago, I thought it was another false alarm. He told me that mom didn't look well, but that he didn't want me to panic... so I took a shower & went to the nursing home.

Let me back up for just a minute and tell you that all of us 4 kids went to look at funeral arrangements just the day before, since my brother was here from ND visiting our mom because she wasn't doing super well; her vitals were fine, but she had a hard time with her breathing and she was starting to be confused off and on. We knew that mom would be around for awhile more, but we didn't want to be preparing in the midst of emotionally charged circumstances, like when she had already died. So we picked out the casket and took a brochure that we could discuss later at our leisure....

When I walked into the nursing home, I had no idea what to expect, but what I found scared the crap out of me and sent me reeling emotionally....

Though her eyes were open, I didn't think she was seeing anything. I felt that she was unconscious, and I prayed that she was. My brother had been there for awhile and had sung to her, stroked her hair, and tried to soothe her; when I got in, I too tried to soothe her, but I wasn't sure if she was conscious or unconscious. Then my "gotta do something" kicked in.

I talked to a nurse who'd been a nursing home nurse for 7 years and had seen death many times. She told me that my mom was in the final stages of death. She told me what we could expect. We kids and my mom's nurse were trying to get her some liquid morphine or a shot of morphine so that we could be sure she wasn't afraid or hurting; since it was a Saturday, it was difficult to contact the doctor. The nurse said that once she got the morphine, because it would slow her heart rate, she would probably pass away within a few hours. There was no way we couldn't give her the meds, so they were administered.

Within less than 10 minutes after giving the meds, my mom passed away. It was surprising that with the ache of her being gone there was also the relief of knowing that she wasn't suffering anymore.

Most of us stayed for many hours later, waiting for the mortician to come and pick her up. We visited with each other, telling stories about my mom and about our childhoods. We laughed and we cried. After the mortician came, we planned her funeral.

The next morning, I woke up and wanted to hear her voice, so I listened to the voice mail messages that she left and I'd saved just for this very moment. The tears flowed as I heard her say "Hi Kiddo" again and even sing Happy Birthday to Amber. I listened over and over.

In the following days, something happened: I began to be afraid of the emotions. I became worried that I'd become depressed like I was after her ischemic bowel scare.

I was alone for 10 minutes in Kmart a couple of days ago, and because I was alone with no agenda, my mind roamed free. I cut the trip short after only being able to think about her and all of the things that she'd bought for me and my kids in that Kmart.

Last night, I wanted to hear her voice. I looked at the phone and then pushed it away. Then, I gathered all of my courage and dialed my voicemail. I listened and smiled. My eyes welled and overflowed, but it was a good feeling. It was like facing the monster under the bed and realizing it isn't nearly as big and mean as I'd thought, in fact, it was more like finding a friendly puppy under there than a monster.

My goal is to be less afraid. To let myself feel without wallowing in despair. I worry that it will be a tightrope walk....

I have been so busy with the wedding and with school preparations that I haven't had time to be still very often. In the back of my mind I worry about what having no huge project to plan and work on will cause; I'm trying to be brave. I wish I could talk to her about it and ask her opinion of how to cope....


  1. Thanks, Stephanie, I need both. :)

  2. The Savior cried with Mary, even knowing that he would personally raise Lazarus only minutes later. Joy is what this life is for, and to have that, we must have the rest.
    Laugh and cry Melody. We will do the same with you as you share these moments of stillness.
    We love you.