A Good Ache
Around nine years ago I was told my mom was going to die. Many of you have followed the story and you know that she just kept on living.
She lived through a hospice stay.
She lived through a liver that was busted.
She just kept on.
I used to say she had nine lives. Her latest life was in Florida, living on her own, swimming most days, enjoying life. But a few months ago she called me up and told me that the Lord told her this was going to be her last year to live. I don’t know if I believed her, but I listened. She said she had a bucket list, and one of the things on it was to go to the “Dolly museum.”
Me: You want to go to the Dolly museum? Like, Dolly Parton??!
My mom: No! The Salvador Dali museum!
Much better. The Dali museum in St. Petersburg Florida. And she wanted to eat a seafood feast overlooking the ocean. Yes, okay, I told her I would find a way. She wanted me to come in April, but I told her I couldn’t, Thailand and all. So we decided on the weekend of May 12th. I booked a ticket and she booked a hotel room.
I went to Thailand. I came home and slept. I never called her.
After sleeping for a week, I got a call, on a Wednesday. I was dropping my daughter off at a friends. It was a Florida number.
“Hi Sarah, we need to talk about your mom. Should we resuscitate or not if your mom goes into cardiac arrest?”
“What? What are you talking about? Listen, I know nothing, can you please fill me in?”
The woman on the other end, an “end-of-life counselor” or something like that, told me my mom was in the hospital and she wasn’t doing well. I asked when she had been checked in and she said April 5th. It was April 20th.
My hands were shaking. Everything felt hot. I asked to talk to a doctor. He called. He said things like, “We can’t treat her liver because of the blot clots…we think we found cancer…hemorrhaging…lethargic…infection in the blood…comfort measures.”
I went home and booked a ticket to Florida for early the next morning. As I landed in Florida, I saw that I had missed two phone calls from the hospital. I called while the plane was pulling up to the gate. “Is she okay?” I answered? They had to do some procedure they needed permission to do. My sister gave them permission.
I just kept praying. “Please God, just don’t let her die before I see her. And please let me be able to talk to her, I want her to see me.”
I got my car rental, drove quickly, got to the hospital, and found her room. I heard her before I saw her. She was yelling.
I walked in and went right up to her and took her hand and said, “Sar-ey is here”. She used to call me Sar-ey. I tried to get her to look at me but her eyes just stared up to the ceiling. Every 5-10 seconds she would yell and try and move.
“I’m here mom. I’m here. It’s okay.”
No response. Just yelling and eyes to the ceiling.
“Comfort measures” they all said. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
It means you need to look at putting her in hospice and making her comfortable as she dies.
But what if she isn’t dying?! I’ve been through this before.
Two days ago she talked to my sister and told them she was getting out. She told her cousin we were going on our trip. She was talking. But I missed it. Because I never called.
Can we just try and help her brain to clear up? Can you give her that medicine, please, just one more time?
One more time.
Yelling. Eyes to the ceiling.
Pain meds. The more you give, the worse it makes her because her liver doesn’t process anymore. Ease her pain or kill her. That seemed the choices. Excruciating.
I got to the hospital on Thursday. On Friday I made the decision to have them stop all treatment and have her admitted to hospice. While I waited for them to pick her up, I rubbed her hand and talked with her.
Was I making the right decision? Was I killing her?
We got to the hospice and they couldn’t get her pain meds because the doctor couldn’t be reached and she was yelling and God, it was so awful.
Eyes to the ceiling.
Finally the meds.
Yelling off and on through the night.
I cried and prayed and cried and was torn up over whether or not I was doing the right thing. Could she have gotten better? Did I cut treatment too soon?
Morning and silence. No more yelling, just breathing.
The doctor came in. “How long will it take for her to die?” I asked. “The body could take 5-7 days to shut down with no food or water” he told me. I had to leave the next day. She’ll die alone. And I’m killing her.
“God, please don’t let her die alone.”
My in-laws were in Florida visiting family and so they were only two hours from where I was. They came to see me. I asked my mother-in-law to go with me to my moms apartment so I could see it and get a few things. It felt wrong to be in my moms place without her there. It felt wrong to start touching and moving her things. We spent about two hours there, looking for pictures and journals and anything I could take with me.
When we got back to the hospice, a counselor came in and asked if I had any questions. “No.” I said.
But my mother-in-law said she had a question. “It doesn’t seem like it’s going to take 5-7 days for her die. Is that really true?”
The counselor looked at her and said, “No. Do you hear that gurgling in her throat? That’s her lungs shutting down. She could go today.”
And sadness and relief and deep ache.
My in-laws left so I could be alone with my mom.
I didn’t leave her side.
And then I knew. The gurgling stopped and there was just breathing.
I pulled my chair up close and cried and played her music and held her hand and rubbed her head. I knew she was going to go soon.
I said things to her, special, sacred things that are for her alone.
All this time her eyes just went back and forth and back and forth.
And then her eyes stopped.
I walked over to her other side where I stood, watching her breathe. Listening.
“You’re almost there mom. Almost done. I’ll be right here with you.”
And like a clock winding down, her breath just wound down.
Slower and slower.
it was gone.
On April 23, 2016 at 7:16pm my mom took her last breath. She went home.
“You give life, you are love, you bring light to the darkness. You give hope, you restore every heart that is broken. Great are you Lord. It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only.”
Susan Lynn Sherman Potts | 8/9/53 – 4/23/16