Saturday, August 16, 2014

Grief: My Journey

This is not the most structured narrative.  I am writing about my mother and her death because it is time, and a way to deal with grief and loss, and as therapy.  She died two weeks ago last Tuesday.  This is the story.

I have not cried yet.  This is not good, nor normal.  I may still be in a level of shock, and can’t get past the guilt or fear that I did something wrong, that she would have been here longer, that Donald could have at least seen her and spoken to her.  I don’t think she wanted to die, in the sense that she decided she was ready and went.  That is often claimed, but I don’t believe it.  Whatever was killing her, taking all her strength, finally took the last bit needed to breathe and beat the heart.  Her blood pressure was 80 over 40s that morning, and pulse 113. 

The CNA came at 9:30, and we had been up.  I was trying to get fluids into her, and a little food, and she was still swallowing, but at one point she told me to get away and another that she was fine.  Only four words that morning, it took all she could do to get those out.  Mostly it was groans, grunts, garbled words.  I would put her oxygen in her nose and she kept pushing it out until I finally let her keep it on her head.  I stroked her forehead, spooned water into her mouth, kissed her head, told her to “let go” of the railing of the bed, rubbed lotion on her legs, said I love you, we love you.  And I went to make some lunch and set it on the table and went back in to check on her and something was wrong.  Her mouth was awry and open, her color strange.  I lifted her hand and it fell, I made noises, ringing her bell and yelling her name, and nothing happened,   I saw no chest rising and felt not air from the nose.  So I called the hospice nurse, then David, then Paul, then Mary, who came and confirmed it. At a little after 1:00 the nurse showed up and put her death down as 1:10 but that was not right—it was 12:15 or 12:20. 

I spent today cleaning her house, which will take many weeks. It would take a month if I worked 40 hours a week on it.  She had so much stuff.  So much. 68 years of keeping house and raising kids.  The stuff we spend money on.

Everyone has been great.  I have good people around me.  Two other teachers lost their mothers in the last week or so; I will reach out to them.  I find myself staring.  Everything will be different now.  We have her little dog; he is adjusting to us.    

I recently read that when your parents die, you lose your past, when a spouse dies, you lose the present, and when a child dies, you lose the future.  Well, OK.  I don’t agree, but it’s glib.  I do not feel my past is gone, only a person with whom I had the closest of relationships, who knew me better than I wanted to admit, but who was very unlike me in a lot of ways.  We didn’t look all that much alike, not like some moms and daughters.  I was blonde most of my life, and blue eyed, and five inches taller; she was 5’1” in her heyday and brunette with brown eyes.  She had better teeth and was generally prettier than me; I look like my father’s people.  We were both always heavy but in different ways; apple vs. pear.  Mostly, I like to think I am an academic and public and an extrovert.  She was a homemaker and caregiver, the best of the best, and introverted and private.  I fear she sometimes thought I was fake because I could and did talk with anyone about anything.  She thought I worked too hard, put up with too much from some people, allowed myself to get too busy, and didn’t take care of myself. 

This journey started in Spring of 2012, when heavy bleeding meant a trip back to the oncologist who did her hysterectomy in November of 2010.  He prescribed chemo and radiation.  She believed unnecessary radiation contributed to my brother’s death (she sometimes had irrational ideas) but she agreed to chemo after I encouraged it.  She took it for nine months, and seemed in remission.  That lasted until March or April, and the doctor said she could get more chemo or go into hospice care.  She did not want more treatment, and it is doubtful it would have done anything but made her even weaker.

She wasn’t eating well, and stayed in bed a lot, until June 10 when a fall that wasn’t really that serious meant a trip to the emergency room.  She went home under hospice care; ironically I was going to start interviewing hospice agencies that week, so the decision was taken out of my hands.  I moved in with her for 50 days and only left to teach a class, for two quick trips to Atlanta for doctoral classes, and to run errands. 

Every week some ability or desire went away; in the last week of her life something left every day.  I finally, in the last eleven days, made funeral arrangements; I also started reading on the dying process, thinking it would be a while.  The hospice doctor said October; I made arrangements for a sitter when I was at work and for family leave time.  I will not need either now; I think the sitter, with lots of hospice experience, knew when she met Mom that her services wouldn’t really be needed.  People visited, and that perked her up, even when she would say to me that she didn’t want to see them. 


Two days after her burial, I got up and went out to finish pulling up the bean vines from my little garden and to prune back tomatoes.  I did four loads of laundry, tried to get the house into a semblance of order, made vegetable soup out of my tomatoes and a peach cobbler.  Then I was tired and lay, not wanting to get up for two hours.  I just stared.  This is my grief.  I can do, do, do, and then feel motionless, unable to even speak.  Something else has to jar me out of it.  I am trying to write thank you notes, and I am not ready to think about teaching classes or going back to dissertation writing this next week.  This is my grief. 

My husband and I laugh about funny things in this time, he is sweet about it, and helped a lot. She told me I didn’t know to make oatmeal; my husband thinks that is funny (she wanted it very creamy, I like chunky things).  When I couldn’t figure out a soft-boiled egg (I can’t abide running yellows) she said, “I thought I taught you how to cook.”  I annoyed her with my fastidiousness about washing my hands, but I didn’t want to get sick; I was also obsessed with clean sheets, but she didn’t want me to worry about them.  When she rang the bell or called at 2, then 4, then 6, I said, “I’ll be there, but don’t expect sparkling conversation.”  I do not have a sense of smell, so cleaning up after her was not a problem.  The first time I did the most personal of personal of care I winced, but got over it quickly.  Latex gloves are wonderful, as are baby wipes and pull up pants. I cooked more cream of wheat than I have in my entire life.  I will always associate it with cancer, which is unfortunate because it’s a good cereal.

1 comment:

fourkid said...

I was caregiver for my husband's aunt (she raised him as a mother) under similar circumstances - though I also had my 1 year old with me during that time. I think about it often. It was about a month or 6 weeks I lived with her - but over 2,000 miles from the rest of my husband, 3 other children, and all the rest of my family support. It was tough - but I wouldn't have changed it for anything. She gave my husband (and I) so much, it was the very least I could do for her. Lots of memories - including funny times. For me the tears come at odd times - usually when I am alone (or awake alone) in the middle of the night. I truly learned "one day at a time".

This might just change your life!