Mom Was Ready
Mom did not graduate from high school and I think this always bothered her. That however did not prevent her from obtaining a commercial driver’s license driving big yellow school buses for over twenty years in both snowy Buffalo, NY and sunny Florida without an accident. To make extra money she took a course on cake decorating in the early 1970’s and made beautiful wedding cakes for family and friends.
My Dad died in 1967 from a home accident in which my mother found my father dead in the garage minutes before my brother and I were to return from school. Luckily a few years later she remarried a man who was introduced to her by my father’s brothers! They moved to Florida and I moved to Hawaii and we lived separately for the next 40 years. We would visit each other once or twice a year.
In 1993 when she was only in her 60’s she found a “two for one” price for cremation in the newspaper and pre-paid their plans. In 1997 my only brother was diagnosed with cancer and despite aggressive treatments he died in 2001 with her at his side. She told me “I brought him into this world and I was with him when he left it”. In around 2007 my step dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She took care of him at home and enrolled him in home hospice a few months before he died. He died at home with her at her side. Mom and I scattered his remains in Hawaii, in a place they both loved.
Mom witnessed three people she loved die. She was not afraid to die. In 2016 I noticed she was not doing well living independently in her home. Her behavior towards me changed and she became paranoid and resistant to any assistance from me. I am a registered nurse and have been inviting her to live with me in Hawaii since 2010 but she always told me she was not ready. She was diagnosed with moderate Alzheimer’s in September of 2016 and I admitted her into assisted living. She did not adjust well but at least I know she was safe and cared for. I was with her the week of her 87th birthday on February 18th and we made peace with each other and she agreed to move to Hawaii later this year when I retired. I received a call on February 26 she fell and broke her hip, one week after I visited her.
I became a volunteer speaker for our non- profit palliative and hospice group, Kokua Mau in Honolulu, HI presenting The Conversation Project starter kit to community groups so I knew what my mother’s wishes were and very comfortable in end of life issues, even with my own family.
She tolerated the surgery but not the recovery. Whether or not she intentionally stopped eating or it was “her time” I do not know. The doctors suggested a feeding tube the day before I arrived and I declined it, per her wishes. I arrived late on March 4th to a very distressed and anxious mother. She grabbed my hand and would not let go and all I could understand was my name that she kept repeating, “Susie, Susie, Susie!” with pleading distressed eyes. The next day I put on my nurses cap on and evaluated my mother objectively. She was very uncomfortable whether it was physically, emotionally or spiritually and not on any strong pain medication. She did not take her usual medications, only ate a few spoonful of food and could not follow physical therapy directions. I had the priest come and administer the anointing of the sick, contacted hospice and had the doctor write a referral. The hospice in Ft Myers, FL was the same one my stepfather had and was called Joann’s House (my mother’s name was Joan) and their logo was a butterfly which my mother also loved. I had The Conversation Project slides on my IPad and gave a mini in-service to the hospice staff who were very interested in the program. I even had a starter kit for Alzheimer’s/ dementia patient handout that I shared. She was admitted on a Monday and died very peacefully three days later, pain free. I was at her side almost all the time for five days, but she died soon after I kissed her good night and left. I honored my mother’s wishes and the training with The Conversation Project helped me during this difficult process. While emptying her room I found an old living will all folded up she carried in her wallet since 1993 which reinforced that all her wishes were granted! I will go back and get her remains and scatter in Hawaii near my stepfather and now whenever I see a butterfly I remember her.