Like sands through the hourglass

All week long I had been in close contact with my sister, who lives about 11 hours away, and earlier in the week when we got the poor prognosis, she had asked me, “Do you think we need to come?” I saw how serious it was firsthand, and I told her that yes, I definitely would because she was pretty bad off and at that point I was pretty certain she wasn’t going to recover, so she and her family planned to come on Thursday, leaving after my niece got out of school and arriving super late overnight. However, with Mom taking a bad turn early Thursday morning, I talked to my sister and urged them to leave as soon as possible, so they pulled my niece out of school mid-morning so they could arrive about 4 hours earlier.

And I won’t lie: I was terrified they wouldn’t make it there in time. Each minute ticking by while waiting for my sister was an eternity, as we texted each other the entire time they were in transit so she would know what was going on and so I could know how close they were. It was incredibly nerve-racking, but finally they arrived around 11 p.m. and came straight to the hospital. By this point, my mom was sleeping probably 95% of the time and was largely unresponsive, but I know my mom could hear us at different points, and I know it meant a lot for my sister to just be there one last time before she passed.

Beginning Thursday night, my sister and I both stayed overnight at the hospital with our mom. I’d been going to the hospital each morning, staying until dinner time, going home to have dinner with my family, then returning for a few hours in the evening until it was time to come home and go to bed so I could do the same thing again the next day. It was starting to wear on me, and since Mom’s condition was becoming worse, I decided I wanted to stay at the hospital too. Over the weekend we visited with a variety of friends and family who came to say their final goodbyes.

Even though she was unresponsive, we acted like she DID know what we were saying, and I’m so glad we did, as we later got indication that she’d been listening in the whole time.

On Friday, March 29, she had her repeat FEES study, and not surprisingly, she failed that, so we stopped the feeding tube and started her on some morphine doses periodically. At that point, the name of the game was keeping her comfortable, which meant keeping her fever down with medicine and cold washcloths, keeping her chest congestion (the one that causes the well-known “death rattle”) under control, and doing things like keeping her mouth moistened. I also made sure to pay attention to the little things, including turning to NBC every weekday at 1 p.m. so she could “watch” Days of Our Lives; I despise the show personally but I know it’s her favorite, so I did it for her. “It’s time for Days, Mom. I know you wouldn’t want to miss it.” I held her hand. I stroked her forehead. I kicked into caregiver mode and did everything I could to help make her more comfortable.

After dinner on Friday night, all four grandkids (my two kids and my sister’s two kids) came to the hospital to see their Nana (and they did once more on Saturday too). The kids were entertaining each other more than paying attention to Nana in the hospital bed, but it was still nice to have everyone there together one last time. A cousin of mine — whom we hadn’t seen in years other than on Facebook — even flew up from North Carolina for a quick visit; she was there less than 20 hours, but I know even that little bit of time was so special to her. Getting to spend this time with friends and family, talking and reminiscing and yes, even laughing, was very cathartic for us.

That weekend at the hospital was rough, though. You hated to leave the room for fear of her dying then. (But we did get out from time to time, because we knew it was good for us.) I told several people that I was terrified to be there when she passed, but I was also terrified to NOT be there. We got a tremendous amount of support from the hospital staff, from the nurses, to the doctors, to the palliative care nurses and doctors, to the chaplains who came to see us several times a day. Everyone was there to make sure our questions were answered and that our needs were met as well.

By Saturday night, I was just drained. I’d been at the hospital more often than not for a full week. I missed my own family. I missed my own bed. But I continued to put on a brave face and carry on. I needed to be there. I wanted to be there.

That night, the second-shift nurses gave Mom a sponge bath that roused her quite a bit. Her eyes were open — which they hadn’t really been since about Wednesday — and she was showing some additional signs of responsiveness. I can’t explain it, but it just looked like she was fully there, which hadn’t been the case over the previous days. Our Mom was back, even if just for a little while.

We knew to take advantage of it, to cherish it, as it was probably her final rally before eternal slumber….


One Response to Like sands through the hourglass

  1. Beth says:

    This is a beautiful tribute to her, I feel like I’m walking her final journey with her.

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