"She's gone! She's gone! She's gone," I cried out as I watched my mom take her very last breath. It seems like a foggy, distant memory, yet it feels like it was just yesterday. It seems like it was a bad dream, yet I can see, feel, and smell all that was present in the room that night. I can just barely close my eyes, and feel like I am right back there again, in that very moment.
It was very early in the morning on Thursday, December 4, 2008. We were in the living room of my parent's house, Me, Dad, Joy, Patrick, and our Pastor. It was a chilly night, 3 weeks before Christmas. The lights were dimmed, but the Christmas tree shone bright as it stood directly in front of Mom's hospital bed. We had got it out of the attic and decorated it on Thanksgiving Day, as she had wanted the tree up early this year........she knew her days were short. We had been told earlier that week by Hospice that it would probably only be a few more days, so we knew "it" was coming, but just did not know what "it" was or what it would look like.
You can NEVER be prepared to watch someone die, especially for the first time, especially when it's your mother. You can have months or even years to be "prepared," but you never will be. We had 20 months from start to finish......not long enough. Death does not have an exact equation. Although there are often many similarities, it can also look quite different. It does not always come the same way, nor in the same timing for everyone, not even those with a similiar diagnosis. And it surely did not come and knock graciously on our door that night.
After caregiving for her for weeks, after slowly watching her digress day in and day out, after all the research and reading we had done on dying, and finally, after the denial sunk into the bottom of the pit of our guts.....we all agreed the time was here, and Death was on its way, wether invited or not. She had not been the same that day, something was different, but we could not quite put our finger on it. The cancer had slowly taken over her entire body. She had stopped eating days before, and was not even taking sips of water much anymore. She was only able to mutter a couple words at this point, and was sleeping most of the time. There was the beginings of some molting on her feet, and a darker, thicker sedement had started to come through the cathetar. The coughing was the worst. That put us over the edge. It was so hard to listen to, although we were told it hurt us more than it was hurting her. By 10:00 p.m. the coughing had gotten so bad, that it was every few moments, and sounded like she was choking to death, literally. Like she was gurgling and drowning from the inside out. She could not swallow her own fluids, nor could she cough them up. They were just there, collecting in her throat, and there was nothing we could do about it. It worsened over the next 3 hours, as we watched her breathing patterns change, from long and deep, to short and deep, and finally to short and shallow, just as our Pastor suggested it might. We took turns by her side, as we all played our roles. Roles we could each handle in our own way, but roles in which we had not tried out for, nor had any experience or qualifiactions to be in. But, nonetheless, we played them. Joy, on the love seat, endlessly holding her hand, administering the liquid morphine under her tongue, Dad faithfully watching Mom's every breath from the couch, often coming over to sweetly stroke her head or face, Patrick on the front row seat made by an old wooden piano bench, Pastor Kirk in the over-stuffed chair by the Christmas tree directly in front of Mom, and me, here and there and everywhere, not really sure WHERE I wanted to be for this event. Somtimes, on the couch, sometimes leaving the room for a moment, sometimes next to Patrick holding Mom's hand until I had to brake for a breath of my own. I even found myself once in the next room crying out, "Take her, Jesus, just take her!" I eventually did muster up some strength from deep inside to tell Mom a few last words and one last "I love you." I told her we were all there with her, by her side, and that we were not going to stop holding her hand until Jesus took it from us. She slightly moaned....we all knew she had heard me. Moments after, the blueish color began to set in her face, and the Pastor said, "Not much longer, now. Not much longer." He was right. After hours of waiting and watching as if Death would never come to stop this suffering, it happened so quickly, so abruptly, and we could not take it back. After hours of a coma-like state, there was just one last short breath that seemed to feel her lungs, but no exhale would follow . Mouth opened, eyes opened, looking almost surprised, as if maybe she had seen "something" or "someone." Perhaps she had? Perhaps she saw her Maker, her Saviour, waiting for her? I like to believe so.
It was all so over-whelming. So confusing. I never knew you could experience so many emotions all at once. Glad her suffering was over, rejoicing of her Homecoming, but extreme sadness and sorrow like I have never felt before or even knew existed. I rose off the couch as I cried out, "She's gone! She's gone!" I remember making my way across the living room, going somewhere, but with nowhere to go. I wanted to run to Mom's body and embrace her, but knew she was not there. I wanted to keep my eyes on her, knowing it would be the last, but found myself not capable of even a glance. I felt the the warmth of the first person, my sister, who embraced me, who held me. I was sobbing uncontrollably......crying out......wailing. My knees became weak with sorrow and pain, I could hardly stand up. I felt Joy's grip tighten as she transitioned from embracing me to holding me up. Time went by. My weight was shifted from my sister to my husband, as my she turned toward Dad. The crying continued for some amount of time, until Dad finally asked, "What time was it?" "When did IT happen?" No one knew. We had completely lost track of time. Pastor Kirk, with tears in his eyes, looked down at his watch and said, it has been about 20 minutes. She probably died around 2:30 am.
Joy made the call to Hospice. Hospice arrived. They did their duties. They recorded their information. They gave their condolences. The funeral home showed up. It was almost too much to bear for me. One thing I had said from the begining was that I would NOT want to see them take her away. I did NOT want that image in my head, bu yet, when the time came, I was the one who could not stop watching. I could not bear to see her go, knowing it was the end. They transferred her onto the gurney and covered her body and head with a navy blue blanket. They began to wheel her outside, down the sidewalk that lead to the front door, where she had walked so many times before, down the driveway to the back of the all-white commercial van. She was placed inside, and the doors were shut. It was about 4:30 am, still dark, as I watched the van drive away, down her street, till I could no longer see the headlights anymore.......She was gone.