One night last week, my 92 year old mother went to sleep and didn’t wake up.
When the phone call came the following morning, my initial reaction was shock. It wasn’t completely unexpected but when I’d talked to Dad a couple of days earlier, there were no warning signs; nothing to indicate that the end was so near.
I went through the motions that day, showing up for my treatment and shedding a few tears behind my radiation mask, but as I thought about it, I couldn’t help believing that it was for the best. Mom died in her own bed in the building next to Dad’s in the care complex where they’ve lived for the past few months. She didn’t linger in a hospital bed and we didn’t have to sit helplessly by and watch her suffer.
The timing bothered me because, in the middle of radiation treatments, I couldn’t simply drop everything and fly out to Vancouver. The family has been wonderful, however, agreeing to postpone gathering for a memorial service until my treatments are complete. Dad, ever the stoic, put my needs before his own, feeling it was important to ensure that everyone who wanted to attend would be able to.
And so we wait. I don’t know about the rest of the family, but in the past few days, I’ve begun to experience a sense of closure. In a way, my Mom has already been gone for a very long time. She started to sink into the depths of dementia a long time ago. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I had a real conversation with her, one where she was fully cognizant and engaged, one where she truly knew who I was. In recent years, she’s been trapped in a body that was blind, incontinent and confined to a wheelchair. More recently, she’d started to lose her ability to swallow and could only consume pureed food and thickened liquids. In spite of it all, she managed to retain her sweet spirit, but that’s no way to have to live.
Dad burned himself out trying to care for her before finally recognizing that he couldn’t do it any longer and worrying about the two of them was hugely stressful for the rest of us. Now it’s over. She is at peace and we have only Dad to worry about. As I work on writing her eulogy, I can begin to put aside the agony of watching her mind fade into the mist of confusion and her body fail. I can dig deeper and revive some of my earlier memories, the warm and funny memories of a mother and grandmother who loved her family above all else. It’s actually a pleasant way to mourn.
In preparation for the memorial service later this month, I’ve been digging through boxes of old family photographs that are stored at my place and flipping through my photo albums putting together a pictorial display of Mom’s life. In the process, I’ve been finding more than pictures; I’ve been finding memories. Stories that Mom told us about her early life have been coming back to me and I’ve been reliving births, graduations and weddings as well as the day to day events recorded in the pictures. I even found a photo that I don’t ever remember seeing before. Here we are, Mom and I, when I was under two!
In losing my mother, I think I’m beginning to find her again!