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My Mother’s Last Days

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Mother weighs less than 90 pounds. She hasn’t walked in over a year, and her leg muscles are drawn into a near-fetal position. The skin on her haunches is so thin it breaks open, and her care providers and I fear an infection.

It’s been heartbreaking to walk with her through the valley of the shadow of her death. To be honest, I’m amazed she’s still here. Did I tell you, mother has dementia?

For the last few weeks, mother hasn’t eaten more than 20 percent of her food; food that’s minced so she doesn’t choke because of her difficulty swallowing. For someone in her condition, choking would most likely result in pneumonia… and a painful death. Her voice is weak, and her words are sometimes hard to make out. Yesterday she asked me about the people she saw on the ceiling: a man and a little boy, standing behind him, and a “mystery dog.”

Today the Hospice pastor reminded me of Psalm 139:16. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” If you believe in God, then only He knows when she will die. If it were up to me, I would have ended her suffering long ago.

The mother I role reversed with, when I was 12, would have succumbed before now, but this mother… This fragile woman is hanging onto life like a mother tiger, fighting for her cubs.

A week ago I told her it was okay for her to let go, and go with God. “This isn’t a quality of life either of us want for you,” I said.

With a laser-like focus I haven’t seen in years, she looked at me and asked, “What are you trying to tell me?”

“God loves you, mother,” I said. “If you were with God, your body would be whole, and you wouldn’t be frightened or depressed or confused anymore.”

Once more, with clarity, she asked, “What exactly does that mean?”

“You’re nearing the end of your journey,” I said. “The end of your life.”

For the next few minutes I squeezed water into her mouth with a paper towel I’d soaked in water. She raised her hand for me to stop and looked at me like she’d emerged from a fog.

“I’m still processing that I’m dying,” she said.

“Are you afraid of dying?” I asked her.

“No,” she said, still focused on my face. “But I’m worried about you.”

I haven’t heard mother process new input like that since long before James died. Nearly five years. I stroked her forehead and held her hand and smiled as big as the sun. A smile she would believe. “I’m healthy and happy, and I’m blessed, mother. There’s nothing more you can do for me, here,” I said. “You’ve given me everything I need. Thank you.”

On some level, mother knows something’s wrong. While I always have an answer for her repeated “Where’s James” questions, because of her dementia, I haven’t told her of his death. I couldn’t bear the thought of explaining, over and over again, what happened, and I didn’t want to take the chance that after one of our visits, she might think I was the one who died.

I sometimes wonder if mother’s still here to teach me something. The gravity of this thought weighs on me. I pray I honor her and am there for her and that her last days of struggle are not in vain.

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36 thoughts on “My Mother’s Last Days”

  1. Brenda your story reminds me so much of the days I spent sitting by my grandmother’s side. Here she was a very frail seemingly small woman of good Polish stock that did everything.Except bake cookies.. Her cookies if used as a secret weapon could do serious damage if thrown and someone was hit.lol. The bottoms were generally a little darker than should be but we loved her we never complained.. Now she was on her bed curled up asking when her husband was coming with his new “Black Station Wagon” She would say she allowed him this one black car because it was special and she did not like black cars because it looked like a funeral vehicle.. We never had a black car ever.Did she know something we didn’t and was just waiting? I loved sitting by her bed brushing her pure white hair… My son was barely 5 he’d sit feeding her little pieces of food and the dog sleeping under her bed ..At times she was lucid very clear most she’d drift off to the past when they escaped from Europe. These are milestones of moments we cherish yet inwardly we sometimes wish it would be over .. yes we say for “their sake” But I think more for us because it’s painful for us knowing how they were and what is. Death is elusive it just comes unexpectedly even though we knew…we are still shell shocked..
    My grandpa came with his Black Station Wagon they took that trip were finally together again ..Your mom will know when’s she ready.These last days are only what we have left…. I think of them often, at 94 shoveling the driveway so the mail man wouldn’t slip in a storm, shopping at her favourite Wal Mart Store virtually running down the aisles..Then one day she was tired….Those weeks are forever embedded in my mind, not in a sad way but full of her……..Take care Alli…x

    • Oh, Alli! Thank you for your story about your grandmother. She must have been a determined and spirited woman. I love that even at 94, she was shoveling snow to protect the mail man. You’re right when you say we want it to be over for “their sake,” but it’s for us as well. It’s so very difficult to see her this way. Last night, I asked them to begin giving her morphine to ease her pain. That’s all I can do now… That and take comfort in the words of friends, like you. Love, Brenda

  2. I do believe it’s important for us to tell our loved ones that they can go in peace. I sometimes feel they wait to meet a particular person before they pass. Could she be hoping to meet James? How hard this must be for you, Brenda. Sending your thoughts and prayers and wishing you strength and wisdom.

    • Dear Corinne,
      I appreciate your prayers and thoughts. I also think you’re right: Mother’s been waiting for something, but I think it’s to make sure I’m alright. Yesterday she talked about me and my inheritance–of which there is none–but I reassured her it was all taken care of and I was alright. She said, “Oh good. You’ll be alright.” All I can do now is reassure her and love her. xoxox, Brenda

  3. I pray you have peace as you navigate through this difficult journey. God bless you as he gives you strength for each day and wisdom to guide you as to what is best for your dear mother. Much love, Jan xx

    • Thank you Jan! I always love seeing you here. Your prayer gives me strength and makes me cry. Loving you back, Brenda

  4. I could have written this. When I knew nothing else to do I told Mother it was OK to let go and thankfully she did.

    • So many of us are going down this same path, together. I’m praying my mother lets go as well. xoxo

  5. Sending love and prayers Brenda as you navigate this crucial passage with your Mom! You’re a loving and kind daughter. She will go when her spirit tells her. God bless you both!!
    XXXX Jennifer

    • Thank you, Jennifer. These are trying days. Everyone’s prayers and kind words lift me up. Love, Brenda

  6. this is such a heart breaking time for you – sometimes we wonder why death is so drawn out – and sometimes it is too quick. You are being such a great daughter to your mum and an inspiration to those of us who will be in your place one day. Stay strong x

    • Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough for her, but then again, there’s nothing else I can do but love her as she fades away. Thank you, Leanne. xoxox, Brenda

  7. this post is is beautiful and sad and heart shattering and Im ever so grateful you are willing to share. love and prayers your way.

  8. So heartbreaking and sad and a scary look at the future for me. I know one day I will have to say goodbye. I see everyday the changes that are happening faster than they had been. I hope when it’s time I will be able to offer such grace.

    • Rena, I only know you online, but I see a loving, gracious woman in you. It’s not easy, but I’m confident you will be and do exactly what’s needed at that moment.

  9. What a gorgeous bit of writing. My grandmother will be 98 tomorrow and I am her legal guardian. Although I could describe her physical condition much in the same way you describe your mother’s, my grandmother is still very much alive and able to have relatively meaningful conversations (even if they’re the same over and over again). And I too wonder what she is here to teach me…I didn’t always wonder that. Keeping you in my heart…

    • I’ve decided the answer is compassion and role reversing. What would we want from our loved ones if we were in their place… and we will be someday. xoxox

  10. Heart wrenching and beautiful in the same moment. My eyes filled with tears, how tenderly you care for her with carefully offered water. Thank you for sharing those moments, you both will be in my thoughts and prayers as you journey together. I was my mom’s primary care giver, she lived with us and died of pancreatic cancer. Wishing you some gentle moments.

    • Terri,
      I have some idea about dying from pancreatic cancer, so I know you’ve already been an angel here on earth. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it?
      Thank you,
      Brenda

  11. Hello, this is my first time reading your blog and I found your post about your mother beautiful and touching. It is so hard to watch a loved one die. Exactly one year ago and i sat with my sister-in-law as she was dying of cancer. She lived several weeks longer than the hospice doctors said she could live. She was holding on to something. As terrible as that time was, her death gave me a gift, of compassion, of understanding and of lessened fear of death. You have been given a gift to be with your mother as she is dying. My own mother died alone, unexpectedly. I send my prayers to you and strength for the time ahead of you.

    • Oh Michele,
      Thank you for timely words I needed to hear. You’re right about being given a gift: It’s a gift for us and the person who’s dying. I’m not afraid of dying, just lingering, like mother, suffering through a demeaning, painful last days. My prayer is that God take her sooner, rather than later, but as you know, that’s not for us to decided.
      Thank you, again, sweet lady,
      Brenda

  12. Brenda, I’m only just commenting now as I wanted to read this when I was at home because I knew that it would be an incredibly touching and emotional post – as it is. I cannot imagine what this journey is like for you and I’m sorry that you are going through such a difficult time. You write about your mother and how you’re feeling with so much love and grace, sending you both prayers and love across the miles. Essie xx

  13. Brenda, your patience, love, and empathy is all one could ask for, and you gave them in generous doses. Love and prayers for you.

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