A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!
Americans don't much like to talk about death. Which is odd, because it is both huge and universal. So I will write once more about my mother's dying.
I went to Oshkosh the morning of April 1st because my sister and I weren’t sure whether Mom, who had pneumonia, was getting any better. She’d also been having frequent episodes of cardiac arrhythmia that caused her implanted defibrillator to go off, shocking her, something she hated.
We’d asked her to give the powerful heart medication she also hated a month, and if she still wanted to, then she could stop it all.
When I arrived at the assisted living community where she lived, Mom was in her chair, very vacant. She’d fallen in the night, bruising her hip and elbow. She knew I was there and who I was but registered no emotion. Then her defibrillator went off (the second time that morning).
Her cardiologist had told her to call 911 next time it happened. We did, and I beat the ambulance, which wasn’t in a hurry, to the emergency department where my sister, Karen, was working.
The doctor asked what we were there for.
“We want you to turn off her defibrillator, stop her amioderone, and order home hospice for her.”
I guess he thought I was a little direct, perhaps the merest bit bossy even. He checked with Mom, who was dozing.
“What year is it?”
“Who’s the president?”
Pause. Then, with a touch of distaste, the lifelong Republican said, “Bush.”
“Do you know what will happen if we turn off the defibrillator?”
“I will die.”
Karen called her son, Casey, to bring the new baby, William, so great-grandma Doris could meet him. Niece Molly came too, and Heather, Casey’s wife. Mom brightened with the baby, who’s named after my dad, the love of her life.
Karen and I sang some of the goofy songs mom used to sing when we were kids, Arthur Godfrey songs like Lonely Little Petunia and the Thousand Islands song. Mom smiled, while the kids listened in astonishment. I may be being a little generous in interpreting their reactions here.
The chaplain came, read some psalms and said the Lord’s prayer, which she repeated with him. “Thanks,” she said. I really needed that.” Then she asked, “What religion are you?”
“That’s okay. We won’t hold that against you.” Her last joke. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it wasn’t mean-spirited, and the chaplain laughed too.
There were many I love yous and kisses. When some who needed to leave left, we all pretended that the goodbyes were temporary.
The cardiac tech arrived and turned off the defibrillator. We took Mom back to her home, where hospice would be set up the next day. That was okay: I was staying overnight, and the assisted living aides would check in on her every hour.
Mom ate a little and seemed to enjoy it, especially the cream of tomato soup. Her brother called and they spoke a bit; so did my daughter Annie in Colorado.
Mom perked up some and was smiling, talking a little. We watched American Idol together. “I don’t like that Jason Castro,” she said.
“He’s a weak singer, but he sure is pretty,” I said.
About ten to 8 she said, “I’m tired now.”
“Should I call the aide or can you wait until 8 when she’s planning on coming?”
“I can wait.”
The aides came, walked her to the bathroom, cleaned her up. She was smiling. Walked her to her bed. I put her favorite pajamas on her and was just laying her down to sleep when her heart went into ventricular fibrillation. The aide came in to help. I called Karen and told her to get over fast.
I was saying the Lord’s Prayer again, King James style, when I heard Karen’s voice join in behind me: “Thy will be done. . .” We finished, and moments later, around 8:30, Mom softened and took her last breath.
It was as good an end as you can hope for, I think.
Then the same paramedics who took her to the hospital earlier came—a legal thing. Their arms were loaded with equipment. I told them if they tried to resuscitate her I would jump them and wrestle them to the ground. They assured me they weren’t going to do any such thing. A young woman police officer arrived and ended up staying the rest of the evening, in a companionable way. Then the coroner showed up—a friend of my sister’s. He stuck around, too. The facility administrator came. The funeral home guy.
Everything that needed doing was done by 10:00.
I went to Karen’s house to toss and turn. I couldn’t stop wondering where all that love Mom had for us went. Then I realized it hadn’t disappeared: it was in me, in all of us, just getting bigger. Then I could sleep.