A rite of passage. In the past, I have tried to comfort others who have lost their parents. A card. A hug. A phone call.
On November 17th, my Momma Aleene passed. Now, NOW I finally understand what my friends who have lost their parents have gone through. Now I understand the rite of passage.
Momma had suffered a mild stroke in early October and while she insisted she wanted to stay home that day and avoid any trip to the hospital, by late afternoon I knew that I had to make a decision to override her wishes. While at the emergency room, she was spunky and alert although her left side was definitely affected. She flirted with the young doctors and carried on conversations with the hospital staff. It wasn’t long before they all knew they had a crafting celebrity in their midst and she promised one and all a bottle of Aleene’s Tacky Glue.
I think it was that night that my sister-in-law Kathy said to me that I needed to be prepared. She did not think that Momma would last until Thanksgiving. I sat there unbelieving. She was 91 but she was still relatively active, enjoying her daily adventures with Maggie, our wonderful caregiver. Sure this was a setback for her, but I couldn’t believe in the possibility that she could be gone in 8 short weeks.
Turns out, she would be gone in 6 weeks.
I have been wrestling in my mind with what I wanted to share about the journey. I have tried a dozen times to write but I can never seem to find the right words. I think the best way for me right now is to offer the following brief advice:
- You’ve heard it said before but let me say it again. Tell your Momma (or anyone you care about in your life) that you love her every day. There will be a day when you won’t be able to say that to her.
- Have a support team that can help you through the end-of-life journey. I am beyond grateful to the home hospice care that Momma received, to our awesome caregiver Maggie and mostly to my sister-in-law Kathy, who intuitively knew exactly when to show up to give Momma and me (and Maggie) support.
- Talk through well in advance what your Momma’s wishes are for her funeral arrangements. I was fortunate with Momma because she made pre-paid arrangements two years in advance and made it very clear to me that she wanted no service and exactly how she wanted her remains to be scattered. This made it so much easier for me to cope during those first days in the grieving process.
- Be prepared to have to make decisions you probably won’t want to have to make. For me, the first distressed moment came when I had to accept the fact that we would have to medicate her in her final days, against her wishes. I sobbed the day I had to make that decision but it turned out to be the best to get her through the days before she slipped into a coma.
- Be prepared to say goodbye. On the night of her passing I returned home from work where Kathy and Maggie told me that the hospice nurse had stopped by earlier and told them Momma was “actively dying”. It took a moment for that to settle in as I had never heard that term before. I asked if that meant hours or days but there was no specific answer. Turns out, for us it meant 3-1/2 hours.
Once it settled in that Momma would be leaving us soon, we all gathered around her bed and started sharing stories. I loved hearing about some old and some new stories of Maggie’s adventures with Momma over the past year and Kathy’s stories of first meeting Momma across the table at a business sales meeting to becoming her daughter-in-law many, many years later. The stories were comforting and brought laughter to a solemn evening. Kathy was very astute as we were chatting to notice the change in Momma’s breathing and we tried to comfort her with tender words and gentle caresses and whispered to her it was OK to go.
For me, the reassuring moment was when I heard a big swoosh and felt Momma zoom by my right side with a BIG but comforting energy. I’m quite sure I startled the group when I practically shouted that I had just felt her leave. It was breathtaking. Within a few more minutes the breathing stopped and that was it. Her time here was complete.
It’s been almost a month now and I’m realizing that the numbness is just starting to wear off. I miss her dearly and I think about her all the time. She was so afraid that after she left that I would forget about her but we made a pact. I told her I would ALWAYS be talking to her and she said that she would leave me very specific signs that she is near. I do talk to her all the time and she is sending me those signs loud and clear.
I’m sharing this post in my Farmgirl journal because Momma was so excited to be moving to the Weekend Farmgirl ranch with me. She had big plans to garden and farm and reminisce about her teenage years as an avid horsewoman.
And so the journey continues.