"How Do I Die?" Mom asked
Dear FF Reader:
This blog came as a surprise. It holds sacred memories of the death of my grandmother and dad. It reveals personal beliefs, foul language, woo-woo, poor grammar style, and even worse punctuation.
September 21, 2021
I visited Mom today. She was articulate and eerily with it. We were in a private room so we could visit without masks. Coraline joined me. She wanted pets.
“How’s it going, Mamo?” I ask
She didn’t smile. She looked confused, and said, “Why are you visiting me here? Aren't I supposed to be somewhere else?" She pauses. "I don’t know why I’m here.”
She looks out the window while I pull up a chair. "What's going on today, Mom."
“Nothing makes any sense," she says with hand gestures. "Everything is off. I don’t understand the "why" of any of it.” She trails off, “I guess the why doesn’t matter. None of it matters anymore.”
This is NOT the essence or vocabulary of someone in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, or maybe it is and I've not experienced it yet?
Mom looks at me, I’m assuming for comfort. “Do you know why? Why am I here ...and "where" is here?”
I didn’t bullshit her. I explained she has no memory because she has a disease called Alzheimer's. A form of dementia where it has declined to the degree she lives at The Seasons of Reno.
She sat quietly for a time. I didn’t ask her if she knew what that meant because I could tell she very much knew what that meant.
“I don’t even know who I am, or even who I was. Who was I?” she says in desperation.
I tell her she used to rule the world. “Do you remember ruling the world, Mom?”
She looks at me and says, “If I did, I was probably an ass!”
I burst out laughing, which got her laughing.
She settles down and says, “I don’t want to be here.”
I knew what she meant, but I instead reply, “You visit me and the dogs at my house (a fib), and the dogs and I come here too, like Coraline and I are here now…”
“No,” Mom says, “I mean, I don’t want to be here. How do I die?”
I knew this is what she meant all along. I didn't skip a beat. "Well, we could move to Oregon?! Dying by choice is legal there."
She squishes her face like she's eaten something sour. "What's Oregon?" she asks.
"Not important," I say waving away my hand. “And don't ask me again to 'take you behind the barn and shoot you.' It’s illegal and I’d go to jail. I love you, but I won’t go to prison for you.” She laughs.
I became serious and quiet. “I think your death is between you and God, Mom. Talk to Him. Strike a deal. Then clue me in so I’m prepared.”
"I talk to Him all the time,” she says with complete adoration and surrender.
I was told by her friends recently who visit frequently and are qualified to bring her communion, that she understands the holy communion process and can still recite every prayer. It seems her spat with God has come to an end?
I take a leap of faith and say, "Well, keep me posted if you start getting visits from Dad, or Pa or Gram, or Father Carr or other friends that have passed away."
She looks at me curiously. “Oh? Why?”
“Because you taught me from your days in Hospice that people in the final stages of dying, are visited by their loved ones, even pets! And they seem to come for them. You witnessed this countless times. It happened with Gram. She kept reaching out, either wiggling or opening and closing her extended fingers.
"By the look on her face, I knew it was Pa she was seeing. When Gram was lucid, she told me several times Pa has come for her."
Mom looked at me, “Mom died?" A pause, then, "...And Dad?”
“Yes. Gram about 20 years ago and Pa died 46 years ago.”
“Gosh, I don’t remember any of this.” Another pause, “That long?” she says sadly. She looks out the window again, and starts to cry quietly.
"Are you okay?" I ask.
"It sounds like a peaceful death," she says, still looking out the window.
"It was." I say. "You made sure of it. Actually Mom, you are sounding like Gram today, being so resolved with wanting to know how to die." This seemed to make Mom happy, even relieved to hear this. “Really?” she says, “Gram wanted to die?”
“Yep." I say. "She was in a lot of pain from bone cancer, though you'd never know it. She was tired, and said it was "time to go." I remember the last week she was alive, I came over to visit. Gram was lying on the couch. Her eyes closed, with her hands in a funny position, resting on her tummy. It looked like she was taking her pulse,” I say, animating my hands, trying to lay prone in my chair. It made Mom laugh.
I continued, "I sat down next to her, lightly touched her shoulder, and Gram opened her eyes. “Hi Gram” I said gently, “What’s with the hand position?”
“Am I still here? Have I died?” Gram asked hopeful.
I smiled, “You’re still here.”
"Tsst” she said looking disappointed, “I’m taking my pulse to see if I’m dead. It's time to go.”
Mom continues to smile. Coraline is at her side getting her pets. Then Mom became somber. “I don’t remember any of this. None of it. Ohhh, I hate this! I don’t remember anything.
I don’t remember who I am.”
“You were an ass, remember?” I pipe up and say. Mom laughs at this again.
“On the contrary, Mom. You made Gram’s final days wonderful. You brought Gram to your house to die. She had family around her. Monsignor McFadden came over and gave her her last rites. I’d never seen Gram so relieved and grateful to see anyone! Monsignor cracked a few jokes in his usual fashion, making Gram smile, then got on with business. She died the next day.
“Rach was with us too, your neice." Mom nods. "She came racing into the living room where you, Suzie and I were talking, waving her arms saying that something was happening. We all ran back to Gram’s room. Rach was right, Gram was dying. She was reaching out with her fingers extended like I had seen before. She took a few troubled breaths... and --- died. When she was gone, you put your head on her chest and sang, “Peg ’O My Heart,” and “You Are My Sunshine.” I stood in the middle of the room, arms up, so happy for her, shouting “Good! Job!! Gram!!! ” You made her death pretty darn wonderful, Mom. So see? You weren’t an ass all the time.” She laughs, but her mouth was trembling.
“You did the same for Dad." I say. "You retired as Chaplain for Hospice to take care of him.”
She looks over at me. “I worked in hospice? Why would I do that?"
“Beats me?!” We laugh. "You were intuitive, compassionate, empathetic and kind. Dad’s death couldn’t have been more peaceful, just like Gram's.”
“Dean’s gone? She looked surprised. "Why did he die?"
“He smoked for 50 years! He died of COPD.” I said.
Mom rolls her eyes, “Typical male,” she says. “When was this?”
“He’s been gone about 15 years now,” I answer. She looks down and fusses with her hands, and starts to cry again.
“Gosh, I don’t remember any of this," she says through tears. "It doesn't matter. None of it matters anymore."
I move my chair even closer to her. "Mom, I will do whatever I can for you too. Just name it. Nothing illegal though. I love you, but not that much,” she smiles. I could tell she was getting tired, so I say I need to get Coraline home to get her and Frank fed.
When we got up to leave, I said, "Wow Mom, I need a cocktail after this conversation. What'd ya think?"
"Oh HELL yes!" she says.
We walk into the main lobby area. She has already forgotten our talk.
"Would you like to sit over here? I think dinner time is coming up." She walks with her walker over to her favorite chair, friends are sitting and waiting for the dining room to open. She plops down with a "whumph!" and I can see she's tired. I lean in to kiss her cheek, and say, "I'll be back again tomorrow," a phrase that always makes her smile and feel calm.
"Okay, honey." she says. She pets Coraline, gives her a kiss on the forehead and we turn to leave.
What Is True For Me
I cried most of the way home, not because every bit of this Alzheimer's journey is shitty, but because this visit was extraordinary. Plus, I can't help but ponder how or why I am not afraid of any part of this journey with Mom? When Dad was dying, it scared the hell out of me - and I stayed away. I still can't define why. To this day, I am ashamed I wasn't more brave. I thought there was something I needed to DO and couldn't. I didn't realize there wasn't anything TO do. Just BE. It's okay to just be. I'm quite sure my next visit will be entirely different. Visits are like a box of chocolates, Forrest Gump says, "You never know what you're going to get." My caveat to this is, LIFE is like a box of chocolates. . .