Monday, July 28, 2008

Letting Go

A good friend of mine is going through some tough times. His mother is terminal and he and his sister made the decision to take her off of life support. He is handling it well, as well as someone can handle losing their mother. I know exactly how he feels. I know because on May 3, 1999 I went through the exact same thing with my mother.

Mother was a beautiful woman. Full of life and love. She met my father while attending Murray State University. She was from Mississippi/Arkansas and Dad was of course from here. I wrote recently about their first date and how she was shy and "played" with a salad on their first date. That was when Dad nicknamed her Bunny. It stuck. They were married a long time. Three kids came out of the union. Myself, my brother So and another brother Mike. They waited 8 years before they had So. Dad was in dental school and they wanted to get settled before they had a family. People didn't do that as much then as they do now.

She was a stay at home mom for many many years. It seems like she started working part time when I was about 11 or so, old enough to be home by myself after school. She worked part time at a local grade school as a teacher's aide and she loved it. When it started looking like she and Dad might have some serious problems she wisely got a job and a local hospital in the insurance department. She worked there for 15 years until her retirement. She and I once took a charted bus from the hospital to the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville. We had a great time. I am so glad we went because it wasn't very long after that we realized something was not right.

She had just recently retired from the hospital. She had money in savings and was planning on going on a cruise. Something she had always wanted to do. We started noticing something around Christmas of that year. Her speech was a bit slurred but I thought it was due to some codeine cough syrup the dr had given her but it continued even after she was no longer taking it.

After discussing this with her and my brothers we decided to take her to the doctors here. They referred her to a specialist at Vanderbilt in Nashville. We thought at first she might have Parkinson's disease. That was ruled out by the doctor in Nashville. She was diagnosed with Lou Gerick's disease aka amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. She also had dementia. The latter proved to be a blessing because in later years it helped her to not know what was happening to her.

She was able to live in her house for a while but while I was pregnant with Stephanie in 1991 she fell several times. Poor thing. She told me, well she wrote on a pad, she was no longer able to speak, that she needed to go to a nursing home and she told me which one she wanted to go to. Luckily that one had an opening and we were able to move her in. She was the youngest mother in the home. She got an award on Mother's day as the youngest mother! She just grinned and grinned at that. We got her a wheelchair, set up her TV, told the nurses to be sure and put it on Days of Our Lives at the appropriate time. We had pictures of the family around for her to see. We tried to make it as homey as possible.

Her roommate used to talk about her being a young whippersnapper, wearing shorts and such. lol We did laugh out loud. We laughed and laughed and laughed. Mom became quite juvenile in her behavior but I didn't care. I would go by after work and take her outside on the front porch. There was a lady there with a brain tumor that used to take inventory of her purse. I can remember me and Mom dying laughing at her. Mom would point and laugh just like a kid.

She slowly started regressing however. She started to be a bit despondent. The doctor came by regularly but it was the disease. Normally a person will not live past 5 years after the first notice of ALS. Mother lived for almost 9 years. Eight of those years she spent as a complete vegetable. She didn't know anyone. She just laid there. That was where the dementia was a blessing. I saw her frequently. It would literally take me days to get over visiting her. But I did anyway because she was Mom. She was fed through a feeding tube. She had to have it replaced from time to time and in 1999 when the nursing home called me to say that it had come out and needed to be replaced I knew it was time. It was past time. I called both of my brothers and we all agreed to let her go. I talked to her doctor for a long time before I called my brothers. I had to be sure she would not suffer. He told me that starvation in this way was not painful and that she would die peacefully.

So that was what happened. Was it an easy decision to make? Yes it was. Some people might think that is crude but I say "walk a day in my shoes. See your mother like that and then and only then dare you say a word." I had quit my job a few weeks before in order to care for Mom. The nursing home called me that day and told me it would not be long. Joe and I went. We stayed by her side. Joe decided to go out and smoke. That was a few minutes before 4:30pm. While he was out of the room I noticed her breathing was becoming more and more shallow. I held her hand and stood beside her. I started talking to her. I said "it's ok Mom, go, we love you, go home." It was then that she looked at me. Square in the eyes. She heard me. Do you hear me? She heard me. I told her that I loved her, that we all did but it was time. I told her I would see her in Heaven. That was when she took her last breath. I sat down and imagined her soul rising up to The Lord. I didn't cry. I smiled. I was happy. She was pain free forever. About that time Joe came into the room and I told him. He called for a nurse and they checked her and sure enough she was gone.

I have thanked God so many times since for those precious few minutes. I knew she heard me. That was our gift from God.

Those of you who still have your parents are lucky. I lost my Mom, Dad and stepmother that same year. I was 42 years old and that is mighty young in my book to lose your parents. So maybe the next time your mom or dad makes you mad at something take a moment and realize how lucky you are to still have them. Oh how I would give up most anything to have just a few minutes with Mom and Dad. But as it is I will have to wait until I get up there with them.

I have never ever regretted what my brothers and I did that year for Mom. It was time. I know that losing parents is tough but sometimes we have to put ourselves aside and do what is best for them. That is being a responsible son or daughter. At least I think so.


Scott W said...

Go ahead and make me cry.

Dan and Betty Cooksey said...

Thanks, Trail, for sharing such deep memories. Both of my parents are gone. They died from a combination of old age and smoking most of their lives. My dad was on life support for awhile. Our criteria was that was fine as long as the doctors told us it would be therapeutic - i.e., it would help his body get better. Once that passed, we made the same decision. Life support is a relatively new technology in the grand scheme of things. Before the 1950's your mother and my father would have died the same death, only much earlier and it would have been considered the normal course of events. You loved your mother and did the best you could.

Warmest regards,


Anonymous said...

Your Mom, loved you very much too. Even in her vegatative state, she was holding on, when you told her it was OK to go home, she let go. Thanks for sharing this, I most definately do take my parents and many other people for granted, thanks for the reminder.

Zane-nawwaa said...

A very tender and beautiful remembrance.

Pony Girl said...

TB, that was a hard story to share I'm sure. I am teared up and feel your pain. But like you said, you knew in your heart it was the right thing to do. How special you were able to be there in her final moments, and to see her make eye contact, to have that last connection. Wow. I can't imagine losing one of my parents. I would not be able to function.

Pam said...

Thank you for sharing that sugar, it is scarey for me as my Mother gets older, but I'm not sure exactly what I'm afraid of.

Jenn said...

You were very lucky to have a mom that loved you and you loved too. I'm way to soft hearted and that made me cry,and wish I had parents that liked me . You are right though I think when it's time ,it's time and you should do what is best for the person ,even if it breaks your heart, I don't think you should make someone suffer just so you can see them whenever you want. You did a very brave thing that some people just can not or will not do.

Trailboss said...

Jenn, I was saddened to read your comments about your parents. I hope someday that can be worked out. I don't pretend to take any credit for being brave. My brothers agreed it was the right thing to do also. It was time for her to go home. If I had it to do over the feeding tube wouldn't be put in but, that was Mom's decision and I can understand that. She was still able to make her own decisions then.

Jenn said...

Don't be bothered by that, that's not why I said it. I have been on my own since I was 15. I just sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have nice parents, my dh's mom is great and she loves me and I love her so it's all good!

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

You are a wise and wonderful woman Trailboss. Darn it-you made me cry.

The Wades said...

Wow--that was very touching. I really teared up.

I'm sorry you and your mama had to go through that. It's wonderful that you loved each other so much!

Thanks for sharing.