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May 9th, 2023 – Post #78
My mom has slept a lot of today. Part of that may be due to sleeping so little at night; but I think it’s also a sign that she’s getting closer to the finish line.
She has been unresponsive a lot of the time; but still hears much of what’s going on. If a door slams, she startles. If she hears a familiar voice, she does try to rouse herself; but she fades fast. Her eyes are often partially open at this point; but most of the time there is either no recognition, or they roll toward her eyelids. Every so often, she will voice a disapproving opinion with “a look” or “a look in the other direction” – saying so many things without a single word.
It makes me laugh to still see that little trace of spunk in her.
I don’t know when it was that we first realized that she often seems to be working reconnaissance when there’s a conversation going on in another room she wants to keep tabs on. It’s easy to tell by her face that she’s busy listening. I know in the last stages of life, even though a person may appear unconscious, they can often hear exactly what’s being said.
I’m sure our Beth-E will be using her exceptional hearing to stay in the loop during this last stretch for as long as she possibly can – so I guess we’d better mind our P’s and Q’s.
I told her she’s been a real trooper through all of this, and it was precious to me how she kept trying to repeat the word “trooper” after that.
She hasn’t had any vomiting since last night; but there were lots of false alarms from about 2am on through this morning. When I’d ask her if she was going to be sick, she’d whisper, “I wish I could throw up – I think I’d feel better.” I could tell by the crease on her forehead and the rigidness of her body that she wasn’t able to relax most of the morning.
Keeping her comfortable is our chief concern at this point. For a long time, she has hardly used any of the medication available to her; but has needed it lately and we have been increasing the space between doses today, in an effort to deter some of the distress she’s experiencing.
Before, it was pretty distressing to me to give her the medication, because of the contorted faces she’d make – she couldn’t stand the taste (this woman could give Carol Burnette a run for her money, the way she can express herself without a word). I’m thankful that she seems to be less aware of how much she dislikes it – that has made administering the meds a lot less stressful.
She continues to have little moments where she starts to cough, which sends adrenaline right through me. That little cough has been the signal that she’s about to start choking and get sick to her stomach. It’s a struggle to find the bed controller, get her upright and sufficiently covered with a towel, then get the cup up to her mouth in time. All the while, the helpless look on her face is rather heart wrenching.
Thankfully, today has pretty much only been false alarms; but the process is exhausting and distressing – especially since it started up again about 2am last night, and didn’t seem to let up until this afternoon. She still has those moments; but they haven’t included vomiting.
Since this afternoon, they have also been punctuated with a quick gasp for breath, like somebody having the wind knocked out of them. Her breathing hasn’t completely transitioned yet; but there are brief samples here and there that remind me that part is probably coming soon.
Death is a hard thing to deal with, and in a way, I think it’s strange that all these little terrible moments seem to make coping with the loss a little easier. Seeing my mom suffer makes me much more ready to let her go.
It is a strange sort of mercy to experience these brief moments, holding my own breath, wondering if she’ll take another herself. As this pattern happens again, and again, and again, I get to the place where I start hoping it’s goodbye, instead of being afraid for it.
As the pangs indicating death draw closer and closer, building in severity, they remind me of contractions before a birth.
I have to remind myself that death is not the ultimate end. It is the entrance into eternity. It is a sort of new birth that is beyond our finite comprehension.
Lest I get too deep, I’ll also say that my hoping she goes soon may very much also be a survival instinct for self-preservation; because sometimes there is a feeling that her “dying” will kill me first. Sleep deprivation, stress, empathy, etc… all converge to make caregiving seem ironically hazardous to my health.
Maybe I already shared this – I can’t remember; but I had to laugh a few weeks back when my mom was looking at me rather sentimentally, then said, “I don’t want to see you get old.”
My not-so-sentimental response was, “Well then, you’d better wrap this up, because you are definitely aging me.”
That would probably sound terrible to most people; but it made us both laugh.
Did I also tell you that when my dad was asking me about my future plans, she piped in and said, “Jody can move in next to me when I go to Wabash.”
She is going to have a beautiful view; but I think I’ll just find a spot somewhere in the vicinity, rather than the “basement apartment” that will be available beside her in the cemetery. I’m not quite ready to move into that neighborhood.
But you never know – they way she has beat the odds, I may get there first.