Six months ago today was the last time I spoke to my mother. She died peacefully in her sleep early the next morning. I didn’t write much about her in my previous blogs mostly because she was such a private person and her story was not mine to tell. But also because, from a family caregiving perspective, I had it easy, so there wasn’t much to tell. But today I feel compelled to share my story about saying good bye to my mother.
When I sat down to write this post I looked back to what and when I last wrote. It was very confusing, sitting here in 100-degree July heat and looking at an image of winter holidays and grief. Had it been that long since I wrote? Surely my website had a glitch and rearranged my posts. But then I looked at what I wrote and the date it posted and was overcome with a wave of sadness. Because December 21st was the day that everything changed.
I usually write these posts a few days in advance and schedule them to publish on a certain day. And this particular post was definitely preplanned to give myself several days to prepare for my mother, daughter and new son-in-law to descend on my house for the holiday weekend.
But things did not go as planned that day. It began quietly, sitting with my morning coffee making a list of what needed to get done before I drove to North Carolina to bring my mother back to my house for the weekend. But my quiet morning was soon interrupted by a phone call from my sister that changed everything. Plan B had to be put into action.
As I shared in my blog, From Wedding Bells to Bootcamp, my mother had a severe bout of pneumonia in early October. Recovering enough to dance at my daughter’s wedding but taking its toll on her physically. For the next two months she became increasingly short of breath and eventually required full time oxygen.
In early December, following an early morning crisis, panicked phone calls and some forceful words from me, she relented and signed herself up for hospice services. She loved her hospice nurse Maya and all of the special care and attention she received. She was feeling better and still able to manage things on her own.
But things were changing, and this prompted me to write my blog about grieving through the holidays.
As a family, we knew that this would be our last Christmas together so we were going to make it as special as possible, by keeping it as normal as possible. But with the phone call from my sister, we did what all family caregivers must learn how to do, we adapted and changed plans. We kept our Christmans traditions by bringing everything to her, including the old VHS player so we could watch our favorite Christmas videos. It was wonderful and special and brings tears to my eyes as I sit here and remember.
It was only a few weeks of fulltime care by my fabulous siblings before we had to say our final good-byes. My mother gave us such a gift of that time together. I know it brought joy to my mother hearing us laughing over the silliness that ensued as we shared small spaces and watched hours of TV courtroom justice to fill the time. But the time was well spent caring for her and leaving nothing left unsaid. So when she died peacefully in her sleep, while we slept, we were also at peace.
Below is what I shared with my extended family and friends shortly after her death. I share it with you now, six months after her passing, to honor her memory and to share my story. And as a way for me to get back to the task at hand of helping you on your family caregiving journey.
“To My Family and Friends
As many of you already know my mother Helen Miller died peacefully in her sleep early Friday morning January 20th, celebrating her 72nd wedding anniversary with my Dad in heaven on January 21st.
For those of you who knew her she was a strong presence, a joyful optimist and tremendous role model. A woman characterized by an unshakable faith and a fabulous sense of humor. Our house growing up was filled with constant laughter. She loved her children fiercely, accepted us unconditionally and not just forgave but forgot our mistakes. She is and will forever be greatly missed.
A year ago at age 92 she was diagnosed with stage 4-lung cancer but she did not let that stop her. She danced at two weddings including Jessica’s – even with pneumonia! My mother always spent Christmas at my house but this year we brought the party to her house. We had a great last Christmas together “glamping,” sleeping on the floor of her two-bedroom apartment. Wonderful memories we will cherish forever.
In typical Helen fashion she gave us plenty of notice of her decline so that all of her children could gather and spend some great quality time with her during her final month. She was laughing, joking and surrounded by family right up to the end.
Thank you to those who have sent me cards, letters, offered condolence and for the Mass that was recently offered. These expressions of sympathy and support have touched my heart.
Wishing you a life like my mother had – surrounded by family and filled with love and laughter!”
I hope that sharing my journey was helpful to you today. Please leave me a comment or send me an email to Pat@PatThorne.com. Also be sure to follow me on Facebook at The Sojourner Project.
So until next time – take care of yourself and know that there is
…help for the journey