Journey’s take many twists and turns, some expected, some not.  You are never ready for death even when you know it is coming.

Mom’s last week was very interesting. On Tuesday, September 15, we were up early and went to morning Mass. The cathedral is about 2 blocks from the condo and very walkable. Mom had declined enough so that we were driving and using a walker, much to her dismay. She was at church, never-the-less!

After church was breakfast of black coffee, blueberry muffins and Trop 50 OJ. Mom thoroughly enjoyed this version of breakfast. Blueberry muffins where her favorite. Mom was tired and decided to go for a nap after breakfast and my sister/brother-in-law left to do the laundry.

I decided to clean the bathrooms, vacuum and mop the floors. I was vacuuming and my thoughts were wandering as they do. When I stopped the vacuum, I could hear mom, moaning and she was crying. She was having chest pain for which I gave her the nitroglycerin, then morphine followed by texts to my sister and a call to hospice.  The hospice nurse (she is an angel) came. More morphine and finally some relief for mom. Frankly, we all thought mom would pass that day. We called my niece and she drove across the Florida peninsula to be with us. She stayed for the week.

With the aid of the hospice social worker, we were able to reach one of the priest’s at church for Sacrament of the Sick.  It took a long, long time for him to come, but come he did. Mom actually woke up a bit for the sacrament. Father blessed her and then he left.

It was like a light switch; mom was up and out of bed. She wanted ice cream and wine, which she got. My niece was so surprised when she arrive. She wanted to know how grandma was doing. And mom said “you want to dismiss that I died last night” with a wink! We had a good laugh and enjoyed nice conversation that afternoon. During this whole process for mom, she showed us nine times nine lives, always coming back and going for a walk to the beach. We didn’t go to the beach or the jetty that night.

Wednesday September 16, mom tried to get up for church. She was very unsteady and needed a lot of help. We talked her into virtual church and set up the computer to connect with the TV for easier viewing. Later in the day we were able to take her to the Venice Jetty. She so loved the jetty, watching the birds and the boats pass us by.

Thursday she was more unsteady and needed more help. She tells us “I have to go to church today”.  My brother-in-law suggested the wheelchair, oxygen and rolling her over to Mass, which we did. She was exhausted after church and took a nap. In fact, she slept through the hospice doctor’s visit. She was up for a bit that afternoon drinking her coffee, taste of a muffin and OJ. 

One of her wonderful neighbors stopped by with a malted milk shake. She enjoyed enough to take her medications. That was the last food and last time she took her regular medications.  When she took to the bed that day, it was the last time.

Mom started sleeping most of the time.  We could ask a question and get an answer in the beginning. Mom’s legacy is seven children, twenty-one grandchildren and twenty-two great grandchildren. More family started calling in. You know that facetime or Whatsapp is was wonderful invention. Family members from all over the country called in to say “hi” to mom and tell her that they loved her. They were able to see her, not so much the other way. Hearing is one of the last senses to go. Always speak with your family member as if they are present, like normal. Also, touch is special.

Those of us in Venice pretty much did the master bed puppy pile, talking, sharing, praying, crying and laughing.  You know, all those funny things that happen in life that you think about at times like this. It was actually sweet and special.

One of my brothers sat vigil with us. He would facetime and we would prop the phone so that he could see mom. Often, he ended up in a tissue box so that he would be high enough to see and we didn’t have to hold the phone for long period of time. In fact, he would call in every night for the last several weeks and four of us said evening prayers together.  He siting vigil with us was a natural progression and very special.  A couple of nights he and I took the first watch with mom.  It was exhausting and so tender.  

Starting Monday September 21, mom stopped responding for the most part. Yet her wonderful neighbors stopped by to say “hi”.  Hospice nurse came on Monday and spent quite a bit of time with us. I think she was thinking that mom would pass, but not so.

On Tuesday September 22, we decided to give mom some space. In the dying process, the person needs some time alone to complete, release the tasks of this life. We hadn’t given her much time alone.  I enjoyed a nice breakfast with my sister and niece on the lanai. Very special. They had redecorated the lanai for mom’s 90th birthday in March. The lanai is lovely.  Seating for 4, flowers, plants, pelicans, and even outside curtains and lights. Mom loved siting out there. We were enjoying the space and time together.

At lunch time, my brother called in again as I sat with mom. At one point he asked me what this would look like at the end. I started describing the breathing patterns of approaching death. These can start days before or just before death occurs.

Some of the breathing patterns include becoming irregular. Secretions build up in the throat and there can be gurgling noises. Hospice had given mom medication that helped minimized this process. Cheyne-Stokes  breathing is a common pattern close to death.  This looks like several regular breaths followed by a long pause and then repeats. The last type of breathing is called “agonal breaths”.  These are like a last gasp. Not all folks will follow all of these breathing patterns.

I no sooner explained the process, mom’s breathing changed. It was almost like she needed the instruction or something.  I called my family in to be with mom.  We held her, told her that we loved her and wished her wings to heaven. In a few very short minutes, she breathed her last. 

Grief is strong, flowing where it will. Mom has been in my life for 68 years. Can’t replace that. The gifts of my relationship with her will last through this life.  She was a wonderful woman, mother, grandmother and friend. I will miss her deeply.

If grief is too overwhelming, hospice offers bereavement support. Many hospice’s will offer this support even if your loved one was not under their care. To grieve is human. If you are swamped with grief, please reach out to your health care provider or local hospice.