“Healing starts the moment you accept the truth about what has happened. But healing doesn’t come quickly. When you know that death or pain has come, you face a moment when you stare that pain in the eyes and declare that you will not be defeated by it. Then you turn away and grieve.” Chris Pepple
Until recently I lead a very busy life, working full-time at a stressful corporate career, raising two wonderful children, being a wife, daughter and volunteer in my community.
In October of 2014, my husband and I decided that I would take a break to look after my 91-year-old mother that has been terminally ill for eight years, as she was really starting to fail.
Care-taking for her during this time was without a doubt the hardest thing that I have ever done. My normally exuberant Mother, was slipping into a depression as her body failed her. She was angry, felt betrayed by her body, and for the first time in this eight year journey with cancer was starting to give up. I rallied between intense grief, worry, cheer-leading and care-giving. I felt as though my heart was outside of my body getting battered around at every turn. It was the longest goodbye, but I will forever be grateful for that experience and time with her, even though it almost brought me to my knees. This pillar of strength passed away on July 27, 2015.
It was like her death lifted a veil that had been placed over me. Thoughts and memories were flooding through me like tidal waves. That in itself was alarming but more importantly were the feelings that were surfacing. It felt like a dam had burst loose. I wasn’t used to feeling things so deeply, and I was used to my inner warrior taking charge and stopping things from moving out of control.
Where was my warrior spirit, I wondered. Was she exhausted, broken, defeated? I knew she was tired, could feel her dwindling energy for a while now. But had she left entirely? It would seem so.
The memory of the end of this journey and the beginning of true healing flashed through my mind…
We were driving back from the hospice, when an eagle soared above us. “You finally got your wings mom”, I thought to myself as I lay my head back on the seat and watched it soar majestically above me through the sunroof.
I felt numb, completely and totally numb and the tears flowed steadily down my face. She had taken her last breath sometime between 6:30 AM and 8:00 AM, and I had been there but asleep on the cot. I had gotten up when they changed her at 6:30 and they told her they loved her, she didn’t tell them she loved them back like she usually did but waved goodbye instead. I got out of the cot and went over to her, stroked her cheek and kissed her on the forehead. “I love you Mom, I said very, very much.” Her breathing was shallow I noticed, but it had been a number of times in recent days so I didn’t think too much of it. Her eyes were closed, so I kissed her again and lay back down on the cot. I was so tired, I had stayed over the night before with my beautiful daughter, and had barely slept all of that evening. I knew she wouldn’t go that evening, not with my daughter there. She was her little ‘angel’, and there is no way that she would have wanted to hurt her like that.
My sister had stayed over with me this evening, and she had been awake most of the evening, calling the nurses when the pain was out of control, and talking softly to mom. It warmed my heart to hear it. She had come shortly after I had told her that we were headed to hospice. I was ever grateful to have her here.
As she spoke softly to Mom, “it’s okay sweetheart, we love you” tears welled in my eyes. It reminded me of a time that my sister would sing songs to my younger brother and I to get us to sleep. She had such a sweet, calming voice. My sister had finally dozed off sometime in the wee hours, as mom seemed to be settling.
I woke with a start at 8:00 AM and went over to kiss Mom on the head and see how she was. She was cold to the touch and not breathing. I looked at my sister, and said “she is gone”. “We missed it, she is gone”, I cried. Immediate guilt embraced me, I had not been there for her when she took her last breath. After all we had been through, I felt that I had let her down.
I pushed the call button, and told the nurse over the speaker that she was gone. They came in and checked, confirming this to be true. “Take your time, they said there is no rush.” I called my husband, and waited as everyone arrived to say their final goodbyes to Grandma.
To stand back and watch as my kid’s hearts were broken, took another little chunk out of me. The very people that it is your job to protect, and their hearts were breaking. It was almost too much to bear. I stifled back a sob, and tried to remain in one piece, as my heart broke into a million tiny shards.
We all said our goodbyes, and cleared things out of the room. The kids were headed over to our place, and I asked my husband to just give me a minute.
Once he left the room, I started my assault.
“I absolutely cannot believe that you snuck out like this, I have been awake for what feels like eight years and doze off out of pure exhaustion, and you sneak out.”
“Damn it”, I raged and then felt like a total fool which brought fresh tears springing from my eyes.
“You just had to get the last trick, didn’t you?” I carried on despite feeling like I was half nuts.
“And now what the heck am I going to do? “
I slumped in a heap beside her and kissed her on the cheek and forehead.
“I love you so much you old nut. You better know that, and I had better feel you around me or I will truly go nuts. You hear me, I want to know you are here.”
As the fight left me, I looked at her one last time and said.
“I am sorry we didn’t make it to 92 and brand new Mom. I love you now and forever. “
I left the room and didn’t have the heart to look back.
Once outside, I was met with hugs and condolences from the staff.
“She really was a fighter, such a strong lovely woman. So very sorry for your loss”
Fresh tears sprouted as I listened to their words.
“We will take care of things from here, and then you will get a call from the funeral home for a meeting and viewing.”
My husband grabbed my hand, and said “thank you so very much for everything you all were truly wonderful. “
With his arm around me, we made our way to the car. I stared straight ahead, until we were met with the eagle that flew above us. It was a significant sign. She had finally received her wings, after all we had been through.
Seven days exactly was how long we had been at the hospice, thank heavens we made it there I thought to myself.