The End of Mother’s Life

We were not able to follow through with the hairdresser, though we know that Mother would have loved it, even so close to the end of her life. Raymond was a master at making her feel good.

Early on Monday morning mother died, perhaps from the dementia, but more proximally from congestive heart failure. She was two months shy of her 91st birthday.

Over the New Year’s weekend she continued to decline. Her breathing became faster and more difficult, and hospice medical staff upped the dose of medication to relax the discomfort of her respiration.

Mother began sleeping a good deal more during the day. When she was awake, there would be periods of clarity, but many times she dozed. Sometimes she stared intently at us and sometimes she focused on something directly beyond us. Her eyes were the deepest green I’ve ever seen them.

Still, everyone thought she had more than a few days to live, given her vitals and because she regularly interacted with us when we made conversation. And being Mother, from time to time she expressed strong opinions.

On Sunday we spent several hours with her, leaving after dinner when her caregiver was settling her into bed. During our time together we looked at many photos, color pictures each enlarged on an 8 1/2 X 11 piece of paper

The pictures spanned our last several years of activities together — our daughter’s wedding, a concert we had attended, the Memorial RoseGarden in Arlington’s Bon Air Park, the mother/daughter luncheon last Mother’s Day at Chesterbrook Residences, singing hymns of thanks around the Thanksgiving table, sipping tea on a summer afternoon on our porch, and others.  Mother looked at each intently. She was tired when we left, but we used this time on her last night  wisely and well.

Perhaps we should have known, but it seems like at each step these past two months, in fact at each step of this multi-year dementia experience, we have erred, albeit unconsciously, on the side of optimism — providing an extra bit of support or expecting, and then trying to ensure, bit more quality in her life. We are grateful that the holidays allowed us to take so much time off from our jobs these past two weeks.

My husband and I went home, ate a snack, talked a lot, and reread aloud together the hospice pamphlet about the dying process.

The call came from her caregiver and the assisted living nurses (who regularly checked on Mother each night) a few hours after midnight on Monday morning.

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