We are neck deep in the CoVid-19 epidemic with social isolation, mask wearing, activity limits, and online lives that we could never have imagined a mere six months ago. Some people are fighting over masks and social distancing. Some of those individuals don’t even believe the virus is real. It is not a relaxed time in anyone’s life.
It’s also when my mother, one month shy of her 93 birthday, passed away, the result of a bad fall and possibly a small stroke.
My mother, a resident of an assisted living community that has — so far — managed to keep the coronavirus at bay, isolated with community members for nearly four months. She did not die of CoVid-19, because she was so well cocooned away from the illness. During those months we connected via phone calls and twice-weekly FaceTime iPad calls.
The first indication that the end might be upon us came in a telephone call reporting mom’s fall in her apartment (she hated her walker to her last day). It was clear that her hips and bones were OK, but she seemed more confused than usual. We agreed that the staff would watch her carefully. Mother had all her end-of-life documents in place and they were in my hands and in the health files of her community, and she made her wishes crystal clear. She was not to be taken to the hospital. and did not want to be connected to any medical machines (her words, not mine).
Two days later, I was told that mom was comfortable but declining and a day after that more confusion appeared to set in. It looked like she might be edging toward the end of her life, so I drove over (200 miles round trip) to have a conversation with the staff and caregivers.
When hospice was suggested, I agreed, thinking that we might have a couple of more months together (I’ve been through hospice several times with friends and family members). As we worked out the admission details, I learned that, because of her condition, I would be allowed to visit with my mother after so many months of separation. So we drove back and forth for ten days in a row since we did not want to stay in a hotel because of Co-Vid-19.
Unfortunately, a couple of more months were not in my mother’s cards, and within days it was clear she was dying. My job was to make sure she was comfortable and to ensure that her end-of-life wishes were carried out. She died in her own apartment, about 12 days after that fall, with my dad, age 97, me, and my husband nearby and after a short FaceTime conversation with her granddaughter and great-grand children, one of whom is her namesake.
What can I say about the final days? On one hand they were poignant as we held hands, sang her favorite hymns, read her favorite Paslms, and talked about our lives together. She responded occasionally to our words and especially to our singing, but mostly with her eyes closed. Hospice nurses dropped by to check on my mother every few days, agreeing that it was likely a small neurological event had occurred, and the extraordary assistants in their assisted living community checked on my mother regularly, giving her sponge baths and making her comfortable.
On the other hand it is difficult to describe my grief as the days — eight or nine of them — passed ever so slowly, while we watched and waited, often tearfully, by her side. She died peacefully as my dad and I each held a hand.
My mother led an amazing life for 91 of her almost 93 years. There is much to celebrate and much to mourn.