Readers of this column know that I have been coming to grips and gripes with my aging mother in Reno. My brother lives out there and other relatives are nearby and were able to stay pretty close to her as she went through the local healthcare and senior care system.
For quite a while she lived in a community that offered a bar and restaurant and other basic amenities for those who could still function mentally and get around physically. I critiqued that place a few times for having lousy food and charging a lot for not very much. Admittedly, Mom did not take advantage of the harp concerts, the shuttles to the mall or the film screenings. She did have a small circle of friends that met at the bar and then went on to dine together but that was about it.
Mom got an infection and deteriorated quickly. Not long ago I got out there and she was in the hospital. She was cleared for takeoff so I got her out of there and took her home where I nursed her with good food, limited exercise and witty repartee. She had a slight bounce back.
Even though it was obvious that Mother needed another level of assistance she resisted moving into a different space, saying that she “was not dead yet!” Even though she complained about the place she was in, she was understandably afraid of change.
But my brother had found a place for Mom that was much more appropriate and new and quite nice. We moved her. But after only a couple of nights she was not doing well and ended up in a “rehab” facility for a while. It was there that my daughter and I visited her, just a few weeks ago.
I had only been away for a couple of weeks but she had faded quite a bit and I found her in a dark room with not much attention being paid to her basic needs. She had a giant cup of water with a lid and a short straw that was placed across the room, way out of reach. She was clearly dehydrated and disoriented. We did our best to cheer her and pump her up and on the last day of our visit we moved her out of rehab and into a new room at her new place where the care was truly fantastic.
I had only been home to Redstone for two days when my brother notified me that Mom was on her way out. I got in the van and started driving that night. By the time I got there the next day, Mom was unresponsive but still breathing. Her closest relatives descended on the place and we surrounded my mom and waited for her to pass on. Everyone had a chance to be alone with her and cry and tell her that she was loved. They brought in a Catholic priest and he provided some comfort to the assembled watchers.
We kept vigil and circumstances led to me being alone with my mom as she drew her last breath. She was there for my first breath and I was there for her last.
Damn! The tears flowed freely as I was swept with emotion. Of course at these times you wonder what could have been different. I looked back on all the times that I had tried to convince my stubborn mother to take her medicine or take a walk or interact socially. I realized that in the last year of her life that she had just kind of resigned herself to not caring about much. You cannot force someone to give a damn, especially my mom. Her willfulness was part of her charm and determination in life. Why would it be any different in death?
Coincidentally, she died on my father’s birthday. Dad’s been gone a long time thanks to colon cancer. Someone told me that when you lose your mom you feel like an orphan and I can relate to that sentiment. Even when you are all grown up like me, sometimes you still want your mommy but that’s no longer an option. It’s only been a few days but I have had to stop myself from reaching for the phone and calling her. As of late our conversations had not been very stimulating but it was always comforting to hear her voice and know she was there, that she loved me.
She always asked, “When are you coming back?”
I’m so glad I came back to hold her hand one more time. But it was bitter, bittersweet.
As these feelings are fresh in my mind I’d like to say that distant condolences are nice but don’t ever tell someone grieving that “she’s with your father now,” or that, “she’s in a better place,” because she is not in a better place and certainly not reunited with my father, who was withered and ravaged by cancer.
If she was around and being her old self she’d tell you that there is no better place than being with your son, laughing, living and breathing. She would have admitted that Dad was probably not restored to perfection and watching and waiting from heaven to be reunited. Although this scenario may provide some comfort for those who find this a convenient and neat end story, I don’t believe it for a minute and feel no comfort in this announcement. There is no better place for Mom than right here, right now, with people who love her.
Steve Skinner misses Mrs. Skinner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.