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Friday, September 28, 2012

Moments I Just Can't Forget... Installment 2

I started writing about my Dad's death on the 10th, because as we were approaching the anniversary, the details of his death were weighing heavily on my mind and my heart. I think the experience of attending your parent's death is probably one of the most traumatic events of a person's life.

After I finished that post, I felt better, and I was able to stop thinking about those details so much. I was still sad, and the anniversary was still weighing on me, but not in the same way.  Perhaps the 14th wouldn't be so bad, if I could just write it all down.

But the week got busy, and I never got back to my blog.  I guess I thought I would have time that Friday, which was the actual anniversary, and is a relatively unscheduled day for me on campus.

Instead, however, I was awoken that morning, September 14th, at 6:30 by my sister, who has just spoken with the nursing home, because my mother had passed away at about 6am. Even as I write that sentence, in my mind I doubt it's reality. And this is two weeks later, so I should be more accepting of it by now.

Her death was so very different from his. She just didn't wake up, probably didn't even know what was happening to her.  By the time I got there, they had prepared her for viewing.  Her coloring had already changed drastically. By now, I am familiar with what people look like when they are newly dead, before the funeral director prepares them for calling hours.  I don't know if I'll ever get used to it, but I recognize it.  She definitely had that look - you could tell just from the doorway that she was gone.  But I leaned over and put my ear to her chest anyway, hoping for a heartbeat; there was none.

She was so very still.  For years now, she had been shaking from strong Parkinsons' tremors, and the disease had been advancing lately, affecting her facial muscles and also causing her to start falling (2 falls in the last week of her life). But all of the tremors were gone. I don't know if she looked peaceful, but she looked at rest - Dad didn't look like he was resting, his body had been through such a struggle in dying that I could still see the effects of that struggle even after it was over. But Mom looked like there was no struggle at all when she passed.

No more shaking. No more difficulty breathing. No more coughing. No more cruel lows or highs.

No more grief. I was not the only one who was carrying around the details of Dad's passing.  Mom wasn't there in his final moments, I don't think she could bear the thought of it. But she spent several hours with me every day, watching him struggle, listening to the "death rattle" as he fought for, or against, each breath.  She was constantly lonely without him, lost without her 50-year reference point.  Good or bad, happy or sad, their lives had been in orbit around each other, and she was lost. 

At one point, while we were sitting with Dad in those final days, she started talking about how afraid he must be. She wondered if he understood that we were there and that he was not alone.  I can remember reassuring her that research has shown that people in his condition are still responsive to voice and touch, and that this probably means they are aware when people are near.  He certainly responded to my voice and touch very differently than he did to Mary's, or to the staff, which I had to assume was because as his daughter, I was more familiar.

I also promised my mother during that talk that when her time came, whether she was aware of it or not, I would be with her just as I was being with him. That he wasn't going to die alone, and when her time came, she wouldn't either.  It didn't work out that way. She snuck out when I wasn't looking. And some times I feel cheated, or like she didn't trust me to do my job.  Other times I feel like I failed her, broke my promise.

Don't misunderstand me - she passed in her sleep without pain or suffering, and I was relieved not to have to watch her suffer.  But I would have liked to say goodbye.

I guess you just can't have it both ways.