It is now 6 a.m. on Friday, April 1. April Fools Day was full of pranks as a child, but today there are no pranks; there are no jokes. I sit by my mother’s side for the 10th day in a row, nine of them in hospice. Watching the process of death happen is agonizing. I went through this same process 20 years ago on April 4, with my father.
So many thoughts and emotions run through my head as I listen to my mother take another breath every eight to 10 seconds. As she struggles to take another gasp of air, the sound is deafening. Her chest heaves up and down with a sort of violence that is disturbing. It’s rhythmic as if she were on a heart/lung machine.
Ever since I received a call from the nursing home were she resided in Kingston that her body temperature had dropped to 92 degrees and her blood pressure was non-existent, I have been by her side. At 88 years old, I had to wonder if this was it for her. Was this incident another setback or was I going to lose my mom forever?
After one night’s stay at the hospital, it was determined that hospice was the place for her. I wasn’t even sure if she was that sick. Her body temperature had risen to normal levels, her pulse was strong again and even her blood pressure was good.
Mom was in the late stages of dementia and as the emergency room doctor said, it was time to look at an end of life scenario. I’m the middle of three siblings and Mom graciously chose me to be her power of attorney. It’s not a dubious title I have enjoyed.
Again, as I type, I pause to count the seconds between breaths. With each long pause, I find myself holding my breath wondering if her journey is finally over. I’ve seen someone take their last breath and it is an image that burns in my memory.
At this point in time, I haven’t slept in my own bed since Monday, March 21. The couch and reclining chair in Mom’s hospice room aren’t as comfortable as I would like, but then again, this isn’t a hotel. The stay isn’t long for many.
I am exhausted. I am emotionally and physically spent. This journey with my mom did not start 10 days ago, but 35 years ago when my dad took ill with Alzheimer’s disease. With my brother living out of state and my sister out of town, I have overseen my mother’s well-being for more than three decades, and from time to time, it’s been a rough ride. After doing this for so long, it’s hard to believe I am nearing the completion of my duties as a son. When this process is over, I will have to look at life through different eyes for the first time since my mid-20s.
I understand the theory behind hospice; it’s to make the patient’s end of life journey comfortable while holding a modicum of dignity. The staff of Celtic Care at Geisinger South in Wilkes-Barre has done amazing around-the-clock care. I even teased one of the workers, saying Mom was being pampered so much that she didn’t want to leave.
According to an article in Business Insider, a body can survive a week or so without any food or water. On a few occasions while in hospice, staff indicated that my mom might be hours away of passing. My answer was, “You don’t know my mother.”
It is now the noon hour, I too am baffled how she could be still alive with no food or water over nine days. I always knew my mom was tough, but I had no clue. One article I read stated the will to live is also a factor. I guess it’s true what they say about the power of the mind and mind over matter. But still, my mom has been unconscious for well over a week, how could will to live even come into play?
While in hospice, I got to meet other families in the same situation. A bond forms quickly and it’s comforting for everyone. Comfort is something always welcomed at hospice. Over the nine days here, I saw a lot of people being wheeled in and out and it’s difficult to process. Everyone has a story — it could be cancer, dementia, or even someone severely injured in an accident, but the end result is the same. It’s sad to see a family leave after their loved one passes away.
Today my brother and his wife arrive from Colorado. One of the hospice workers suggested that my mom is holding on until he gets here. Is it possible that mom is aware that he has not been by her bedside? I really don’t know, but what I do know is this: she’s been fighting like hell and truly is the strongest woman I’ve ever known.
Quote of the week
“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” – Sir Winston Churchill, British prime minister.
Thought of the week
“If people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever.” – from the movie “The Crow”
“We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.” – Chuck Palahniuk, American journalist.
Tony Callaio’s column My Corner, Your Corner runs weekly in the Sunday Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected]