The day you have to let her go.
The days, weeks or months preceding the time she exhales her last breath...and the time afterwards.
I'm not an expert, but I've been in your shoes. I scrolled through my Facebook news feed this morning, and near the top was a heart cry of someone in the agonizing wait, the transition of her mother from this part of eternity to the next. Then there was another post which was foreboding. Another daughter in mental and emotional pain over her mother's physical suffering.
The words were not abundant in either post, but a person reading them who has walked that difficult road didn't need many to know. Our mothers, in physical agony, give us life, and we, in emotional agony, release them from this world.
Once, I left the hospital for a short while and sat at a restaurant in the mall drinking something, God knows what, I forgot, maybe a Coke or sweet tea. Sitting by myself at the mall drinking a cool beverage wasn't something I'd ordinarily do; I simply needed to take a break from the surroundings my mother could not escape. Life seemed so unfair at that moment. I was 39 years old, able to come and go as I wished, and my mother, someone who'd always relished her independence, was tethered to an oxygen machine and IV fluid lines. My break was physical only, as my mind and heart remained a couple of miles away where she was.
How many times I wondered about what was going through her mind. She sat on the edge of the bed calmly waiting for death. After a career spent mostly in geriatric nursing, she knew exactly what, when, and how...and would that have been a mental torment in addition to the physical suffering? She didn't elaborate, true to her form. I asked her once if she'd like to lie back and she said matter-of-factly, "I can't breathe." She did say she wasn't afraid. And she wasn't.
As she waited, she requested something I'd never done for her, a bath. Mom was a borderline hoarder, her home a dusty, chaotic mess of practical and sentimental items she couldn't part with, but her personal hygiene was beyond meticulous. She wouldn't go barefoot because she couldn't stand the grit of sand on her feet. I gently washed her back, her feet, and she, not much of one for praise, said I did a good job.
As the youngest of her four children, I doubt she'd expected that I'd be the one attending her. It didn't seem likely. I wasn't nurse material. I had older siblings. Two were incapacitated. One she seemed to favor a bit more than the rest of us, was present, but there are things pertaining to a woman's dignity which are preferably done by a daughter.
Mom legally appointed me to speak for her in the event she couldn't speak for herself because she knew I would, and I did. To say no to a medication which would elevate her dropping blood pressure was hard to do, especially when I was required to sign a paper documenting the refusal, but the temporary condemnation of the enemy saying I was signing her death warrant was overcome by the memory of her frank words, "There are things worse than death." She, helpless in a bed, rather than caring for someone in that predicament, was one of them.
The day before she lost consciousness, when Mom and I were alone in her hospital room, she looked at me with her dark green eyes, pupils almost indiscernible, and said, "I know you'll be all right." Even on the brink of death, her piercing eye contact was unnerving. (Her best friend of over four decades, prior to becoming that, admitted she'd called her "Mean Eyes" behind her back.)
Mom knew I'd be all right because I was the one most like her, good, bad, and ugly, a survivor, a scrapper, one who loved deeply, just most people didn't realize it because they saw only the 'don't cross my line or I'll push you back over it' side. Our likenesses caused us to butt heads a number of times, a battle of wills which sometimes made Armageddon sound like child's play.
I have few nurturing mother stories to tell. One I do have came after her death. I was in bed, burning up with a fever, and I sensed her presence, laying her hand across my forehead as she would when I was a child. Some might say I was delirious, and I have considered that possibility myself, but ultimately concluded she was checking on me.
She had left my presence bodily, but the essence of her which cared deeply had not died.
She had a vision about heaven once, said the Lord spoke to her, told her He was going to give her a glimpse, just a glimpse, of what was to come. It was so overwhelmingly beautiful and peaceful, she, ordinarily articulate, had trouble describing. I believe that is what sustained her to the point her worn out earthly body would be exchanged for an incorruptible eternal one.
You may be told, with reasonable accuracy, when the end will come, but knowing it will happen and seeing it happen are two entirely different things. Be as brave as you can for your mother because hearing is the last sense to depart before her spirit. (My mother taught me that when I was a teenager. She was caring for two young men in the nursing home, both comatose, and she said she always told them what she was doing and why because she believed emphatically, and in contradiction to the medical science she practiced, that they were aware.)
It is the oddest feeling, burying one's last parent. It is as if one's boat has lost its anchor. In the stablest of lives, which I was fortunate mine was, there is a compartment which feels uncontrollably adrift. As long as my mother was living, I knew I had a place to go if I found myself in the position of having no other place to go. I wouldn't have wanted to dwell among the mess of possessions she loved, but knowing I could if I had to was a back-of-the-mind comfort.
Whatever age you are when your mother dies, you are finally, completely on your own.
The lost feeling dissipates in time. Be patient with yourself until that time comes.
You become re-anchored in the strength she instilled in you. You remember her wise responses to all manner of life's complications. If she was a sweetheart, you cherish that, you give thanks she gave you life and taught you how to live it. In cases where mothers fell short, bottom line, you are here, and she was responsible for that. Whatever sacrifices she undertook to make that happen, God willing, you will come to a place of gratitude for that.
You'll get up each morning and go about your life on a grace I call autopilot. When the autopilot grace has done its job, the permanence of her absence on earth sets in, you continue on anyway, forced to be a little stronger. Everyone's journey of grief recovery is different, so I won't be so presumptuous as to tell you what the rest is like because I don't know.
I do know you will survive, the shroud of grief will eventually lift, though you'll always miss her, and the Words in the Bible about weeping enduring for a night, but joy coming in the morning show themselves to be completely and utterly true.
In the meantime, know that everyone who has walked where you walk now cares deeply, they wish they could spare you this heartache, they know they can't, so they say prayers they believe will carry you through. And they will.
My prayer for you is that the peace Christ promises which exceeds all human understanding will surround you now and always.
Rest in peace, Lillian Yvonne Allen Sutton, July 31, 1934 - January 21, 2003
|Mom, front row, second from right|