My brother called me just after noon yesterday, telling me that the nursing home had called him: Mom was in distress, trouble breathing, time was short and that we'd want to be with her. She'd been ill with flu over Mother's Day. There was also a problem with blood loss from another condition. As her doctor told us, her blood was so low it wasn't carrying enough oxygen to her lungs.
When I got there Mom was very pale. Options with staff were discussed, and most discarded. If they did a transfusion we'd be back next month in the same situation. The only real option was a hysterectomy and at age 86, Mom just wasn't a candidate. She was too frail and as her doctor put it, "it would kill her."
So we sat down to watch Mom die. The doctor told us that she could last up to 48 hours, maybe 24. Mom resisted having an oxygen mask. She was like that, she would get claustrophobic. At the doctor's orders, the nurses administered morphine and Ativan for Mom's anxiety, which was very high.
Within 25 minutes, not hours, Mom died. She just stopped breathing. My brother and I stopped breathing too. We waited for the gasp to show she was still alive. We watched her for a few minutes and I went to get the nurse. "I think my mother has died," I said. Sure enough, that was it. My brother said, "That is so like Mom," referring to her famous impatience. "Let's get going!" Mom, who was probably in much worse shape than could be observed by the doctor or nurses, defied their timetable and got going early.
Mom had been in the Alzheimer's nursing facility for four years, since she broke her hip during a hospital visit for a blood clot in her leg. None of us thought she'd survive past the first month or so, but she not only survived, she thrived. She liked being around people, and she loved just sitting in her wheelchair while the activity went on around her. They took great care of her, but the person who is the most heroic in all this is my brother, Rob, who visited her every day, and attended to everything she needed. There aren't many people in the world who are like Rob. I'm counting myself amongst those who couldn't do what he did. He quipped, "This place is my social life." There will be a sense of loss for Rob. It was obvious to me that for him it wasn't an obligation, but something he liked to do; not just duty, but a purpose.
Mom hadn't spoken coherently in a few years. You could see that the words were trying to come out, but only once in a great while could very short sentences be understood. I had not heard her say my name in years, at least since she had been in the facility. Yesterday afternoon when I walked into her room and she saw me, she looked at me and said my name. As simple a thing as it may seem, it was astounding to me, and I will carry that memory with me.
Mom in 2006.