A daughter remembers and writes her thoughts and feelings the day her mother passes away.
Editor’s Note: Names of a doctor, nurses, the facility referenced, and family members used in this essay were changed to respect confidentiality. Carol has been attending a monthly support group and has had individual counseling to deal with the stresses of her caregiving and her mother’s death. It is her hope that her experience and emotions will help comfort and educate other caregivers.
How could my mother pass away today, a day with cold winds blowing and me not knowing what to do for her? I hear an airplane in the distance, coming closer, then passing overhead, then going on to another place just like my mother’s life comes and goes as she lies in her bed, fear etched on her face. After a few hours, the fear fades and gives way to her inevitable flight and the peace so welcome. Yes, it’s a relief of sorts, but now that she is gone, I find no solace in her departure. Not yet. Death is a reality – but life goes on without her. I can’t get it sorted out yet.
Departure on her new journey took place about 2:45 today. Nurse A. told me she took two quick breaths and left me here without her constant presence. I went home to eat a bite of lunch and she took it upon herself to leave just then–either that, or nurse A. decided to murder her which I don’t think happened–but it did occur to me as erratic as my thinking is on this day I have lost my one and only mother.
I also thought perhaps I killed her by letting them administer morphine drops to her. Maybe they went overboard with the drops and gave her too much. I thought. There is a downside to morphine, that being explained to me by J., her favorite nurse, that morphine can depress the upper respiratory system and can take the breathing down a notch or more. In large doses, morphine can cause death. But I know she starved herself to her death over the past seven years, a gradual refusal to eat and during these past few months, she looked like the people I’ve seen on TV, those that starved to death in concentration camps. I know the people at (the nursing home) loved her and I hope nurse J. doesn’t blame me for asking for morphine to make her comfortable.
Did I make all the right decisions? Did I do it all ok?
I wish I had people (family and friends) there with me to help me with these uncomfortable decisions that needed to be made during her last moments and on these last days. There is no way to know. My husband said he didn’t want me to be there by myself. I called him to leave work and come be with me, but he didn’t get there in time. I was by myself except for the hospice nurse, A. I didn’t care for her blase? attitude about dying, as if she had so much control and knowledge that it’s not a big deal when people die. She smiled and moved around mother’s room swiftly and with precise motions, as though she could demonstrate to me and everyone else how to help with something so vast an event as death.
I am not at all sure I did the right thing (by asking for morphine for my mother). But isn’t that just like me? To blame myself for things and beat myself up and not let my mother or myself rest even now, as she is cold and gone? She was a good mother in her own way, as much as she knew how to be. She had her own story and operated her life out of her own story. Everyone does. That’s the best they can do. I feel extreme guilt and sadness, like I’m so responsible for her death somehow. All this stems from her doctor, Dr. K, and his words to me, “I’m not an executioner, I care about my patients,” when I asked him to give mother a small dose of morphine to help her be more comfortable and lessen her pain. He should not have planted that word “executioner” in my head as if I play a part in “executing” her instead of providing her with comfort and peace at her end. I did what I thought was right and what I think I would want for myself and those I love, too. She struggled to get out of bed today and go somewhere. She might have fallen on the floor and broken bones, or worse.
Isn’t that just like her, to want to go somewhere other than where she was? All her life, she wanted to be in a place other than where she was. She was never happy with the place where she was. I didn’t think she had the strength to move a leg or an arm today, but she did. She was determined to get up and go. So like her and so like me to feel responsible for everything that happens and how it happens — as if I had this storehouse of power that I could draw from like magic to have control over life and death.
Will I find peace in all this? Will I give myself some resolution and let this go…let her go? She is certainly gone, but I still can’t picture this life or these moments without her in each one. The phone is not ringing with her requests for help or complaints for things gone wrong or the terrible food, or bad nurses, or not being able to find things or not having what she needs, or wanting to be at a different place or to get a job. I got that from her for sure, always hunting for a job, not feeling useful unless I earned money. At age 96, she wanted to find a job answering the phone at (a real estate office) or work wherever she could. It’s strange to me that she died just about the time the extra money we put aside years ago ran out. I like to think she did this on purpose to save me from figuring out how to come up with extra funds to help buy her protein drinks and Depends and other things Medicaid did not supply. That’s a nice thing she may have done, even though she may not have realized it. Either way, it worked out ok. Now she’s gone, a reality I find difficult to accept.
I gradually learned to set boundaries with mother’s constant demands from me. Zanda and the members of the support group helped me learn to give myself the much needed time away from her, to make time for myself and give myself a break from the monumental task of caregiving. I was a caregiver for my mother for almost eight years. Throughout those years, I learned to care for myself more and still be there for my mother. Did I do it perfectly? No. But I learned to value myself more and not let the job of caretaker suck the life from me.
I hope she is looking down from heaven where Jesus comforts her and knows I will take care of myself. I hope her soul is not in limbo somewhere waiting for Jesus to come back before she can be with Him. I pray Jesus will give me a sign that Mother is ok. I need a tiny (or big) sign of some kind, something to hang on to, and something to give me comfort that I handled things ok. It may sound selfish-my wanting a sign. It is my belief that Jesus can go before his Father and ask Him to help me know that mother is at peace and happy now. All things are possible and this tiny prayer I ask. Jesus, can You please go to the Father on my behalf and tell him I’m suffering and need a bit of relief?
Asking once is all that is necessary because He hears all our prayers. I also pray that I will forgive my two grown daughters for not being there with me at the end of mother’s life. I don’t have the energy or desire to hold it against them. At least, my son, T., came to see mother within the last couple of weeks of her life. I feel like putting something on Facebook saying my son came to see mother in her last days, but my daughters did not have time. So there. It’s out, my anger. And my daughter, K., did not even call me when Mother passed away. She sent a text when A. told her Mother died, “It’s a really good day to pass away today and I’m sure she (mother) is looking down at us smiling.” Right…what an odd thing to text to me.
I’m tired now and feeling anger keeps my grief at a distance. I pray, God, for your help because I cannot do this by myself. I am lost right now and I need your help. Please give me some amount of rest tonight and when if I wake up during the night, help me go back to sleep. I need rest and peace on this final day of my mother’s life, rest to help me walk through the coming days without her.
By Carol F., Family Caregiver