The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
I know, I know, the new year is just starting and I choose to talk about something so difficult and unhappy. What a joy-sucker! But, today is the 16th anniversary of my mom’s death, and it brings back a lot of memories, especially about how beautiful the death process can actually be. 2017 brought death around me again several times, with two clients losing their spouses, and one client dying suddenly in her sleep in her early 60s. Coincidentally, 2017 was also the end of my two year volunteering stent at the Pikes Peak Hospice In-patient Unit. So yeah, death, and the wonders it can bring, are kind of on my mind as this new year begins.
Now that I have an writing outlet, I want to tell you a bit about my mom’s death. I’ve been wanting to write a book about it for 16 years, but it always seemed like an overwhelming task. I guess a simple blog post is much easier! And way less pressure! Thanks to her faith, and the amazing team at Pikes Peak Hospice, my mom’s death was peaceful and beautiful. In classic Brenda fashion, her death was well orchestrated right up to the end. Organized and perfect. Those who knew her, knew she wanted it that way. She had it all planned out, since she was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) about two and half year before. She refused to die until after Alex’s 7th birthday and the meeting of her ex-step daughter’s newborn adopted baby, both the beginning of December. And then there was one last Christmas that she wanted to enjoy as much as she could.
After that, we could see the decline- it was only a matter of time. She was so worried that her disease would cause her to die of suffocation, as it is often that way with ALS patients. She was also scared of losing her voice and ability to talk before she died. Yes, she was quite the talker– not sure where I got it?! But she was able to use her voice until the last day. It was a Thursday night and we knew that she was taking a turn for the worse. Her heart rate was way up – the nurses said it looked like she had been running around the block, although she hadn’t been out of bed since the last Friday. She was very agitated and talking nonsense. We were just trying to get her to relax so she could sleep, but she just wanted to talk. She finally got to the point where we couldn’t understand what she was saying anymore. Maybe every 50 words or so we would get something, and it was usually, “I’m ready”. She said that many times, along with just a couple of other words we could decipher. We were trying to talk her through this and get her to just relax. We would even close her mouth and tell her it was time to rest, but she would keep talking! Oh yeah, that would probably be me;) Finally about 8:30 PM
, we decided to help her sleep. The nurse sedated her but said that she would probably not wake up again, but we were fine with this decision. It took her awhile to go to sleep, but she finally calmed down. Unconscious really. But, there was a strange occurrence in the middle of the night– she went from not talking for a couple of hours and being totally asleep, to stirring and mumbling. The weird thing is that this was right after we noticed her door opening by itself as we were sitting on the couch talking (her childhood friend was with me at hospice that night). Mind you, there are no windows in the unit that actually open, and she was at the end of the hall. Her friend and I looked at each other like deer in headlights: not only did the door just open by itself, but she was trying to talk! We had no idea what was going on, but to this day, both of us truly believe that “someone” came to help her transition from her worldly body. She ‘said’ what she needed to say, and then relaxed again and never made another noise. When we woke up in the morning, things were still basically the same with her. The nurses took me out in the hallway and told me they wanted to do something special for my mom that often helps other dying patients. They wanted to give her a bed bath and get her cleaned up for her “trip”. I told them that it was pretty funny they mentioned a trip since my mom had just mentioned going on a trip the night before. I forgot to tell you that not only did she say she was ready, but she told us she “had her ticket”. Somehow she also managed to ask what time it was in the midst of her mumbling. We would say, “why, are you going somewhere?” And all she’d say again was, “I’ve got my ticket”. We never found out what time she was going on her trip or where she thought she was headed;) So the nurses came in and gave her a bath and washed her hair. If you knew my mom, you knew that she had to look perfect before she went places. So we kept telling her “Brenda, you look beautiful. Your hair is done and your body is washed, and they even put on one of your favorite orange shirts”. Oh, and the lipstick! Don’t forget the lipstick! They got her all tucked back in, looking beautiful and peaceful. The nurses said, “you can do it, Brenda, you can go now”. They guessed it would be anytime that evening. One nurse even said mom probably wouldn’t go until after her shift was over and she was sad she wouldn’t be there. I decided she needed her nails painted – you know, she needed the complete package! So we hunted for the perfect color and I started to paint her nails. While I was painting, my cell phone rang. It was Alex, my daughter, and granny’s “little princess”. She told daddy that she just wanted to call mommy and talk. So I told her that I thought it would be good if she talked to Granny while she was on the phone and told her something important. “Tell granny that you love her”, I said. I held the phone up to my mom’s ear and Alex said, “I love you, Granny”. Mom’s eyebrows raised. Then I said, “tell her that it’s all right to go to heaven now”. So I put the phone back to mom’s ear. “Go to heaven, Granny”. Mom’s eyebrows raised again. I said my goodbyes to Geof and Alex and told them that I needed to finish painting her nails, but I’d let them know how things were going as the day progressed . Three nurses happened to come in as I was finishing the last nail or two. The nurses started talking about how her breathing had suddenly changed. I looked at her peaceful body and could tell that something had indeed changed. One of the nurses said “there you go, good girl, you’re doing great”. I looked at one of the nurses and asked, “is this it?” I looked across in disbelief at my mom’s friend and they all said “yeah, this is it”. It was maybe 10 minutes from the time that I got off the phone with Alex before her breathing totally stopped. Her brows had relaxed from the night before. She was at peace. Everyone in the room was crying. One of the nurses said, “you know what? That was the missing piece”. Earlier, when the nurses got done with her bath, they told us that something was still missing. They asked us if we could think of anything that still needed to be done. We were sure she was at peace and that she had already talked to everyone that she felt she needed to talk to or “settle things” with. We told her that the pastor from Kansas was on his way out and maybe he could talk her through the final transition. Well, it looks like her sweet, little granddaughter giving her permission, was the final piece. It was her little angel whispering in her ear that it was okay to go. She did not suffer at all. The last couple of days she was finally more rested and peaceful than she had been for a couple of weeks. I wouldn’t wish her disease on anyone. It was such a hard decline to see, but God used her, and she touched everyone in her life, not to mention the other patients in hospice.
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” Steve Jobs
So yeah, my mom’s death was a beautiful experience. It was serene. It was peaceful, with no pain. That is one of the purposes of hospice– to help dying patients be as comfortable and pain-free as possible. Too bad everyone can’t be in hospice at the end. But, her death also sucked! It was painstakingly hard to witness my mom’s last breaths, but amazing at the same time. The woman who brought me into this world, and worked her butt off to do everything she could to make sure I had a great life, was dying right in front of me. But I was there for a reason. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But, you might be asking, “why do some people die violent or painful deaths? How can that kind of death be beautiful”? Trust me, I wish I had an answer! As a Christian, I choose to believe that everyone going through death and dying, is in God’s hands, and that He will help them find peace through it, and after it. I have to believe that if someone has been in a horrific crash or was experiencing a painful death, for any reason, that those people will still be able to experience beauty and peace. And I know it’s hard to find any peace and comfort in the death of a loved one, but it is there if you are willing to embrace it. I think the incredible memories we share and love we have for people, can continue on in their deaths and their legacies. I have so many stories about death- some good and some not so good, but it’d all be too long for this blog. Maybe a book is in order…