Photo Op

Hospice has provided a hospital bed for my mom to keep her head elevated and more comfortable.  The nurse tells my dad that they will leave Mom in bed from now on and turn her every two hours to keep her off of her terrible pressure sores.  The next day the parish priest, Father Victor, comes to give Mom her last rites.  It’s the final sacrament she will receive.  We all know how it important it was to her to be anointed.

At some point, dying becomes nearly entirely about the living.  I no longer worry how Mom is dealing with the end of her life—she is unaware—but how we are.  How do we say our last goodbyes or what we do to help Dad adjust when she is gone?  What will her obituary say, and how can I condense 82 years into 400 words?

The kind hospice social worker spends time with my dad in Mom’s room.  I suspect that with this benevolent stranger he can let loose tears in a way he can’t with his daughters.  He wants to be strong for us.

Mom will never again be moved from this bed.  The CNA’s are keeping her “fresh”—changing her pajama top each day.  There’s no reason for bottoms.  She’s in a diaper and covered with many blankets.  I sit near her and think that I will never experience my mom any way but this again.  The last ten days, each time I visit, I bring my camera to take photos of Mom.  Today my niece, Robin, is here from Minneapolis.  I ask to take a photo of her—seven months pregnant—with my dad. They face each other and both laugh at the similar size of their bellies.

“No more pictures of your mom,” Dad says to me as he’s leaving tonight.  “She looks like hell.”

It’s important for Dad that no one else see his Virgie like this: skeletal, mouth agape, two remaining teeth hanging out like a Jack-o-Lantern.  It’s important for me to capture each moment of her last days, since I may never have this photo opportunity again.  “Okay,” I say.

After Dad leaves, Robin sits on the edge of Mom’s bed and touches her through the blankets.  Mom’s eyes are open, and she stares straight ahead.  I don’t think she can see anything, but we can see her eyes.  Robin and I talk about Mom’s beautiful skin.  Even now there are very few wrinkles on her forehead, amazing given her age.  I say, “Her whole adult life she gooped up with lotion every morning and night.”  Robin reminds me that Mom’s cure-all was aloe, fresh from her own plants.  She tells a story about when Mom walked into a glass patio door.  It was so clean that she thought it was open.  She immediately went to her aloe plant, broke off a leaf and rubbed the gel on her scraped and bruised nose.  Robin and I laugh and laugh.  “She was rushing out to look at a bird,” Robin says.  My mom always got excited about her birds.

I want my mom to die like this, while some of her kids or grandkids are here with her, telling stories and laughing.  I know she may be too nosey for that.  How could she check out when people are talking in her room?  She hated to miss anything.

While Robin says goodbye to her grandma, I go out to the kitchen to talk to the sister CNA’s, Konnie and Darla.  They’re both on a sixteen-hour shift.  Konnie’s got her shoes off—always a sign that she’s on the tail end of a double.  I tell them that when my mom dies, I want someone to call me.  My concern is that if she dies in the middle of the night, my dad will surely drive here alone in the dark.  “And I want time with her body before the undertaker comes,” I tell them.  They both nod.

I sit with Mom a long time after Robin leaves.  I tell her that I’ll take good care of Dad and that all of her kids are fine. “You don’t have to worry about anything,” I say. “It’s time to go. Your mom’s been waiting for you for a long time.”

Another resident, Wilma, is walking the halls, and she stops near Mom’s open door.  She knocks on a closet door in the hallway.  I can glimpse her skinny torso from my spot beside Mom’s bed.  “Are you there?” she is saying to the locked closet door.  “Are you there?”  My heart is so heavy right now, my legs so tired.  I don’t have it in me to walk Wilma back to her room.  I just let her knock.

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About Our Long Goodbye

I am a college teacher, tutor program coordinator, kidney donor, and dumpster diver / recycler extraordinaire. My stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Salon Magazine, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Journal of Developmental Education, The Wisconsin Academy Review, The Southwest Review, HipMama, Inside HigherEd, as well as other magazines and anthologies. I am the co-author (with Bruce Taylor) of Higher Learning: Reading and Writing About College, 3rd edition (Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2011) and a poetry collection, Love’s Bluff (Plainview Press, 2006). You can reach me at seepk@uwec.edu.
This entry was posted in Aging Parents, Alzheimer's Disease, Brothers and sisters, Caregiving, Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Family, Fathers and daughters, Generation X, Husbands and wives, Mothers and daughters, Nursing Home, Sandwich Generation, Terminal Illness. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Photo Op

  1. Sue says:

    Oh, Patti…my heart is so heavy for you, your Dad and your siblings. Hugs and prayers to you.

  2. Catherine Emmanuelle says:

    Thinking of you, Patti, and your family. You are a brave woman to take us on your journey. Holding you close in thought.

  3. Diane says:

    My heart is heavy for you and your family. You’re constantly in my thoughts and prayers.

  4. tersiaburger says:

    I wept when I read your post. It brought back memories of my Mom and Dad’s passings. It is so hard. On the one hand I wanted to cling to them and force them to stay but on the other hand I wanted their existence to end. Thoughts of peace and caring to you and your family.

  5. mommo1051@hotmail.com says:

    Patti, your family has become members of all all our families who read your blog, and our hearts are so heavy for you and your family at the loss of your dear Mother. We cannot thank you enough for sharing your Mom with us. We all feel we’ve lost your mother, too, and our hearts grieve. I’m reading from Isaiah 40 this morning & these words seem to be written for you, and I’m sure the Lord will understand if I take liberties with adding your name to these verses: ‘Comfort, comfort my Patti, says your God. Speak tenderly to Patti and proclaim to her that her hard work has been completed. See here is your God, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, his reward is with him and his recompense accompanies him. He tended the See’s like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads them to Him. The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the grieving and increases the power of the weak. Those who hope in the Lord WILL renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ Your mom is at the party! May God bless you mightily for your transparent sharing that brought all if your readers strength. May we now give back to you and lift you up in our prayers and with our words. You are LOVED!!

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