I got the call around 8:45pm on Monday, August 18th. The nurse on duty in the Memory Care Ward said my mom was failing. I knew she had been put on a maintenance dose of morphine for pain earlier in the day. The hospice nurse had also told me she was concerned, because Mom’s lungs sounded “wet.” But when the nurse called, she said she heard “the death rattle.”
As a pastor’s wife, I know that the death rattle is the sign of the end. I hung up the phone, stunned. I sat there for a minute, wondering if I should get on the road. Dan thought I should stay put- that if Mom was that bad, I probably wouldn’t make it anyway. Every fiber in my body was screaming, though, for me to get on the road.
Soon, another phone call. Dad’s favorite nurse, Mary, was calling. Dad was wondering if I was on the road yet. He needed me. That was all I needed to hear. I was on my feet, packing my bags. As I packed, I called my brothers and my sister and let them know what was going on. They’re all local, so would be able to go and be with Mom before I got there.
I left my house at 9:15 that night. I drove through the night, listening to a book on my iPad, crunching on sunflower seeds and drinking Dr. Pepper to keep me awake. Not that I would have fallen asleep anyway- the adrenaline and the praying were enough to keep me up.
I prayed the entire way. I prayed that God would keep her on earth until I was able to get there. I prayed that Dad would have the strength to make it through. I prayed that God would take her to Heaven, because I couldn’t take seeing her in pain anymore. I prayed and prayed.
Around 4am, I turned into the driveway of Mom and Dad’s facility. After a stop in the bathroom, I headed right to Mom’s room. The lights were on, and Dad, my sister, and her husband were all in the room. Mom was in her bed, still alive, but un-responsive, with the tell-tale rattle in her lungs. I dropped what I was carrying and sat on her bed.
“Mommy. I’m here. I love you. I made it. We’ve all been here. You can go now.”
Those were the hardest words I’ve ever spoken in my life.
She hung on. My dad wouldn’t leave. He stayed in her room, first across the room in Mom’s chair, then the nurses moved her chair to the bedside so he could hold her hand. We couldn’t convince him to go–he wouldn’t leave. My sister, brother-in-law and I stayed too, only leaving for bathroom breaks or for a short nap. We sat up all morning, talking, laughing, crying.
At one point I asked an RN how long it could last. Of course, no one knew. I wasn’t worried about enduring it myself, but I was growing concerned for my dad, at 81, not getting any sleep. He didn’t seem to care, nor realize how tired he was.
Mom and Dad’s pastor came, and we sat for a long time, praying, laughing and talking. He gave us the support we so needed. While he visited, Dad noticed that Mom’s color was leaving her face. Her breaths were coming slower now, with long pauses in between. I found myself panicking. I had thought I was ready for the end, but I really, really, wasn’t. Can you ever be?
At around 11:30am, right after Pastor left, Mom breathed her last breath. It was precious and terrifying all at the same time. We mourned her, at the same time Praising God that she had slipped away peacefully, without pain.
The pain was left here, with us. The family gathered together, children and grandchildren, until there was so many of us we had to move to a bigger room. The grief was palpable. Goodbye was not something we had been ready for.
Being there, in the same room, as my mother passed away is something I will never forget. I will be forever thankful for the phone call from Mary that got me on the road that night. I will be forever thankful that I was able to be there, to say goodbye to my mom. I have never felt closer to God, and my family. It was the hardest and most beautiful thing I’ve ever done.
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