Now I want to share my journey with you and thank you for being a part of it!
It all began 3 months ago with a phone call from the hotel my mom was living at in Mexico. I was informed that she was malnourished and unable to walk. I asked a dear friend who was in Mexico to go see her and get her into the hospital. When he got there he informed us that she was in a very bad way. I was frustrated and struggling with my feelings because Hilda was an alcoholic and I felt that once again she was in bad shape from her own doing.
We kept her in the hospital for four days so we could get her well enough to get on a plane to come back to the US to live with us. Our dear friend took her to the airport and packed all her belongings for shipping.
I will never forget when I saw my mother at the airport. She was in a wheelchair and was maybe 90 lbs. She was unable to walk and I soon learned she was in need of adult diapers. I was in shock. She was only 63 years old.
I was filled with rage because I thought her drinking really did her in this time. I tried to care for her myself but I couldn’t do it alone. I took her to the hospital here and the doctors said they felt she had cirrhosis and Wernicke’s encephalopathy. The amount of care she needed Sean and I could not provide so we began looking at moving her into an assisted living facility. That was a really hard pill to swallow thinking that she was going to have to live in a home for the rest of her life.
After a week and a half in the hospital the doctors decided they wanted to do a colonoscopy before they released her. That Friday Sean, Parker and I where driving to dinner when the doctor called to tell me that they had found a mass in her colon. My mom had stage 4 colon cancer. At that moment I was in so much shock. We immediately went from looking at assisted living to knowing she was going to die. All of our plans changed and it became important to me to have my mom come home.
Hilda did not want to know her diagnosis and this made it extremely hard on me. I was so frustrated. Although she knew she had cancer she did not know how bad it was, however, she made the decision to have chemo. Her treatments where once every two weeks and during that time I was her caretaker. This was trying at times but it was a blessing. The most amazing thing happened. She was not having pain or side effects to the chemo! Also, during this journey, everywhere I went starting from day one at the hospital I had either friends or clients working at the places we went to! Everywhere from the hospital to rehab to the cancer center.
On Friday it was my mom’s third chemo treatment and we got the results that her tumor markers were down. It was hard not to have hope but at the same time there would not be a miracle that would happen for her either. The next day I went to work. When I got home I walked in and found my mom had had a stroke. We called 911 and she was readmitted to the hospital. She had minimal damage, however, the look in her eyes was changed. It was now as if she had given up hope. She spent four days in the hospital during which time I had a heart to heart talk with the head of neurology. He told me there was nothing he could do to prevent future strokes because of mom’s internal bleeds. But he said to me, “You need to bring her home and spend what time you have left with her.” It became very real that we were at the end. I think I knew in my head but somewhere in my heart I believed that she would keep going.
Hilda and I did not have the easiest life together. Growing up with an alcoholic was hard and trying at times and the past seven years her drinking went to new levels. We placed her in many detox places as well took her to Mexico for a fresh start. She just never seemed to get it. The constant stress from worrying about her became very tiring on me and my family. I prayed that she would get herself healthy so when I got the call she was ill it was devastating. Knowing that she was now dying from cancer, I hoped that she would not avoid death like she did life.
Coming home after the stroke she was not the same. I started to get really worried because she was sleeping a lot. I called the at home health doctor who came out to visit on Sunday. Mom’s blood pressure had dropped and the doctor suggested it was time for Hospice. I asked how long she felt my mom had to live and she looked at me and said, “Two weeks.” (She was right. Mom died two weeks later on a Sunday.)
So I waited and I watched and I cared for her. Wednesday morning when I woke up she was trying to get out of bed. She was bright eyed and bushy tailed! She was so happy and talkative, making jokes and full of life. And she treated me so special. I had not seen her like that since I was a little kid. I was so in shock that I decided to call the nurse and ask her what was going on because I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. The nurse said it was called the “last serge of energy” and that I needed to enjoy it. She said sometimes it lasts for hours, sometimes days. That particular day was amazing! We laughed and ate and most amazingly, Parker played with her. You see, Parker had a hard time with my mom. They were so close but before we left Mexico her drinking had started to take a toll and Parker withdrew. It was hard to watch my daughter try to process everything that was happening now. But on that Wednesday Parker came into her room and sat with us and played with us put make-up on Hilda just like she used to. The “serge” carried on until Thursday and come Friday she started sleeping a lot again. The nurse felt she could go at anytime, however she was not done yet. The emotional roller coaster was getting harder, care-taking for her and some of the things I experienced and saw were getting even harder still.
As the weekend came and went she was sleeping more and more and slowly getting more confused and struggling to find words. She was in no pain which was a blessing. Tuesday morning I found myself talking to the nurse and telling her that my mom kept looking at me as if she needed to say something. The nurse said she felt it was time to have a talk with Hilda because she felt that maybe she was holding on for some reason. So we sat down together and talked with my mom. After realizing that Hilda didn’t understand hospice, the nurse explained to her that hospice is called when a person has less than six months to live. Upon hearing this she looked at me and then the nurse and then she started to cry realizing that she was going to die. The nurse told her, ” I am not telling you this to hurt you but to help you. You don’t have to say anything but your daughter might have something to say.” The nurse then looked at me and said, “Do you want to say something to your mom?” I looked at her and said, “Mom, I love you so much. I am so happy you are here with me and I can take care of you. I need to tell you that I know we had some hard times but you need to know that I forgive you and love you.” My mom started to cry and just stared at me. The nurse gave us such a gift. My mom looked relieved and I was able to talk to her more after the nurse left. She looked at me as her eyes said sorry and reached out for me and said I love you followed by a kiss. I felt so free for the first time. I was able to say that I truly forgave her for everything and she looked at peace. For the next few days she laid in bed with a smile on her face like she was relieved and had truly found peace for the first time in her life.
The nurse felt Hilda would pass any time now but my mom seemed to be holding on to something, I really believe it was that she truly found peace. Starting on Friday she started to have some pain in her chest so we started medicating her to help with the pain. By Saturday she was sleeping more and complaining of more pain. I called the weekend nurse and she came out and told me it was time to start the morphine. The nurse felt the time was very near. That night I had to start her on Morphine and other meds every hour. It was a long night. Sean took over at 7 AM so I could sleep. When I woke up at 12 and walked in a room she was making a noise that seemed to say, “Where have you been????” The nurse came by and again was shocked that she was still going. Later that afternoon the health aid care giver and I were there when my uncle called. My mom and him have not talked in eight years. He asked if I could put the phone up to her ear so he was able to say his goodbyes. I was trying to think what else was she holding on for. Then I felt that maybe she needed to make peace with my dad even though there marriage had been over for 33 years. Maybe there was still something there she needed to have closure on?
You know, they say that people can hear you even though they are not conscious. I always had a hard time believing that. I thought it was just something people say to make you feel better. Well, my mom had a heart monitor on her finger and her heart rate had been consistently 144 to 154 for hours. I texted my dad saying it was the end if he wanted to call he could. When he did, I put the phone up to my mom’s ear and her heart rate dropped to 90. The care giver and I looked at each other in shock! When my dad was done I pulled the phone away and her heart rate went back up to 154. I told my dad what happened and he asked to talk to her again and as soon as he started to talk her heart rate went back down to 90. After he was done she had another change downhill. I truly believed she could hear everything.
After that the nurse, aid, kids, and I sat around looking at old pictures sharing stories and laughing. The aid gave her a bath and we put a dress on her. I asked the nurse again how long she thought??? I was shocked she was still going. I then remembered what the other nurse said to me–”Sometimes a person wants to die alone and she might wait for you to leave.” My biggest fear was for her to die alone since alone is how she felt her whole life! But it was 9:30 and the nurse said we should all leave the room and see if that is what she is waiting for. So everyone left but I stayed behind to say goodbye.
I was sitting next to her and this is what I said, “Mom ,I love you so much, I am so grateful we had this journey and you allowed me to be here with you. Thank you for choosing me and adopting me. I am lucky to have you as a mom. I respect your wishes if you would like to die alone, however, I want to give you one last chance….. If you want me to be here and hold your hand til the end you need to give me a sign to stay.” Just after I said that her breathing changed significantly so I moved to the other side of the bed and rubbed her head and held her hand saying it was OK to go and please be free, I will be OK. I said that over and over as she took her last six breaths of air. She gave me the last thing I wanted for her: to not die alone.
Thank you for being on this journey with me. It is hard to lose your mom but also hard to be in the role of a caretaker for three months. This journey has been a wild ride. I am truly grateful. My biggest fear was she would die and we would not have closure. I got more than I could have ever expected. I thank my friends and family for their support and most of all I thank the Heartland Hospice staff. Because of them my nurse gave me gifts I never would have received.
I know my mom is now at peace yet my heart still hurts.