Stories and thoughts about family and life

She’s gone

on July 2, 2017

She’s gone.  It’s too real and too unreal at the same time.

Mom had been sick for quite some time.  COPD sufferers deal with their illness for years sometimes, and some days were definitely worse for Mom than others.  I had just had lunch with my older sister and my parents a couple of weeks before.  Mom was struggling more and more, and she could no longer walk much at all.   She used a wheelchair any time we were out like that, and she was prone to falling if she did try to walk much.  Still, I never imagined what Wednesday and Thursday held for my family.

Late Wednesday evening, Louis and I were with friends when my dad called.  I didn’t take the call right when he called, but listened to my voicemail a few minutes later and could hear the panic in his voice “Mom can’t breathe.  I need your help.”  I called him back to find that the ambulance was there and they were discussing transport.  They’re over two hours away from me, so these kinds of things have an extra anxiety attached to them.

The next several hours were consumed with communicating with my sisters, grabbing a few things to throw in a bag, grabbing my laptop and picking up my sister and driving.  Brennan, my youngest son, wanted to go with us.  He’s my Daddy’s buddy, and he inherently understood that Daddy needed him.  I was so proud of how mature he was through the whole ordeal.

I promised Daddy I’d be there just as soon as I could.   I had suggested that they go to Ft. Smith, and Daddy called a few minutes after we were underway and said they were going to Waldron instead (closer to home).  That didn’t give me a good feeling about the whole thing.

As we got close to the farm, Daddy called and said they were transferring her to Ft. Smith.  A quick regroup with my other sister, and we were all heading to Ft. Smith.  When we arrived, I found my dad in the “family room” the hospital provided us.  We waited for what felt like an eternity and when the doctor finally came in, he explained that Mom was very sick and they had nearly lost her in each ambulance trip.

By 5:30 a.m., they realized nothing they were doing was helping, and we began discussion about comfort care and hospice.  The doctor who talked to Daddy was so gentle and kind, and he did his best to explain everything and help us understand what she was going through.  We proceeded with comfort care, and by 6:10, she was gone.

The things that go through your mind in a situation like that are nothing short of incredible.  I had remarkable moments of clarity, where I jumped into my professional mode and ensured all the records were in order, straightened out their insurance details (which were provided incorrectly by the first hospital), and made sure all the contact information was accurate.   We all had moments where we would burst into tears for a few minutes and kind of regroup.  As I knew Mom was gone, I was walking down the hall, crying so hard I was hyperventilating, and some sweet nurse stopped in the hallway and wrapped her arms around me, tried to get me to sit down on a nearby gurney, and asked what she could do.  I felt it was important that I try to keep it together to help Daddy through, but it was also important that I just not completely lose it for myself, too.  I regained my composure and went outside to be with my dad.

I took Daddy to the cemetery while my older sister and her husband went to the funeral home.   Daddy wanted them both buried at the Veteran’s Cemetery together, and the representative there was so kind and helpful, giving us the details we needed, and even escorting Daddy out the back door of the 100+ year old building they’re in, so he wouldn’t have to walk so far to the truck.  We went to meet my sister and her husband at the funeral home, and my brother-in-law Les came out and explained what they had already done.   Of all the kindness shown to us that day, and all the generous, wonderful people placed in our path, Les made the biggest impact on me, and I am so grateful he was there.

Mom and Daddy didn’t have anything pre-arranged, and those are difficult decisions to make on a good day.   Les took control of the situation, not letting anyone talk us into anything, and finally telling the representative “you’re going to show these two ladies whatever caskets you have and they’re going to pick what they want for their mother.”  It was so nice to have someone just take over and take such a difficult burden off our shoulders.  Sales people are still sales people right to the very end.  Les helped us walk through the room and shared in our conversations, helping make logical sense (if that’s even possible) out of all the choices and the hows and whys you choose one casket over another.  Les wrote the obituary, and helped my sister take care of all those paperwork details.   Even worse, it was his birthday, and he was sitting there with us in Ft. Smith, dealing with all of this.  He was so kind and thoughtful, and gentle about it.  He understood that we were numb and couldn’t really even communicate about it all yet.

After everything was arranged, Daddy wanted to go home.  I tried to get him to go back to the hotel with me (we had gotten a room in the middle of the night to try to get him to rest), but he refused.  He wanted to be in his own house.  I can appreciate that.  After he left, I checked in with my husband before heading to the hotel, and I sat in the Sparks Hospital parking lot and I cried.  I ugly cried.  I spoke in crazy, incoherent sentences and I recounted the details of the bizarre surreal night we had just experienced.  I told him that while we knew Mom was sick and her days were likely numbered, I didn’t imagine it would happen like that, but that I was grateful she didn’t suffer and it went quickly with no pain.  I told him that the nurses who took care of us were nothing short of saintly, and that one had even found my sister an extra gurney and put it in my mom’s ER room, so she could be close-by while my other sister and I tried to get Daddy to rest.  I told him about the nurse who hugged me in the hallway, and the countless people at the front desk who knew we were hurting, and did their best to make us comfortable.  I told him about the front desk person at the hotel, who realized we were leaving about 45 minutes after checking in to go back to the hospital, and she arranged things so we could come back later and still have our rooms.  I told him about the wonderful doctors who had been so kind and gentle with all of us, and I cried.  I cried until I thought I couldn’t cry anymore.    My husband and my younger sister’s husband were both on the way with my other son to meet us in Ft. Smith.   At first I had told him not to come.  Now I was so grateful he’d be with me soon I could barely breathe.

I finally got my wits back about me and drove to the hotel and got back into my room.  I had just gone to sleep when they arrived, and after my sister and her husband left, I tried to sleep.  Sleep wouldn’t find me anymore, though.  Try as I might, I couldn’t drift back off.  I finally sat up crying, and told my husband to take me home.  I thankfully had something in my bag to knock me out, and he put me in my truck and drove me home.

The afternoon was filled with texts and Facebook messages, phone calls and my wonderful loving friends who were all checking in on me.  I honestly barely remember talking to any of them.  By the time Louis put me in the truck, I was operating on about 30 hours with no sleep (save the 15 minute “nap” I had right before they arrived).  I was delirious and sad and a million other things I can’t quite articulate.

I will tell you that my relationship with my mom wasn’t as close and wonderful as some people have.  We argued and I know I drove her crazy.  I’d be lying if I told you she didn’t drive me a little crazy too.    I’m strong-willed and my tenacity was something she both loved and disliked.  She could be strongly critical of me when she disagreed with me, and she could hold onto something you did 10 years ago like it was yesterday.  I’ve come to realize, thinking about all of this, that many of those traits of mine which drove her crazy are the sames ones I got primarily from her.

Watching my Daddy’s heart break over and over again is probably the hardest part of all of this for me.  I can rationalize that Mom was sick, and that now she’s not sick anymore.  She doesn’t have to feel badly, or struggle breathing, or not be able to walk or any of that.  I can think about it that way and know that it had to happen.  But, she and Daddy were married 48 years.  I know she could push his buttons sometimes too, but as we talked the other day and he said through his tears that he had lost his soulmate and he didn’t know how he would get along without her, I appreciated that the love they shared was truly fantastic.

I will truly miss her.



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