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She Never Came Back Home

When I wrote my last post, in those first few days home, I omitted something that I was struggling with. The day after I came home my mom was admitted to the hospital. I worked on my rehab, checked in with her nursing staff and doctors as my body/mind allowed, but she never came back home.

I am pretty open and vulnerable on my blog, from all the mistakes and lessons learned while working on my little business all the way to discussing my health and personal issues. I try to respect the privacy of everyone else involved in my life though, because someday they might not want details of their life forever floating in the internet world. I’m going to respect my mom’s privacy as much as possible while discussing my experience, being grief is the survivor’s journey.

A strong case of Covid attacked my mom’s disease-weakened lungs and her doctor notified me that they had exhausted all noninvasive measures. So my husband rushed me to the hospital as soon as he got home from work that Friday evening; hauling along my walker, the Medical Directive, and a few other things that I thought would be of comfort to her if she had moments of clarity.

Upon discussion with the staff and reviewing my mom’s wishes, I had to make the decision to remove all assistive devices and start comfort care instead. She had been so delirious that she had repeatedly removed the breathing mask and then nasal tube, so they had put special gloves over her hands. They began to administer pain and sedation medications, to make her comfortable, and not have the instinctual behaviors to fight to breathe.

We had to don full Covid hospital gear, from the tear away gown down to a shield over the N95 mask. Extensive and sadder in a way, because there’s no skin to skin contact when holding their hand or stroking their hair. No hugging or kissing their forehead. But you get to be there and still touch and talk to them at least.

I put some pictures around in her bed, wrapped the nice cross necklace around her palm once they removed the glove over her IV hand, after removing the oxygen, and talked to her. Even the Young Man was home briefly before he left to start college and he was able to come for a bit, to say his goodbye. It was agreed that it would be best for Little Man to not witness this; I didn’t want his memories of her to be overwritten by such trauma. But my husband stayed with me there for hours.

I honestly thought it would have been more peaceful and quicker, once comfort care was started. I don’t know the medical parts that caused everything (since that’s not an area covered in education for any of my former medical careers), but the moans and horrific breathing noises haunt me. I did all those little things you do when you comfort someone you love; held her hand, stroked her hair and cheek, even held her head in a position that made it easier to breathe when pillows couldn’t do it and her muscles were losing control. Played favorite songs, reminisced about favorite moments we shared or silly things, kept repeating how well she was doing and how proud I was, talked about the things she would soon encounter due to her beliefs, and all the updates that would reassure her that we were doing well in life and it was okay to let go now to be in peace.

I became incredibly sick from overdoing it, the stress, and all of the crying, and spent quite a long time vomiting and resting in another room; enough that I suspect I almost got admitted with being so sick so soon after discharge. The nurses kept watching me whenever I took trips from the waiting room (it was empty most of the time, so I actually passed out for a bit curled up in a recliner once my stomach settled). My incredible husband had me take care of my own health needs and stayed with her instead. I don’t know too many people who have so much character that they knew to fulfill both needs, because later his being there for her when I couldn’t sure soothes me. All the things he did for her, and facing such a situation, knowing I needed him to be with her while my body shut down.

After several hours the main night nurse suggested we go home and rest, because it was going to take some time apparently for the system to shut down fully. She would call when the situation worsened, but we needed to take care of our needs at that point. The guilt is sometimes so pressing; having to leave because my body couldn’t continue when my mom needed me. Several people with varying medical knowledge all have tried to reassure me that at that point there was no recognition and, to be blunt, she didn’t have any knowledge that we were gone, but grief and guilt aren’t logical. So sometimes I struggle.

I fell asleep with my phone near my head and answered on the first ring; instantly awake. The nurse said it was time to come and we hurriedly went to the hospital. I don’t even remember what I wore, but remember thinking afterward that it was an odd shirt to wear to someone dying. Why in the world is that something I remember? And how is clothing more or less appropriate as long as it’s not sarcastic about death or bad luck? One of those weird things that pops into my head randomly. Point is, we didn’t take time to actually select clothing; just grabbed and tried to put everything on at once. I remember my husband worrying that I was trying to walk too fast with my walker, when I was basically relearning to walk without the complications from the withdrawal and due to the weakness, but I was so focused that I actually even remembered the path to the Covid area, when I’m notorious for getting lost even in an Olive Garden restaurant (don’t get me started on my map skills either…yikes). The nurse called when we were a couple of minutes from reaching the unit and met us outside that area. She took us into a room and I remember wondering if she was going to try to prepare us for seeing Mom’s very end or if we were too late. It turns out that there was no way we could have gotten there fast enough between the sudden health decline call and her death. I’m able to quiet that guilt sometimes, especially with all of the documentation (I was medical proxy and Executor, plus Will Executor, so I temporarily had access to enough information to learn a bit). I was still having some severe cognitive issues at the time and thankfully wrote everything down, in case I couldn’t actually remember details later, which is a blessing.

So on the anniversary of my daughter’s miscarriage my grief pulled at me enough to write about it all. I like to think that Mom’s with her favorite deceased relatives and is now with her granddaughter, too. It’s peaceful to think that she was so incredibly happy to be a grandmother in whatever capacity she could to my stepsons, that now she gets to be a grandmother without all of the health issues or trappings of life. I’m honestly still struggling with religion and what I truly believe, but I find solace in imagining them together, along with my grandpa and uncles.

And the box holding her ashes, along with all the documents needed for travel, sits in the basement surrounded with some of her favorite things and pictures of happy moments. When we take our family trip out to CA in a few years hopefully, we will take an extra day to go to the ocean to scatter her ashes (yep, I have all the EPA rules and stuff, plus how to travel with cremated ashes; I know even weirder trivia now). Every Sierra anniversary is honored with a white flower for her and I plan to dry this year’s, and add the crumbled petals to the ashes. Mom always wanted to be scattered at the ocean and I really like the symbolism of honoring Sierra with her, and saying goodbye to them together, shared with the wild and wondrous waves.

My mom almost made it to seventy, which is impressive with how long she struggled with COPD and comorbidities. Sierra would be 22 now; lost 23 years ago, and would probably be graduating college this year. It’s a little bittersweet to have moved Young Man to college and drive down to celebrate big moments in the start of this stage of life, because I now can more clearly imagine how her college life might have been. How she would have been home on summer break still and able to say goodbye to her grandmother, who would have been along for the full journey of being a grandmother. So Sierra’s white flower petals in with her grandmother’s ashes feels right.

I’m about to see the two new doctors to take over my Clonazepam withdrawal journey and go through a controlled (hopefully) withdrawal soon. I plan to blog about that in case any of the documentation of my experience with Clonazepam helps someone, so the other part is out there to help provide an example of what could happen, but I needed that time away from everything. I haven’t even logged into SL in so long now that I know it’ll be crazy with updates once I finally do. I haven’t done any gem art. I am working on finishing coloring some butterfly pictures my mom was working on before she passed. Her mother in law suite looked like she would come back any moment and I had to dismantle most of it; going through everything and getting things settled, that I wanted to complete something for her. I don’t know if it makes sense to anyone else, but it feels like a way to honor her and close the chapter on her living with us. So things may get a bit wonky again as my meds get fiddled with and we start changing my brain chemistry again, plus my continued cognitive retraining that sometimes results in weird blog posts and text messages. *soft smile* Clonazepam still sucks, you know.

Today (now yesterday) honors butterflies, white flowers, and the songs “Angel”, sung by Sarah McLachlan, and “Jealous of the Angels”, sung by Donna Taggart. My mom felt a strong connection to that song when her last brother passed away and it felt right that it would also honor her now.

In loving memory of Sierra Nicole and Joyce.

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