My mother weighs less than 80 pounds.
The first thing the nurse said to me at last week’s Patient Care Conference was that she doesn’t know what’s keeping Mom alive. She barely eats–except when she does. That’s a merry-go-round I’ve chosen to put from my mind. There’s no telling what she’ll do on any given day, and I cannot afford to expend energy worrying about it. For weeks at a time, she won’t eat at all and then suddenly she cleans her plate three meals in a row. Or she’ll eat about 25% of her meals … or 50% … or 5% … or not at all. She drinks … or doesn’t. If there’s muscle tone anywhere on her body, it must all be hidden in her heart, because there’s certainly none to see in her flesh. Another nurse told me that she can’t understand why Mom doesn’t have enormous bed sores because there is literally nothing on her rear-end anymore except fragile elderly skin over bone.
Hospice reports that her oxygen level is great (97-98%), her lungs clear, her heart strong, her Bp good (120/70 last time). They now do only bed or chair baths because getting her in and out of the shower caused so much discomfort, she needed additional morphine. She remains in relatively good spirits. There’s an occasional day when she’s feisty, but in a way that’s comforting — it’s a bother to the staff, but it’s more like her old personality. She usually recognizes me and my husband, although it may take a moment or two. She recognizes the women who care for her, even though she can’t remember their names. I think she gets tired of just sitting, but there’s nothing else she can do, physically speaking, and she’s usually too tired to try. She participates in activities, talks with others, sits and talks to herself.
But, my God, what is she waiting for?
No, I’m not anxious for my mother to die. I’m not standing in the wings rubbing my hands together in avaricious anticipation of my inheritance. (There won’t be one.) I’m just … tired. So is she. I can’t imagine what’s keeping her going.
One of the Hospice nurses, who’s into what my friends and I affectionately call “whoo-whoo” stuff, asked if there was anyone who might find her passing particularly difficult. She suggested that it was that energy holding her back. “Could they be convinced to send her a mental message that it’s all right to leave?” she wondered.
I thought about that, rather than poo-poo it. I’ve had too many unusual things happen in my life to poo-poo much. Of the family remaining, there are only two I can think of who will be particularly devastated when my mother dies. One is my eldest niece, Michelle, who shares a close relationship with Mom that the rest of us have envied. They were (are) “soul mates,” in Michelle’s words, but I know she would do nothing to hamper Mom’s passage out of this world.
The other is my Uncle Paul, my mom’s younger brother, the baby she raised while my grandmother struggled to support the family as a single mother during the Depression. I know her decline has taken its toll on him. He’s in his 80s, not a young man by any means, with health issues of his own. He misses seeing her (he lives seven hours away, does not travel well, and doesn’t like to leave home). He misses talking with her on the phone, touching base for a few minutes, bantering each other about baseball (he loves the Red Sox and she the Yankees). But I can’t ask him to let her go. Even if he were to believe in such a notion (and I don’t think he does), I’m not sure he could take that step. If, by some chance, she were to die right after that, he’d feel guilty. I wouldn’t wish that on him, on anyone.
So we wait.