Thursday, September 11, 2014

Always and Forever

This post is about my mom dying.

And that makes it one of the most difficult things on earth to blog about but I know that it needs to be done. I need to get it out before the details get too fuzzy but I've been procrastinating.  I don't know why.  Maybe because if I write it all out that makes it all the more real?  Maybe yes.  Maybe no.  Maybe I just don't know why.

My mom was 77 and her health hadn't been the greatest this past winter.  She had battled with some pretty harsh medical issues that had left her feeling depressed and a little bit defeated.  On top of those things she had scoliosis and severe arthritis in her feet that made it difficult for her to walk for some time.  She was living in the house where I grew up and that sits on a half an acre. It was very difficult for her to take care of the house and the yard and even though my siblings and I live close by it was difficult for us to go over and help out with the yard as much as was needed.

My husband I approached my mom about selling her home and moving in with our family.  I told her that it would totally be up to her but to think about it and pray about it and we would love to have her come and live with us. The decision was made and she was able to move in with us on May 23.  She kind of lived in between the two houses for most of the time because we were trying to get her house cleaned out.

Mom brought with her the most amazing spirit.  I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to feel that in my home.  Her wit and humor.  Her unconditional love.  She seemed to be doing really well and feeling better than she had in a very long time.  She was out and about driving her car and visiting her kids and grand kids. She and I went to the Strawberry Day's Rodeo.  Things were looking really good.

And then she and Jillian and I caught colds just before the 4th of July. She was coughing and just wasn't feeling well in general. She didn't go right into the doctor because she wasn't sure if it was viral or what so she waited about a week.  She couldn't get in to see her regular doctor so I took her in to Urgent Care where my family goes.  We filled out all of the paper work, me asking her health questions and filling things out. When we went to the room to see the PA he wanted to do an X-Ray of her chest because he could here some crackling.  An X-Ray was done.  The PA came in and said that, yes it looked like she had pneumonia, but there was also something else.  It looked like her lungs had a bunch of fibers in there that had been stretched and pulled. My mom looked up and said "Oh.  I have Pulmonary Fibrosis."  I remembered her telling me something about that a few years back and looking it up online. Angie also remembers the doctor saying that this disease is what she would die from.  I remember reading that there was no treatment and there was no cure.  I also remember not being super concerned about it.  The doctors didn't seem too concerned and neither did mom when she told me, so I guess we had all put it out of our minds.

They gave mom a shot and put her on some antibiotics and sent us home.  That was July 3rd.  On Sunday July 6th mom said that she felt really short of breath, especially when she would get up to walk just down the hall or to move about the house.  I told her that we needed to take her to the hospital but she didn't want to go, so I told her I would take her to InstaCare and see what they had to say.  She agreed to that and she slowly got dressed.  Just getting herself dressed was very tiring.  At InstaCare before they took us in to see the doctor they measured her oxygen levels, which were at 88, and informed us there was nothing that they could do and we needed to take her to the hospital.  By the time I drove from Lindon to American Fork, maybe a 15-20 minute drive (because I had to drop McKenna off at home first) her oxygen levels had dropped to 85 and the triage nurse immediately started her on oxygen.  I called my sister Angie on the way to the hospital and she said she and Russ would meet me there.

The ER was pretty crazy and we had to wait a bit before they could take us back.  Once they  had us in a room in ER they put an IV in and took some blood and started her on some IV antibiotics and stuff to get her hydrated a bit more.  She was fine if she was laying down but she had to get up at all it was almost too much.  They did another X-Ray on her there and then we waited.  It was getting late so mom told me to tell Angie and Russ to head home.  After a while the doctor came in to tell us that her sodium levels were really low.  So low, in fact, that she needed to be admitted to the ICU. Mom was not happy about that.  In the ICU room the doctor asked me how many liters of oxygen she was on at home and I said "None, she isn't on oxygen at home."  Which seemed to surprise him.  He said that one of the side effects of Pulmonary Fibrosis is that your sodium levels drop.  He said that it would take some time for them to get her levels of sodium up safely because if you bring them up too quickly that can be bad.  Brad and Roger came and gave mom a blessing and she sent us all home.

Angie and I went back to the hospital the next day and they said that she was doing really well and that her sodium levels had come up much more quickly than expected and they were transferring her to a regular room.  I headed to work and Angie stayed with mom.  We thought she might be coming home later on that day but the doctor said that he wanted to keep her one more day.  Tuesday came and Angie went over the hospital again while I went to work.  I drove over there after work and sat with mom while she had dinner.  She was sitting up and talking and joking and enjoying her dinner. I left that night thinking that I would be bringing mom back home on Wednesday.

I went to work Wednesday morning and I sent a text to Angie about 9:30 to see how mom was doing. I got side tracked and didn't see that  she had sent three texts back asking me to call her.  I called and Angie told me that mom was really weak.  Weaker than before.  They had been talking about sending her to a rehab facility but decided against it because when mom had got up to use the bathroom her oxygen levels had dropped into the 60's even while she was on oxygen.  Angie was very worried so I sent an email to my supervisor asking if I could get off work and go over to the hospital to be with her.

When I got there Angie said that doctor, a Dr. Sires had pulled her aside and said "I don't mean to make you sad but this is terminal."  He was very kind.  I just wish I had been there with her so she didn't have to take in that news all by herself.

They had been giving mom breathing treatments to help her breath better off and on through the night and that morning.  As the day wore on we could tell that things were not getting better.  They had her on 9 liters of oxygen but they wouldn't up it any higher because he lungs just weren't absorbing any and her sats were sitting in the high 70's low 80's. My sweet niece who lives in Canada sent me a message on Facebook saying that she wanted to call and have her kids talk with Gramma Norma so I gave her the direct number to the room and she was able to call and mom was able to listen to those sweet kids and talk with them just a little bit.

With everything that was happening Angie and I decided that we needed to call a family meeting so we got on the phone and told all of the siblings and their spouses to meet up at mom's house at 8 p.m.  I asked mom if there was anything that she wanted me to relay to everybody at the meeting.  She told me to tell them that she loved them and to tell them to love one another.

Before we left the hospital there was a shift change of the nurses.  At this time I think I was still hoping that mom would somehow pull through and she would be able to go into a rehab facility. As we spoke with one of the nurses she pulled us aside into an office and I asked her flat out if she thought mom was going to recover. She was not very optimistic and she tried to be as kind as possible as she told us that in her experience when people got to the point where mom was they usually didn't.  We told her we were having a family meeting and asked if she thought we should tell family to come over and talk to mom.  She said that if it was her she would.  We informed her that we had a very large family and wondered if that would be a problem, without hesitation she said let them come over.  She told us that they didn't have specific visiting hours and as long as we were quiet and respectful of the other patients people could come and go at any time.

I left the hospital and drove to mom's house.  We all gathered together in the living room and we sat on folding chairs because the house had been emptied out getting it ready to sell. We had a prayer and I proceeded to tell them that it did not look good for mom.  I know that it came as quite the shock.  It still hadn't sunk in with me either.  I told them that they needed to get a hold of their kids and have them come over and tell Gramma Norma that they loved her.  I didn't tell them to have them come and say goodbye because I still wanted to believe that this wasn't going to be a goodbye.

When we returned to the hospital we found that they had put her on a different oxygen mask one that had a bag attached and this along with another breathing treatment had brought her SATs back up into the low 90's. Which was wonderful because when we told people to come, come they did.  The grandchildren and the great grandchildren all that could showed up.  The hallway outside of her room was lined with folding chairs that the hospital staff provided for us.  The chairs in the small waiting area at the end of the hallway would fill and empty.  Those who loved her came and surrounded her bed, gave her hugs and whispered I love you's.  My sweet nephew, AJ, came with his ukulele and played and softly sang for her "Over The Rainbow / What A Wonderful World" in his beautiful voice.  And mom was able to enjoy them all.  Our family came and went until about midnight.

Angie, her daughter Kailee, Ty and I all claimed chairs in the small waiting area at the end of the hallway while the nurses gave mom some meds to help her sleep.  At about 1 or 2 am I moved from the waiting area to the chair in mom's room next to her bed.  I wanted to see if her sats were still up hoping against hope that they were.  They weren't.  They had dropped into the 80's.

 I asked the nurse for a warm blanket and settled down in the chair.   I didn't sleep much, just fitfully dozed in the chair for a while.  I have always been able to use music to calm me thankfully I had my iphone the Pandora app and the hospital provides free wi-fi so I opened up Pandora as the music began to play it was if the playlist had been created just for me in that very moment.  The very first song that began to play was an piano instrumental of "Time To Say Goodbye" and it was then I knew for sure.  I knew that mom wouldn't be coming home.

As Wednesday slowly turned to Thursday we watched and waited.  My brother Andy and two of his sons were working on a job in Vernal, Utah and we were sending him texts keeping him updated.  He asked in the early hours of the morning if we really thought that he needed to come.

I went in and sat by mom's bed.  And I said "Hey mom, I think that there are people waiting to meet you on the other side." and she popped her head up and said "So soon?"  And I said, "I don't know.  Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe the doctor will tell us differently when he comes in." She answered with "Well, let's see what the dr. says."

I knew that mom did not want any extraordinary measures taken to prolong her life.  In fact we had just had conversations about it on Tuesday as I sat with her as she ate her dinner.  As we sat in the little waiting area that morning the breathing specialist came to speak with us.  I knew that the next step up from the current oxygen mask that they had on mom was a CPAP mask.  And that basically forces air into your lungs.  It is what they use before they intubate.  He asked if that was something that mom wanted and I told him that I wasn't sure.  He said that we needed to go and talk with mom and find out because before too long she would not be able to make that decision.

After that discussion with the breathing specialist the answer we sent to my brother was Yes, you need to come and you need to come quickly.  We also were trying to get word to mom's brother and her sister-in-law that if they wanted to come and say goodbye then they needed to come over quickly.

I then went back into mom's room and told her that they wanted to put her on the CPAP mask and asked her if that would be okay. She said yes she was willing to give it a try.  They put the mask on her and she was doing okay until she started to cough. (At this point she was coughing up phlegm and there was blood).  She took the mask off and said she couldn't keep it on because she needed to cough we put the other mask back on but her oxygen levels were falling.  The breathing specialist came in and asked why she didn't have the CPAP on and we explained about the coughing and he told us to just take it off when she coughed and then put it back on.

So we put the mask back on and I looked at mom and said "You realize that you aren't going to be with us for much longer, don't you?"  And she softly nodded her head yes.  I took her hand I told her what an amazing mother she was and how grateful I was that she was mine and I told her that I loved her.  I also asked her if she would like a blessing once Andy got there and she again, nodded yes.

A nurse came in and asked mom if there was anything that she would like and she said "Yes.  A Dr. Pepper." The nurse said that all they had was Mr. Pibb and would that be alright.  I told them that yes that would be fine so they got her a Mr. Pibb and we took the mask off and let her have a small sip before putting the mask back on.

The nurses came in to check on mom often and we discussed what would happen once my brother and his sons arrived.  That we would take the mask off put the small canula back on and give her some medicine to help her relax and be able to sleep.

Each of the family members were able to speak with her and tell her that they loved her, give her a hug and let her know what a wonderful mother she was.  Andy arrived and he and his sons gave her their words and hugs and love and then the siblings and the spouses gathered in the room and she was given a blessing.

She was ready. She wanted the mask taken off.  The CPAP was replaced with the canula and we let the nurse know that we were ready for the medicine that would help her to relax.  Her brother and his wife and my dad's sister and her husband both made it and were able to see mom and be there.

Her family gathered into the room around her.  I knelt by the side of her bed and held her hand and stroked her beautiful white hair.  And then I sang her a song.  "I Often Go Walking"

I often go walking in meadows of clover
and I gather armfuls of blossoms of blue.
I gather the blossoms the whole meadow over;
Dear Mother all flowers remind me of you.

And then the rest of the family joined together singing other songs, "Families Can Be Together Forever", being one of them. My husband retrieved his a small hymnbook that he had and began singing the hymn "Abide with Me; 'Tis Eventide" and we sang my mother to the other side. It was very reminiscent of saying goodbye to my dad just 6 short years ago.

My sweet nephew, Landon who lost his mom two years ago, came to mom's bedside and with his voice breaking told his grandma to give his mom a big hug from him and to tell her he loves her. Outside the window a grounds keeper for the hospital passed by with a weed eater going full force. Another family might have found this sound incredibly intrusive because it was quite loud.  For us it was a sign that our Dad was there.

Mom passed away on July 10, 2014 at 11:12.  It was peaceful and I feel unimaginably blessed to have been by the side of both of my parents as they have continued their journeys. Not everyone gets that chance and for that I am so grateful.

July 10 also happens to be my wedding anniversary.  Some of you may find this sad.  And at first I did too.  But then the thought came to me, and I am certain it was mom sending it, I get to share my earthly anniversary with my mom and dad's first anniversary of forever. 

I know that my mom lives on.  She went for a walk with me on the Friday morning after she died.  I got up early to go and started heading East to a walking trail that is in our town.  It felt wrong and an knew that I was supposed to be going West.  So I went around the block and as I came around the corner that started me heading in the western direction I saw the most beautiful full moon hanging in the sky.  A sight I would have missed if I had continued on my original trajectory. 

As I continue walking I knew that I was supposed to walk out to the Mt. Timpanogos temple.  Mom loved that place so very much.  I felt her with me that entire walk.  Mom loved walking and when I was younger her early morning walks were her sanctuary.  I saw her in a Peace Rose, her favorite flower.  She was there in the wildflowers and in the finches.  Someone had left a flag up in there yard and there was an apricot tree that was laden with apricots.  I walked to temple and then headed back home.  Mom was there. I could feel her spirit, vital and alive and young and beautiful.  I was tired and she wasn't.  She was ready for more. What an incredible experience.

I still feel mom very close.  That feeling has been a buffer for me in many ways.  A buffer for which I am eternally grateful because mom's death was very unexpected.  Her mom lived to be 99 and we kind of figured that mom would be around for many years more.  That was our plan.  But it wasn't THE plan.  THE plan was different than ours, as it usually is.  

I am grateful for that plan even though it takes unexpected twists and turns.  I am grateful for the knowledge that I will see my mom again.  And my dad and my sister and my grandparents and other family that have passed on will be there as well.

Mom is an incredible spirit.  Her love was, and is, unconditional. She is watching and guiding her children as best she can from where she is now.  I know this.  I feel her.  I know she loves me and my siblings with all her heart and soul.  

Always and Forever.