This Week's Journey
So this week it happened. Meems relinquished her withered and worn little body and entered into the full glory of God.
On Tuesday, July 21, at around 1:00 AM, I was awakened by a call from the owner of Meems' assisted living facility. Meems' breathing patterns were changing. Hospice had been called to check on her. A breathing treatment had been administered, and Meems was placed on oxygen. Alan and I jumped into t-shirts and shorts and made the seven-minute drive to Mom's bedside. By the time we arrived, her breathing had improved. Her eyes were wide open, but she wasn't responding to us. This was par for the course.
Mom began "transitioning" towards the end of life about a year ago. It was then that I totally planned her funeral as I sat at her bedside for several days. Much to our surprise, she rallied. The loving caretakers at Promise Land 3 carefully fed her three meals a day each of which Mom devoured in over about an hour's time. She slept and ate. Slept and ate. We've been on this journey for more than 365 days.
Then, came Covid. Since, what was it...March?...April?... we began having back porch visits with her 3 times a week. Meems would be parked in her wheelchair at the window in the den that overlooked the back porch. The caregiver would hold the phone up to her ear. With coaxing, Mom would sometimes wiggle her good hand in the form of a wave. Mostly she drifted in and out of sleep.
About a week ago, I requested an in-person end-of-life visit. The sweet Hospice nurse, the staff at PL3 and I all agreed that there was no telling when Mom would pass. We figured that it would be quick with little warning. I was allowed an hour with Mom in her room. She was cozy in her bed. I kissed her through my mask about 100 times and put lotion on her arms and legs. It was simply delicious to be able to spend time in her pink and yellow chintz world.
After Tuesday's 1:00AM episode, I was allowed to have daily one-hour in-person visits with her. So, twelve hours after that wee hour phone call, I was back in her room. I closed the door, took off my mask and loved her up. My precious husband, Alan, was with me. We both said all the things. She looked different than she did last year. Her countenance had changed in a slight and indescribable way. Her generally rigid body was relaxing. I told Alan, "She'll either be gone in a day or so, or she'll be here until next Christmas. There's just no telling with my little mother."
At 9:00 that evening, I called to check on her before I headed towards bed. The caregiver reported that Mom's breathing was slowing down. Alan and I once again jumped into the car and spent an hour or so by her bedside. I did some major praying, weeping and begging God to escort her onto His dance floor. She was getting very close to outliving the paperlike skin that was draped across her bones. I was at my breaking point. I needed sleep. We headed home sometime after 10:00.
That's kind of a routine we'd developed over the past year when things looked iffy. Sit and love on her. Coat her tiny arms and legs with sweet lotions. Say all the things. Cry all the tears. Leave her side because as Hospice will tell you, sometimes they wait until their loved ones are not in the room. It's a thing.
At 11:30PM, my phone rang. I was lying in bed listening to my Audible book. I saw the PL3 owner's name flash onto my phone screen. I knew what she was going to say. "She just passed." I was surprisingly calm. I felt some semblance of peace. We jumped up and dressed. I think I put on whatever I wore when we got the 1:00AM call in the darkness of that very morning. A Seaside t-shirt and a pair of shorts. Ponytail and ball cap. Flip flops.
It was really hard to walk into that room. She looked just like she did when we left her about an hour earlier. I laid on the bed with her. At one point, I thought that she opened one of her eyes a bit. Alan assured me that it was that way when we walked in. I kept feeling her chest to make sure that there was no lingering breath. I kissed her still soft cheeks long and hard. I wrapped her up in hugs that I hadn't been give in a long, long time because her little body had been so very tender. I told her over and over again what an amazing mom she had been. I thanked her profusely for loving me so lavishly and loyally for my whole life.
A Hospice nurse came and made all of the necessary phone calls to the funeral home, etc. It was such a blessing to have her there. We stayed until the people arrived to "take her into their care." I loved how they said that. I wasn't expecting them to say "haul her off" or anything. But, their unexpected sweet wording took some of the sting out of what was about to happen. We left before they went about their business.
Alan and I went this afternoon to collect the few things of Mom's that I want to keep as mementoes. Walking back into that room. The worst. The hospital bed had been removed as well as other Hospice paraphernalia. The absence of those things shouted, "She's totally and completely gone." That vacuum of space did me in.
Alan was so, so sweet and loving as I cried and handed him things to take to the car. I stood in her closet hugging her hanging clothes and crying into the collars of her shirts. They smelled like her and felt like her. If Alan hadn't gently steered me away, I would probably still be hugging them (if snacks and sweet tea had been provided on an hourly basis).
So now, I face the challenge of honoring my beloved Meems during a pandemic. The service that I planned in June of 2019 is not going to happen. I'm going to need to get creative. Tentitively, it's looking like this.
First of all, per her wishes, she will be cremated.
Friday, August 21: There will be a "drive-by" visitation at Second Baptist Church sometime that evening. Dress casually, grab some Sonic, and come by. Our family - Alan, Jonathan, Bryce, Reed, Kelly (Kathy's daughter) and I - will be there ready to enjoy in your presence. There will be no hugs or long visits. Just quickly blown kisses through car windows. It will be enough. It will feel good.
Saturday, August 22: This is where it is still very blurry. We are going to pre-record her celebration here at home. It will be "live cast" at a given time that day. We'll watch from home with our family. There is technology involved that people smarter than me will figure out.
Sunday, August 23: Very tentative at this point. We will drive to Dallas and lay Mom's cremains to rest next to my sister, Kathy, and my brother, Kirk. When Turentine-Jackson in Plano tells me all the Covid rules, I'll let you know. We would love to be able to see family and friends from a safe distance as we lovingly tuck Meems' ashes away in the plot she bought the day my sister passed away. I will be sporting a straight-jacket because I'm a hugger.
This week I have been bowled over by the outpouring of love and tenderness and flowers and delicious calories. I've felt so isolated, we all have, over the past several months. But, the last twenty-four hours have been filled with tears of joy and gratitude. I have felt so, so loved. Meems was the last member of my nuclear family. My dad passed away over 30 years ago. My sibs are gone. I am blessed to have been "adopted" into my husband's family. I love them so dearly. And, my friends. I can't even begin to say all the words.
Thank you. I love you. I'll keep you posted on what's to come.