I grieved my mother’s death ten years before she died. Like a lot of nurses her body gave out under the physical strain of caring for people. Pain forced her to leave her perfectly starched cap on the shelf and her white stockings in the drawer. She never gave up her duty shoes though. Years after she went on disability she would lean on Dad’s arm and hobble in to the same shop downtown to buy another pair.
We assumed it was the pain meds that clouded her once brilliant mind -that or the chronic lack of sleep. Even after the pain gave her an excuse to stay in bed she seldom slept more than four or five hours a night. She would bake bread and wash floors before her day shift when she still rushed into the oncology ward for report. I don’t think she knew how to sleep more than that. She was the hardest worker I ever knew. Sitting still was a sin. A dreamy bookish daughter was a totally alien creature to her.
The Alzheimer’s kind of snuck up on us. But she knew -and wrote final letters to her children and gave instructions for her funeral while she could still write. We found them stored in her security box.
My greatest grief came early in the disease process after we finally sat down for the heart-to-heart she had been promising for so many years. She finally listened.
An hour later she repeated a question that made me realize she had not retained a word of what I said.
I grieved for the conversation that would never happen. I drove home and stopped at a roadside rest area when I couldn’t stop the tears. I never cried like that again, even though I was aware, at every visit, of saying goodbye to another little part of her that was gone forever.
The disease progressed relatively slowly. Dad was heroic in his efforts to care for her by himself, but after he had a mild stroke and wouldn’t consider moving and none of us lived close enough to take over the 24 hour intensive care she required, there was no choice but to find a facility to look after her.
She was a lousy patient. This frail little lady who was too weak to lift a piece of sandwich to her mouth decked two nurses she considered to be incompetent.
Here’s the other embarrassing thing. Mom was never racist -well, perhaps mildly, but less than most people of her generation — but to her it was 1930 something in Saskatchewan and she was a young girl who had never seen a person of colour before. She was very frightened of the staff who were all, with the exception of one fiery no-nonsense Scottish woman, Asia or Jamaica born. She didn’t know what country she was in. She thought she had been abducted.
There was one night though, when she and I sang our way through a dozen hymns. She didn’t know who I was, but she knew all the words and even sang harmony. After she sang she told me about the Jesus she was singing about. She lit up, “Oh, he’s wonderful.”
Two minutes later she was crying out in agony. When a young patient was rolled through the hospital on a stretcher she thought it was her dear brother who been killed in a car accident. He died in that accident sixty years before, but her grief was as fresh as if she was hearing the news for the first time.
One afternoon while out for a hike I cried out to the Jesus she loved and asked him to please take her. I hated to see her suffer. She was so confused and no position the nurses put her in was comfortable.
Two hours after I prayed my brother called. Mom died –two hours ago.
I didn’t cry.
Dad said he was holding her hand as he read a book. She had been in a lot of pain that day. When he looked up again to check on her, her eyes were focussed on something on the other side of the room. He said she had a look of surprised delight on her face, as if she recognized someone she loved and had been waiting for. He tried to see who it was, but before he could ask Mom, he knew she was gone.
When I was sorting through my mother’s things in drawers and closets I found bits of rolled up paper with bible verses written on them. Promises. I knew that at one point she had memorized huge portions of scripture and quoted it at night when she couldn’t sleep. I took the verses and put them in a wooden box. They are my treasure.
Yes, I have a good inheritance.