|Mother - One of my favorite pictures of her|
Today is the 10th anniversary of my mother's passing. Ten years is a long time; it feels like yesterday, though.
Her decline in health had begun with a fall in which she broke her hip. She had hip replacement surgery, during which she had a bad reaction to the anesthesia and had to be kept intubated in ICU for 3 days. She was just recovering from the fall and surgery, when she had another fall due to a brain hemorrhage and a heart attack. She needed a pace maker and had to relearn some language skills - the proper words for things, how to write again, how to read.
She continued to suffer a series of falls, and slowly, we noticed that her memory was failing her. One day in October of 2005, she didn't recognize me and asked me who I was. I thought she was joking. She wasn't. And, increasingly, she used to get disorientated at evening and experience behavior changes. I had never heard of Sundowners' Syndrome until much later, after Mother had passed away. I didn't quite realize it at the time, but she was at the beginning stages of dementia. I was working full time, parenting a very active middle schooler in a high achievement academic program with many extra-curricular activities (dance classes, piano classes, gymnastics, etc.), and taking care of my mother, as well. This was a very stressful time in my life.
The end came quite gently, as it turned out. On a Monday, after a recent fall, she didn't feel well and I stayed home from work to look after her. I had washed her and helped her to bed and was thinking to myself that, if she continued to be this ill, I'd have to either take a leave of absence from my work and stay home to care for her, or find someone to come and care for her even though we tried that one time earlier and Mother protested the whole time. Putting her into a care facility was only the last possible option, after all other options had been exhausted. I was cleaning up the bathroom and doing a load of laundry when daughter came to inform me that Grandmother was crying.
When I went to check on Mother, she was, indeed, crying, because she was sorry that I had to take care of her. She was being a burden to me, she said. I tried to reassure her that it was OK. That taking care of her was not a burden, that I would do whatever was needed to look after her.
The next day, Tuesday, February 7, she seemed OK. She refused to take her tea in bed and insisted on coming to the living room. She had her tea and ate a banana. I felt reassured enough to go to the office. As always, I prepared her meal (I normally left both breakfast and lunch on a table next to her chair, along with her medications and water and so forth). On this particular morning, she didn't want me to make her breakfast as our gardener M was coming and she liked him to make her French toast - she said he made it better than I did. :)
It was partly because M was going to be there for two hours that I felt it was OK for me to go to the office. If I left a little later than usual, Mother would be on her own for 30 minutes before M would check in on her, make her breakfast, etc. Towards the end of his stay, his aunt who lived a couple of doors down would come over to check on my mother and then, she'd be on her own again for another couple of hours before my daughter would come home from school, as Tuesdays were half days for her. Her friend would also come home with her and they would sit and do their homework together until it was time for her friend's mother to come from work to pick up her friend and I would be home after that. In my patched together care system, Tuesdays were good days.
Except, this particular Tuesday didn't go according to script. I had been at the office for less than an hour, when I got a phone call, saying my mother wasn't well, 911 has been called but I should come home immediately. I spoke to the paramedics, trying to explain where her medications were, when he gently told me that it was best if I came home immediately, he'll be waiting for me. That's when I asked if she was already gone and he said he generally doesn't like to break the news over the phone, but, yes. My supervisor at work and a colleague drove me home - colleague driving me in my car, supervisor following in an office car so he could take colleague back.
I gradually got the whole story from gardener M, his aunt, the paramedics, etc. Mother had enjoyed her French toast breakfast, but had told M that she couldn't "do this any more" and M had tried to reassure her. Then, M had gone to plant some bean seeds my daughter had sprouted as part of a science experiment. Mother had made her bed (I discovered, later), then had gone to the back door to ask M if everything was OK. He had given her a thumbs up and she had gone back to sit in her chair. A short while later, M's aunt had come to check on my mother as was her custom and found Mother, on her chair, but unresponsive. That's when they called the paramedics, who tried to revive her but couldn't.
The rest of the day passed by almost like a dream. I did what I had to do, notified people, made funeral arrangements, and so forth and made it a point to explain to daughter what had happened when she came home from school. She was only 12 years old, but over the next few days and weeks, she'd hold me as I'd break down and cry.
I had always planned to hold an almsgiving on a grand scale to observe the 10th anniversary of my mother's passing. Instead, here I am, unable to do anything about it, since I am dealing with a sickness of my own. I did call the temple and reminded the monks, who reassured me that they will hold a special evening service during which they will remember her and light candles in her memory and say a prayer for her. I, too, will keep a candle burning in her memory, today, and maybe, in the afternoon, daughter will drive me to the cemetery to leave a few flowers at her grave.
Rest in peace, Mother. You are remembered with love and missed, not just today, but every day, by your daughter and granddaughter.