After All the Firsts……

“How long will this last?”

I remember asking Thomas those words as we brought mom home to be welcomed into hospice. We had brought mom home to die, and even though I knew that, there is nothing that could really prepare me for it.

My family flooded in and we all filled her house with bodies and comfort food. At times, we filled the home with laughter. Other moments, her home was filled with tears. The day time was busy, the night time was quiet, but the anguish was there 24/7, sun up and sun down.

2014-08-12 15.05.37-1I knew she was dying. We all did. But as she battled those final days, I couldn’t help but wonder how long she would have to fight such a gruesome fight, struggling to breathe, frequently moving to try and find the most comfortable position in which to rest, only to find nothing of the such existed.

“How long will this last?”

Turns out, there is actually a little book that exists that can help families gauge and discover that answer of “how long.” “Gone From My Sight” is the offical name, but my memory recalls it to be “Fading from my Sight” which I think is actually more appropriate. Fading……still present, but not….fading from the ones that love you.

I remember the hospice nurse coming in to talk with us. We sat down at mom’s kitchen table, mom in her room, a few family members in the living room. I sat down on a stool, which really didn’t make much sense, cause there were vacant chairs, and it made me higher than the dining table. I hovered above the nurse and my brother John as we began to talk. I remember it being an odd feeling for me, cause at barely 5 foot tall, I rarely look down on another adult. It was like I was perhaps trying to float above the reality before me.

She was pregnant, the hospice nurse. And she had a big, sparkly wedding set on her finger. She was kind.

She slid that blue booklet my way, showing us some stages that are listed in the back. And by stages I mean the stages of dying. I was asked to tell her what mom was doing/feeling.

Immediately I realized that mom was exhibiting most all of the “days or weeks out” behaviors. While telling the nurse of mom’s “burst of energy,” she nodded compassionately. “Can you tell me a little more about that?” she asked. I began relaying how mom had said the night before, “Maybe they are wrong!” in a somewhat hearty voice. “Maybe who is wrong mom?” “The doctors. Maybe the doctors are wrong. I feel great right now. Maybe they are wrong.”

That didn’t fit what she thought was the “burst” but she listened to my point of view. I shared a few more tidbits while my brother nodded in agreement. The nurse asked a few questions, some which I didn’t know, so I texted my other brother, Damien, telling him to hurry up and get to mom’s to speak with the nurse. He had stayed the night at his house while my brother John and I spent the first night home from the hospital at mom’s.

The questions were done, and the nurse left to check on mom. I sat, hovering on the stool, grabbing my phone to text my husband about the blue book and the nurse. Soon, the nurse came back, sitting down at the table.

“So, after looking at your mother, I believe she has hours, not days, left to live.”

I can’t even type those words above without my eyes filling with tears, my hands are trembling.

“How long will this last?”

Turns out, it is hours.

Hospice can be sent into a home up to 6 months out. Mom made it back to 250, her house number, on a Tuesday afternoon. She died in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Hospice didn’t even send in a caregiver until Wednesday lunch, which is when they told me hours. Just hours left with my mom. Hours.

The next time a hospice care nurse showed at mom’s would be to confirm her death and destroy her high level pain narcotics.

“If you have anyone that needs to say good bye they need to come now.”

I remember barking an order to my cousin immediately after the nurse said those words. I had been so cool and calm, matter of fact, information sharing. Now, I was emotional, scared, shaking. “Ann! Go get my boys from school now. You are on their pick up list. Go now and get them.” And with that, she left out the door.

I could barely see to text the words to Thomas. . I couldn’t hold the phone still to hit the right words. I told him to hurry back to mom’s. John came over and hugged me. I couldn’t believe the clash of emotions I was feeling. A wave, tossing me down suddenly, not allowing me to get back up, when only moments before I was watching the tide roll in on me, floating up with each wave rather than being at its mercy.

There was no part of me that thought I had long, but hours? Where do you even begin when all you have is hours?

We sang hymns to her, ones which she requested. She made fun of us for forgetting the words to one. “You did real good with that one!” she told us after “Amazing Grace.”

Damien had a hard time being around her; he had been there at all the appointments and all the visits previously, but this was too much. John took the role of being present and available; he had been unable to be at all the other events. I am not sure what role I took. I remember, however, that I felt like I was the one that had to call the shots.

“Summer, if you want everyone to leave, tell me and I’ll get them all out.”

“Summer, where do you want me to put this cake from Mildred?”

“Summer, would you like for me to hold Hazel?”

I didn’t know. It was too much. Most of it didn’t matter anyway. I appreciated the do-ers during this time. The ones that just took Hazel, shoved food around in the fridge to make room, and any matter of the like.

With all the last minute good byes, mom hung on a little longer than we initially thought. I think there was too much energy and movement for her to settle, rest, breathe fully, and welcome in her new home. All three of her children, my sweet Hazel, and our God-sent helper during the darkest time, our cousin Shelia, all stayed the night.

Apparently, mom tried to get up in the middle of the night, and my brothers had to convince her it wasn’t a good idea.

Around 430 or 5 in the morning, I heard shuffling and mumbles. Next, I hear foot steps on the stairs. John opens the door to tell me what I already know.

“Mom’s gone Summer. She’s gone.”

It may seem like the most absurd response, but I put my hand in the air, right level to my face. I closed my eyes, lifted my face toward Heaven, and uttered the words, “Thank God.”

Cause knowing she wasn’t feeling the pain she had felt was a relief. Knowing she didn’t have to fight any more was peaceful. The earthly end meant a heavenly beginning.

Next, came the days of life without her, and all the firsts without mom were quick to follow.

First Christmas without her excited gift-giving.

First birthday for me without the woman who gave me life.

First steps of my baby that couldn’t be enjoyed by her.

So, so many firsts. And as the day that she went home comes creeping in on me, I wonder what comes after all the firsts have happened and the first year anniversary hits? Do you keep track of seconds? “This is the second Thanksgiving without mom.” Or do you just morph into a person who is less and less impacted by the grief?

I don’t know yet. Maybe I can tell you in another year. Alas, after this year of the grief journey I don’t know if I really have anything figured out. After talking very recently with a friend that lost her mom several years ago, she told me about how at a year after the loss she remembered thinking, “Why am I not doing better than this? I should be so much farther!”

True words.

Why am I not farther healed? Why do I now not have a better grip on grief and sadness? I know it will never be okay, but when can I walk comfortably in the new normal?

“How long will this last?”

I don’t think there is an answer, and even if there was a little blue book to tell me, the hours will feel like years, even after all the firsts I suppose. The years will feel like seconds. Until then, I’ll cling to what is good, looking for what can build me.

“Sometimes the darkest times can bring you to the brightest places, your most painful struggles can grant you the greatest growth, and the most heartbreaking losses of relationships can make room for the most wonderful people.  What seems like a curse at the moment can actually be a blessing in disguise, and what seems like the end of the road is actually just the realization that you are meant to travel a different path.  No matter how difficult things seem, there’s always hope.  And no matter how powerless you feel or how horrible things seem, you can’t give up.  You have to keep going.  Even when it’s scary, even when all your strength seems gone, you have to keep picking yourself back up and moving forward, because whatever you’re battling in the moment, it will pass, and you will make it through.  You’ve made it this far, and you’ve felt this way before.  Think about it.  Remember that time awhile back when you thought the world was ending?  It didn’t.  And it isn’t ending this time either” source

That’s what I am looking forward to now, after all the firsts.

Standing on the Street

Note: This is an old post form April 2007. I have copied and pasted it, along with a few comments from the original, into this WP blog. Thomas and I have moved twice since this was first posted. Tomorrow, in my new community, the same situation is suppose to occur. I do not think I will be in attendance but the talk of the event has had this past experience on my mind and in my heart.

Today, Daniel and I stood on the street. I realize that this phrase sounds funny but it is exactly what we did. We were not alone, however, nor were we doing anything bad. In fact, we were showing support. See, a soldier from here died while in Afghanistan. They were bringing his body home and residents of his hometown were supporting his family and thanking him for his service. The entire street had flags stuck in the ground, near the sidewalks. Businesses on the processional route flew flags at half-mast, and many also displayed posters of support. Kroger’s even blew up red, white, and blue Kroger balloons. Nearly every marquee on the road had the same saying:

Remembering Our Hometown Hero

I did not know him, nor do I know his family. I heard that he went to our church, but with him serving his tours in Afghanistan and our church being so large, I did not have the privilege of meeting him. Regardless, something made me want to go and stand there on the road for support. I am not sure how this shows support but it was all I knew to do. As the cop cars flashed their lights and people held out their own flags, the white hearse began to slowly come into sight; you could hear a pin drop. As I fought back tears, I looked around and saw that others were not holding them back; they were letting them fall without shame. I wondered if they knew him or if they were just attempting to show support, like me. After the last emergency vehicle passed the bystanders, everyone began to make his or her way back to the daily routine. As I loaded Daniel into his carseat, I continued my prayers for the family, along with prayers for all those I know in military service, plus those that I don’t know. As I drove away, I saw an electronic billboard with a screen dedicated to this soldier. It showed his picture and I noticed that he looks so young. The screen changed and it had his picture again, along with his birth and death years 1985-2007. He’s younger than me. He leaves behind a wife. My heart goes out to her. I could not imagine losing my husband, especially in such a tragic way.This experience really puts some things into perspective.

I Googled his name and read some newspaper articles to get a bit more information. Here are a few lines that struck me:

  • “He loved serving his country,” she said. “He just was a really good person. He loved being in the Army. He believed in what he was doing.”
  • “He was a real soldier,” his mother recalled. “He believed in his country and he believed in God.”
  • June would have marked his third year in the Army, and two weeks ago, he signed up to serve for another six years, his mother said.

Praise God for amazing men and women like him. Praise God that the fallen Sgt. knew Christ as Savior. May God continue to keep all the soldiers safe……but if another amazing soldier falls, may the community come out, stand on the streets, and cover the soldier’s family with prayers as they attempt to heal from their loss.

Ouch!—That’s Some Perspective!

For starters, this day began way earlier than I had anticipated. Daniel had different plans for what time “wake up” time would be. Normally, our son is a sound sleeper that rises at an appropriate time. Today, however, he awoke at 5 AM, and I cuddled with him in his big boy bed, hoping he, and I, would fall back to sleep. I might have dozed for a moment, but there was no sound sleeping, that is for sure. As any mommy knows, this means the day will be a little difficult–for both of us.

I had some errands that needed to be taken care of, but I wanted to let Daniel pee in the potty before we took off on a trip to town, for I knew that “out and about” potty trips are not successful yet (we’ve been having major success at home though, which is wonderful!). Time passed and passed, and still no peeing in the potty—or anywhere else for that matter. I made him try, for I wanted to hit the road, and he would try, but there was no fruit for his labor. As the morning began to tick away, I decided that we were going to have to go out soon or we would hit his nap time, which normally would not be a huge deal, but with the early alarm this morning, I knew the opportunity for a public fit would greatly increase. So, pull-up on, we headed out.

For some reason, Daniel has in his mind which way our car should turn. Now, there is a 4-way stop near where we live, and if we go a certain direction, we fare towards specific places that he would enjoy (e.g.-a friend’s house, his grandma’s, his sitter’s, church, etc.) so it makes sense when he gets a little upset when we turn a different way than the one he wanted. Elsewhere in the world, however, I do not see how he should know or care which way we turn, yet he does at times……which can be very annoying. We can be in an area where he has never been before, and he will cry aloud and point a different direction, yelling “Go! Go!” Where that way goes, I have no clue, but in Daniel’s little mind, that is where we should be headed. Needless to say, each turn was the wrong one to Daniel today.

As soon as we got to our first stop, Daniel had already told me “uh-oh…..pee-pee potty,” which meant he was no longer dry. I was not mad at him, just frustrated that he and I could not enjoy a successful potty at home, complete with cheers and applause. As we went inside the building and into the restroom for a change, Daniel proceeded to whine and  pull away, for he is beginning to get a little upset at a potty mistake (which is a good sign, right?). We battled into the restroom and into the stall. He cried as I changed him, and I am tugging to keep him from trying to unlock the stall and dart out. I then decide that it is a good time for me to use the restroom, and I begin the duel to keep Daniel from trying to flush the toilet as I try to use it. Finally, we exit, mostly unscathed. Of course, we need to wash our hands now. I am beginning to feel extremely tired myself. I am after all growing a baby, as well as working off of a 5 AM wake up call. Daniel screams as I lift him to rub his hands with soap and clean them with water. Before I continue on to clean my own hands, I place him back down. He is standing near me, beginning to look under the stalls at the other ladies—a new favorite hobby upon entering a restroom.

I am cringing at what the middle-aged lady next to me, quietly washing her hands, might be thinking about me and my kiddo. Suddenly, the main door opens, and two more ladies enter, at the sight of which Daniel cowers in fear and screams “Ahh!!” at them, as if they were trying to touch him, look at him, smile at him…..something extremely terrible in his opinion, to say the least. To take some of the awkwardness off of Daniel’s screams, I say aloud “Don’t worry Daniel, they aren’t going to take you from Mommy.” After a brief pause, I follow it up with a little humor “And if they did, they would bring you back!” One of the receivers of the shrieks replies, “Yeah, I have enough with my own.” A few chuckles commence from the now crowded restroom. As I lean over to pick Daniel up to carry him out, n order to prevent any more “we should go this direction” type moments, the once quiet lady next to me turns and says,

“I’d take him…….we lost our little boy when he was his age…….I would definitely keep him.”

The lady and I are now looking eye to eye, and she looks teary-eyed just thinking about it. To be honest, those words hit me like a TON of bricks. I remember giving her a “my heart goes out to you” type of smile, but, oddly enough I can not recall if I opened my mouth and said anything back or not. My spirit had just been shot a rocket. Here I was, completely frustrated by my son’s behavior, wondering what others might be thinking and how I just wanted him to be quiet and still (a nearly impossible feat for a newly 2 year old, I know) and she was just longing to have her son back so that he could scream, cry, look under stalls, and wake up at 5AM in her presence. How extremely selfish of me!

Now that puts things into perspective.