In last weeks post, I began to wrestle with coming to terms with the degree of presence required to attend fully to mom’s departure. I was pretty sure I got the lesson about breathing and staying in the moment with less attachment to outcome. Evidently not, because an additional opportunity to deepen my understanding of the true meaning of conscious presence was required.
On Thursday morning my head was swimming with details and I was running late for Pilates – again. While backing out of the driveway I noticed mom’s wheelchair was still in the back. Knowing this left no room for groceries I pulled back up to the house. Cursing myself for being unprepared, I carelessly put the vehicle in park, jumped out, and opened the hatch. While attempting to wrestle the chair which had become wedged, I realized the car was rolling toward me. Thankfully I knew enough to let go, but unfortunately that is where common sense ended.
I raced to the open driver’s side door and attempted to jump in, just as the car was picking up speed on the driveway incline. Rather than landing on the seat surprisingly, I found myself on the ground. The sound of myself screaming in pain was surreal, as the car rolled completely over the top of my left foot, caught the edge of my right, the door scraping across my thighs for good measure, and finally came to rest, like a demented bug carcass with weird appendages, in the middle of the road.
As I lay on the wet pavement, all I could think was how busy our street is in the morning, and how much more trouble we would have if the car was hit. Moving was agonizing but possible, so I forced myself up and ridiculously step-leap-slide-shuffled my way into the street to return the car safely to the driveway. My toes were numb, pain radiated up the back of my leg, and I could see my indented ankle above my left foot was already swelling. My right foot seemed to have fared a bit better but throbbed insistently when I put pressure on it. Ironically, the wheelchair glided out of the car, and into the house. I remarked casually to mom – in what I hoped was a light-hearted voice, “OK, I’m off to Pilates now. See you in a while.” The nurses, X-ray technicians, attending physician, and I all had a good laugh at the nature of caregiving, so the morning wasn’t a total loss. Thanks in large part to properly inflated tires, neither foot was broken.
Not to underestimate the powerful metaphor contained in the message of a runaway vehicle and temporarily disabled feet, but in fairness, my entry into the Bigfoot hall of fame did occur after three completely housebound days spent trying to regulate Mom’s pain. Of course the pain meds caused her to spend those days mostly in bed sleeping, and me trying to find ways to distract her from her fears when she was awake. To add to the picture of what led to such recklessness, the Hospice social worker had spent a couple of hours Wednesday afternoon talking with mom about her wishes for the future, answering questions about how we would proceed, and reassuring her that she would remain comfortably at home. On the way out she had left me with a book about what to expect, that I casually tossed on my reading pile before heading into the kitchen to make a dinner that neither of us really felt much like eating.
The beauty of being off my feet for a couple of days gave me the luxury of an opportunity to do some research. Unfortunately, it also provided time for me to read the pamphlet left by the social worker. “Gone From My Sight, The Dying Experience” by Barbara Karnes, an RN from Vancouver, WA. This is an excellent resource about the things one can expect through the stages of someone preparing for the experience of dying. I was shocked to discover mom showed many of the signs that appear about three months out. This is NOT to say she only has three months, but it did suggest that my timeline, was perhaps in need of a reality check.
At that point I made calls to mom’s immediate family. I talked to my brother about what was going on, the signs that I was seeing, and the possibility of him considering spending some time alone with mom while she is still able to communicate with him as her son. My aunt anointed me with her compassion and comfort. My uncle reminded me it was presumptuous make pronouncements about timelines. It wasn’t that I disagreed, but in the moment, his words stung. Embarrassed, I tried to justify that I was updating so bluntly because I don’t want anyone to come back later and say that I didn’t keep them informed.
After I hung up and had a good cry the truth underneath the shame appeared …. I think I was looking for someone or something that could take away the responsibility of being the primary, and in most cases, solitary witness to the majority of this journey. A journey that I no doubt expected in some abstract and distant future, rather than so blatantly and firmly in the present. I mean I knew there were no trips to Canada, but have we really made enough trips to Sunshine Dairy? Did we use our museum membership enough? Will I get her to the lake to see me row? Will we finish Sargent Marcia’s wheelchair boot camp?
Over the next couple of days the shock of this discovery was over, and the healing, created with the help of many loving phone calls, although not without sadness, had begun. That caused me to reach out in search of empowerment which came in the discovery of an ally, Conscious Departures – Preparing for what ultimately lies ahead . This is an amazing blog written by a thoughtful, forthright, and intelligent former caregiver. As I poured over every word I became more confident in my ability to navigate, perhaps with a bit more dignity, what appears on the horizon. I felt calmer and more at peace than I had in days knowing there is an ever-widening circle of support, compassion, and wisdom to draw on.
Somehow all of this led to an incredible opening. After a sleepless Saturday night, checking on mom at 15 minute intervals due to breathing difficulties, the last check finding her breathing a bit easier, at 4:15. At that point I guess I fell asleep, but a moment later it was 5:30 and mom was standing in my bedroom. She seemed so lost and didn’t want to go back to bed. Not knowing what to do, exhausted, and unable to tolerate the start to a day of weight baring, I invited her into my bed. I covered her with my special yellow afghan, the one she made to match my yellow room when I was a girl. She patted my head and told me, for the second time in under a week, that no matter what I would always be her little Bethie. I put my head on her shoulder and covered her cool small hand with my warm one, and listened to the sound of her breathing until she fell asleep. While she slept, I thought about how long it had been since I had experienced such an outpouring of mother love. I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer she will have these periods of lucid clarity, comforting me, as I attempt to comfort her.
The truth is, there is never enough time, regardless of age or health status. THIS really is the only moment. May we be blessed to recognize, treasure, and spend it wisely.