Saturday, March 31, 2017
It’s Saturday morning, Easter Saturday. My cell phone rings and caller ID shows it’s my older brother, Francis. He rarely calls me. It’s not often that we talk on the phone just to say “hi” or catch up. So I immediately wonder why he’s calling.
Over the years, Francis has been the bearer of bad news. In 1986, shortly after I moved from Philadelphia to Maryland, he called and said, “Are you sitting down?” I immediately plop on the edge of my bed in the house we were renting. “Aunt Helen died.” Suddenly, shockingly without warning. At 62 years old. She came home from Mass, lay down on the sofa for a nap and passed peacefully away. I’d heard she prayed to St. Joseph for a peaceful death. That’s how I want to go, quietly, peacefully. So I pray to St. Joseph too.
Back on the phone, I ask, “What’s up?”
“Well, I want to let you know that I signed the papers to put mom in hospice.”
Oh…What was I expecting? Mom’s been in an assisted living facility in Lancaster, PA, since 2015 after living with me for a year and a half. Most recently, she was moved to a beautiful memory care unit, her dementia winning the battle for her mind. She seemed to be doing well there. She was more alert than I’d seen in her a long time, partly due to the facility strongly encouraging patients to leave their rooms and participate in fun and games.
“Why? What’s going on that precipitated this?”
Francis explained that her kidneys were finally giving out. She’s had Stage 4 kidney disease for about 5 years. She also has congestive heart failure. The toxins were taking over her body. She sleeps most of the day, leaving her room for meals but not really eating much.
The last time I saw her, several weeks ago, I noticed she had lost a lot of weight. And when my daughter and I left, after about an hour, she went right to sleep.
“How much time does she have?”
Of course, no one knows for sure. But it had to be 6 months or less for them to accept her into hospice. Francis points out that her father died at age 86. My mother just had her 86th birthday on March 29.
I ask him if I should run up to see mom. Is it imminent? I think of Easter tomorrow, church in the morning, friends coming over for dinner. Work on Monday. What do I do? Should I scrap everything and drive up to see her?
It didn’t seem like it would happen overnight and after talking for a while longer, we hang up the phone. I plan to visit her next weekend.
I sit quietly on the couch for a moment. Oddly, I feel at peace. It’s not the reaction I expect. Tears may come later; they probably will. But I welcome the peace for now; preferable to wailing and crying. Mom is tired. She’s been lonely and sad for a very long time. She’s ready. And Francis, he just retired. He’s tired too. He’s been taking care of mom since 1997. I don’t think it’s an accident that these events are happening simultaneously. Symmetry in the universe.
I think of Easter tomorrow. We won’t be spending any more holidays with mom. I’m so grateful my youngest daughter went up to get her for our last Thanksgiving together, 2016.
I have to tell my children. They may want to see her one last time. They have fond memories of her, each different. My son lived with her while attending college in Philadelphia. My youngest daughter remembers spending weeks with her in the summer. My older daughter spent Easter vacations with her. Plus all the weekends over 30 years that we spent in Philly or mom spent with us.
It’s time. We need to get ready.