Posts Tagged ‘breathing’

Ashes to Ashes

Mom’s body is most likely being cremated tonight…tonight or sometime this weekend, right near me on St. Mary’s Street. I know it’s just her body and that she’s not there anymore, but it’s still very difficult to think about. I hate that she’s been alone so long…alone and cold. Well, I guess she does have her two little white stuffed poodles with her. 🙂

I’m sure everyone in these types of situations eventually finds something to feel guilty about. I know dad does…he’s very good at it. Me, I’ve been struggling with the fact that we gave mom morphine. My mom was so straightlaced that she refused marijuana, even when her major symptoms were nausea and lack of appetite. She never liked taking pain pills, even when she was in severe pain. Dad and I both hated giving those to her because they made her so confused. And I hate that I had to give her morphine at the end. She wasn’t in any pain, but her breaths came so fast and her heart was beating so rapidly…hospice said the morphine would help her slow down and breathe. I don’t know if it did. I don’t know if all it did was make her confused and feel trapped. I know that there’s no way to know and that we were all just doing the best we could, but it’s my biggest struggle right now. I hope I did right by her. I hope it was the right thing to do.

Besides that, I’ve just been struggling with struggling. It’s almost as if I have to be strong for everyone else so that everyone else can feel his or her grief. I was talking with dad last night about how I’m making a conscious effort to be compassionate. I know that all of mom’s friends and family members are sad and grieving for the loss of someone so wonderful. I know there’s this desire in each of them to express that sadness and grief to me…whether to commiserate, or to express their love to mom and to us, or to just share their feelings with someone who understands. It’s a bunch of hurt people trying to do the best they can, really. That’s all it is. But it doesn’t leave any room for my grief. I think that dad and I will have to work at being sounding boards for everyone until after the funeral, and then, when the quiet settles over us, we will have time for our own feelings.

Plus, geez, planning this funeral…it’s just very, very hard. I’m glad we have the help of mom’s best friend in planning the reception (and in planning parts of the service, too), but it’s just constant, all day, every day, something every minute. Something needs to be found for someone, or sent somewhere, or some decision needs to be made, and on and on and on. What music? What goes in the bulletin? What format for the obituary? What picture to put by the urn? Do we have a stand for the picture? Who’s handing out the bulletins? Will there be flowers? What kind of food? What were mom’s favorite Bible verses? Who’s speaking, and on what and when? This is another reason that there seems like there’s no room for our grief: there hasn’t been a single moment of downtime since Monday evening. And dad also has to deal with settling the estate, getting finances in order, sending death certificates to everyone, etc.

Dad and I are both taking tomorrow off. We both have a lot of stuff to get done around our own houses, and sometimes it’s just nice to shut everything else out and get everything in order.

So am I doing okay? Not really. I started this morning (pretty literally; the phone didn’t wake me up, but I was still in bed) talking about funeral preparations, followed it by continuing a month-long argument with the NC DMV call center about a non-existent lapse in liability coverage for three days in 2009 (when I’d switched plates to WV), then called all my insurance carriers to see if they could fax over the information *again* since the NC DMV seems to have ignored it, cleaned up my screened-in porch because the apartment complex is power-washing next week and needs everything clear, did more funeral stuff, wrote and submitted an assignment for school, worked out, got a haircut (and thus didn’t get lunch), got snapped at by my ex because he’s been working long hours (because all I do is sit around all day, obviously), then went by the grocery store and then to dad’s house to cook us both some dinner (probably the best part of the day; dinner was good). Every day is like this. I’m exhausted. I’m glad my company gave me a week off, but I feel like I need a month to deal with all this, and THEN I might need an actual vacation.

Right now, I’m going to take a shower and then eat some ice cream. Then I’m going to bed. And maybe, like dad suggested, I just shouldn’t pick up the phone tomorrow. That sounds wonderful.


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I got to my parents’ house around 8 this morning. I slept in and missed my regular 6 a.m. workout; maybe I somehow knew I’d need my sleep. I blamed it on the fact that I woke up every two or three hours during the night. But whatever.

When I went in to see mom, I knew something had changed. I looked at her, and she looked back at me with this expression that was wholly innocent, sad, and exhausted. I just knew.

“You look like you’re about ready to go,” I said to her. “Are you?”

She smiled a little at me and nodded. And that was the last time.

I honestly believe that started her dying process. I told her again that I loved her, that I’d miss her, that we’d be okay, that it was okay to let go. She dropped back into her fog for a while, but her breaths were quick and shallow and her pulse was rapid. Around 10, I talked with my aunt and decided to call hospice. I knew they’d tell us to start the morphine, but I really didn’t want to. I was dreading losing what little of my mom I had left.

You see, mom has always hated drugs. She’s the only person I know who lived through the 60s and 70s and never did any drugs of any sort. Giving her morphine, sending her into an altered state that wasn’t of her choosing, was *not* high on my agenda. The point of hospice, though, is comfort, and we wanted mom to be comfortable. So we started the morphine on hospice advice around 10:45 a.m.

The hospice nurse called around 11:40 to say she was on her way and that we should give mom another dose if she was still having rapid breathing. So we did.

The nurse showed up soon after, and my aunt and I helped her clean mom up. The CNA arrived right as we finished. We left the CNA to give mom a small bath as we went to talk with dad about what was going to happen.

Mom’s hands and feet were already cold. As the day progressed, I was able to feel the cold move from her toes all the way up to mid-calf. From a scientific perspective, it was intriguing. The hospice nurse explained that mom’s rapid breathing was not because she couldn’t get air, but because her cardiovascular system was shutting down. It was trying to conserve the important parts, so it was leaving the hands and feet to concentrate on the brain, heart, and lungs.

The hours flew by. Every time I turned around, it seemed another had passed. I spent most of the day lying on the hospital bed right next to mom, my arm around her or on her shoulder.

The hospice nurse said no visitors but immediate family (“You’re not a visitor,” she said to me), but mom has always said she wanted her best friend there at the end, so welcomed her over around 2 p.m. My aunt and I took the chance to eat some lunch while she was with mom. When she said goodbye to mom, mom looked right at her. Mom knew who she was, and she was glad her best friend was there. She wasn’t able to smile with her mouth, but she definitely smiled with her eyes.

From about 3 p.m. on, it was a struggle. The nurse said to give mom morphine every three hours, then as needed between when her breath seemed labored. The problem was that her breath seemed very labored all the time. We gave her one dose around 3. When she wasn’t any better after 20-30 minutes, we gave her another. Then waited. Then another. Sometimes mom sounded like she was snoring, but her eyes were open. They darted side to side like she was reading something. Sometimes I’d be able to get her to focus on me, but it required effort.

I kept telling mom I loved her. That we’d be okay. That I’d take care of dad. That it was okay for her to rest. That it was okay for her to go home. That she was the best mom I could have ever asked for and that she’d always live on in our hearts. That I loved her. That I loved her. Over and over.

I keep mentioning my aunt, but you should know dad was there, too. He wasn’t able to stay in the room, but he was constantly in and out, telling mom he loved her, blessing her, telling her to rest. I know it was hard for him.

Is hard.

Will be hard.

Mom’s eyes finally fixed. Her breathing was quieter, and then she went into this period of intermittent breathing. She’d stop, and we’d think that was it, and then she’d take another labored breath. That must have gone on for almost an hour, it seemed.

I sat on her bed and held her hand until the end. There wasn’t a magical moment, though. I didn’t see her eyes widen or a smile or anything like that. It was just breathing one second, then not. My aunt took the oxygen off, then went to tell dad. This was around 6:35 p.m.

Seeing mom like that was strange. She’d looked so gaunt for so long that she didn’t look much different, but then she looked entirely different. It’s difficult to explain.

My aunt called hospice, and our hospice nurse came back out. That was really nice of her. I know there was an off-hours nurse on call, but we’ve grown close to ours. And she’s marvelous. She came and cleaned mom again, helped put up some supplies, and stayed with us until mom was taken away. Dad called the funeral director (a friend and Masonic brother), who came out as well. He had two big guys on call to come carry mom. They were very gentle with her and treated her with respect. I put mom in her “With God, All Things Are Possible” lung cancer shirt and gave her one of her little white toy poodles to take with her. Dad gave her another so she’d have two, representing her current poodle and the one previous. We walked with mom out to the van and watched as they took her away.

I’m condensing all of this, of course. It’s late, and today feels like it was a year long. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve also laughed some. I’m eternally grateful that I was able to spend this day by mom’s side and that I was holding her hand and looking into her eyes when she passed. I’m glad she wasn’t alone. And I’m glad I wasn’t alone, too! It was good to have my aunt sitting there with me.

We don’t have plans for a service yet. We will be sure to keep you all posted. We appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers.

Mom is at peace now…now it’s going to be a struggle for us to find ours without her. She was an amazing woman, and I’m both blessed and proud to be her daughter. I’m also both blessed and proud to have such an amazing dad, who has done such an incredible job caring for her this past year. Their love is something to envy.

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A Smile!

I was delayed by getting to my parents’ house by a stubborn pot of black-bean soup. My beans just did NOT want to cook this morning, even though I soaked them overnight to speed up the process. Probably should have broken out the pressure cooker, but oh well.

I made it over there a little after noon. Dad and my aunt had both told me there was no change. Indeed, mom looked just as she did when I left her. She had more of that yellowish goop in her eye (one of my cats gets that same goop sometimes), so I grabbed a paper towel to get it out. I knew she was aware because she moved her eye around to help me out.

When I was done, I looked at her, and she looked back at me, which was more than she’d done yesterday. I told her I loved her, and she smiled at me. Actually smiled!

I noticed mom’s nose had been running too (it started that yesterday, probably because she’s let her head fall to the left side, so everything runs out the left), and it had crusted over. Now, I usually avoid putting embarrassing things in this blog, but the booger I pulled out of mom’s nose was award winning. Really. I think we should have framed it. I don’t know how that poor woman was breathing. I got her to talk, too: she said, “Ouch!” 😉 I tell you what, though, once it was gone, she was breathing quietly and normally for the first time in a long time. I’m sure that felt good to get out.

After that, she was talking a bit, too! She took two huge glasses of water. Then I asked if she wanted any food. She was silent. What about a protein shake? (That’s what dad calls the Boost drinks so she doesn’t feel so old.) “I think that would be a good idea,” she said. So she drank a whole one of those, then a little more water. She didn’t eat or drink anything yesterday, so that’s a huge difference. I’m sure she was thirsty.

I also did my best to prop up her head, which, as I said, she’d let fall to her left. I’d tried to move it yesterday, but she’d winced in pain, so I stopped. Today, I went a centimeter at a time, making sure she was okay the whole way. I figured out that the pain wasn’t in her neck, but her ear, where she’d been lying on her oxygen tube. That was easy enough to fix. I got her propped up a bit, but by the time I left around 4:15 or so, she’d already started leaning to the left again.

She had one episode during the day where she acted like something in her stomach area was in severe pain. She moved her legs a bit and winced and rubbed at the area. She wasn’t able to tell me where it hurt, what hurt, or how it hurt, so there was nothing I could really do, but I did notice that the liquid in her catheter had just turned more red. I don’t know if that’s her bladder or kidneys or something else, but I’m sure she was feeling something around that area. It passed and she said she was okay, so hopefully it was a small, fleeting thing.

Mom was alert, made eye contact, and smiled quite a bit for a good while after her Boost. She smiled at my aunt. She smiled at my dad. What a blessing her smile is. After a while, though, she drifted back into her fog and fell silent. I did get her to drink a little more water, and she was still able to look me in the eye, so that’s good. I told her I loved her and that I’d be back in the morning.

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New-Parent Syndrome

I mentioned to a co-worker the other day that, in many ways, I feel like I know what it’s like to be a parent (except for the fact that I get to go home at night to a quiet house). I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with every form of bodily fluid. I’ve learned how to give a bath to a person who can’t help beyond getting in the tub. I’ve fed someone who doesn’t really want to eat, and I’ve had to clean up all the food I dropped on her chin/chest/shirt. I find myself getting up and walking by the room just to make sure the person I love unconditionally is still breathing.

I thought when I began this journey that I didn’t have the patience for it. What I’ve learned, like most new parents, is that I have all the patience necessary to care for this person who needs me.

Dad told me yesterday that mom wasn’t doing well and that the hospice nurse said we have days to a week left with her. I’ll be working from their house for foreseeable future, until things get to distracting, then I’ll take some time off. My company is nice enough to provide five full days of bereavement leave, once the time for that comes. It’s a very busy time at work and some new projects are cropping up. I feel a little left out since my manager isn’t calling on me to do a lot, but I’m sure he understands that I’ve got a lot going on. I love my job, and I want to pull my weight (or more!) with my team, so I’m making sure to continually touch base with everyone and keep them up to speed on what’s happening here. That also gives me a chance to keep up to speed on what’s happening there and how I can help.

Mom isn’t doing well, it’s true. She’s not taking any food [EDIT: She just had some grits! yay!], and she’s not taking much water. She was able to listen to me this morning as I repeated things I wanted to make sure that she heard (it’s okay, I love you, the best parts of you will always live on in me, I’ll be okay, I’ll take care of dad, there’s no need to be scared). I know she heard because she nodded and smiled. The only thing I’ve heard her say in the few hours I’ve been here is a weak “okay” when I said I’d be back in a little bit to check on her again. I wasn’t sure she could still speak. I’m sure it just takes too much energy.

It started as a dreary morning, but the sun is coming out. I opened the blinds in mom’s room so she can see out. The placement of the hospital bed gives her a new view out onto the porch, so she can see all the birds coming to get some food. I hope that’s more pleasant than staring at the ceiling.

We’re entering a rough transition period, I know. But mom still isn’t in any pain, at least not that she’s telling us. I hate that she’s had to suffer through all of this. I hope she is able to find peace soon.

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I’ve been spending Friday evenings at my parents’ place, usually getting there around 4:30 or so and having dinner with dad. This week, my dad’s brother-in-law was in town, so they invited me to go out to dinner with them.

I got there a little later than usual (had to put on nicer clothes!) and went in to give mom a hug. Hugging her usually consists of me resting my head on her chest and squeezing her as best I can. Sometimes she squeezes back; sometimes she’ll kiss my forehead; sometimes she’ll pat me; sometimes nothing. I put my head on her chest and immediately noticed that she was having trouble breathing. It sounded a lot like when I used to have asthma attacks, except without the wheezing.

I asked her if she was having trouble, and she nodded. I asked if she needed the oxygen (the hospice nurse had ordered it a week or so ago–maybe two?–just in case), and she nodded again. I asked if she was just nodding or if she really needed oxygen. “I probably need the oxygen,” she said.

So I went and asked dad how to turn on the machine. He said she hadn’t needed the oxygen yet, but they’d been talking it over for a couple days, and I told him that she might need it now. He turned it on (it’s a nifty thing that filters oxygen out of ambient air and shoves it through the tubing), and we fit it around mom’s head. Mom started breathing faster. It’s the same thing I went through with asthma: you can’t breathe, so you freak out, which causes you to try to breathe faster, but you can’t, so you freak out, etc. I tried to calm her down, and she did.

I tried to ask her some questions about what it felt like. I asked if she had trouble getting air in, or if there was any pain, or if it felt like her lungs were constricted (that’s what asthma always felt like to me). She said it felt constricted.

It was hard to watch her there, breathing. It looks like her rib cage is protruding, which is probably a result of her losing so much weight from not eating. Her skin is kind of melting…that’s the best way I know how to describe it. All that’s left there are bones.

One of mom’s friends came over to sit with her while we went out to eat. I told her what was going on, and she said sometimes food can get caught in the lungs. I told her I thought there was a better chance that there were large tumors caught in her lungs.

Mom only smiles when her friends are visiting. She never smiles like that for me and dad. To be completely honest, it hurts our feelings. I’m sure it’s because her friends come to visit and bring her nice things, and dad and I take care of the necessities and force her to do things she doesn’t want to do (eat, bathe, brush teeth, change clothes, etc.). Dad even mentioned last night that mom was tired of having him around. I don’t think that’s true. She knows how much he is doing for her, and she loves him a lot. It’s easier to see that about other people, though. I understand where dad’s coming from.

Dinner was nice. We went to St. Jacques, but the owner was off taking care of his new B&B, so it wasn’t as fun as usual. Food was still good. My uncle said I was turning into “an elegant young lady,” which is an awfully nice compliment, I think. I talked with him a little more before I left my parents’ house. He took care of his mother for a long time; she passed away when she was 92. He said it never gets any easier to lose someone close to you, no matter how old that person is or how long you’ve had to prepare. I’m finding that to be true myself. It’s just no fun at all.

I’ve got a girls’ weekend planned coming up. I hope we’re able to go. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time. And we’re not going too far away, so I will still be able to get to my parents within an hour or so if something happens. I wish mom could come with us and enjoy the spa like she used to. I know she wants to take a hot bath more than anything. I tried to make her understand that it would just be impossible to get her up and into the tub, much less get her out of it again. Maybe we can get a kiddie pool and put it in her bedroom? 🙂

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