“It all makes sense, now.”

Me and Mom
2017 – Me and Mom

My mom passed away yesterday. She was 91 years old. She died peacefully in her sleep, which is what we all prayed for. Mom suffered for over 13 years with Alzheimer’s. It truly is the most horrible disease – “The Long Goodbye,” as it is known.. Not only do you lose your connection to those around you, but you lose little bits of yourself along the way. Mom had no memory of me, of being married, of having children. During our last visit, she told me she may be gone for awhile because she had made arrangements to go see her parents in New Zealand. And I think they are once again, all together as a family, with God singing Hallelujah! And that brings a smile to my face and forces some joy into my tears.

Mom and I in 2019

Mom and I were blessed to have spent some pretty wonderful moments together. I am not going to sugar-coat anything, because Alzheimer’s totally sucks and it makes life for everyone affected particularly difficult. But you know what? I’d rather remember the laughs and the giggles. The times where she was just so funny and light-hearted. Because mom could be that way. Once we got her off all her medications, this wonderful, kind, and fun old lady emerged and I enjoyed her immensly. During the last few months of her life, she was a happy woman. She loved where she lived, and everyone loved her. I know she could be a stubborn woman and refuse to say, use her walker (which is why she suffered with a broken nose and two broken hips within a year) nor would she stay in her wheelchair when she was asked to. But she could light up a room and make everyone in it glad she was there. Sometimes the comments she would make would cause us all to shake our heads in wonder and think, “Where the heck did that come from?” Near the end, when Alzheimer’s had pretty much won, conversation was virtually impossible. “Isn’t it a lovely day today, Mom? The sun is shining so brightly!” And her response? “You know, you have to weigh wether you want some thing in your life or not. So I put things up and stare at them, and then I decide.” Okie dokie! LOL!

Our face masks together!

One day we decided to have spa day. I did our faces with masks; we soaked our nails and did manicures; I did mom’s hair and my hair. We laughed at how we looked, but it was fun. And I am so glad I did that with her. It is one of my fondest memories of when she lived with us. And as I sat and went through the box of her things, I realized how weird it was that 91 years of life was in a box at my feet. Oh, I have other mementoes and photos, but these things were the things mom had around her these past few months. It was quite the collection: random envelopes with her name on them, but nothing inside. A Carhart clothing tag (Mom owns nothing Carhart). One of those plastic hook things that holds a sales tag onto clothing. 1 glove with no matching one. A broken watch. Some cards from friends. One of the most poignant for me was that she had two photos of my oldest son out from when he was a baby. One next to her bed and the other in the bathroom. He was there and I know it touched him deeply. An Alzheimer’s mind is so interesting!

Mom had an amazing life. Growing up in New Zealand and then coming to America by steamship in the 1950s with my dad and making a life here, away from all that was familiar. She and my dad are both only children, so there are no siblings, no extended family. Mom remained a New Zealand citizen her entire life (we used to call her our “resident alien”) and always felt close to her parents. She thought she would travel back “home” to see them again, and I never once reminded her they had been dead for decades. She never felt called to become an American, and it was one of the quirks I loved about her. That and her New Zealand accent that was coming back as she aged. She had it when I was a kid and I loved it. I’m glad it came back.

I was so blessed to have been introduced to Alzheimer’s Resource Alaska. I took every course they offered. I immersed myself in all things Alzheimer’s. With the consultation of two amazing Care Coordinators, I was advised to get all my mom’s affairs in order, while she was still her, still coherent, and could meaningfully engage in decision making. It was the best advice I could have gotten. Truly. Having that hard conversation about her end-of-life wishes was just that, hard. Asking someone how they want to die, and trying to get care details out of them is rough. But mom and I discussed as many scenarios as we could and each time it was, “I don’t want machines. I don’t want intervention. If it is my time to go, let me go.” The past six months, mom was on hospice care, and we had all the paperwork in place to just allow her body to stop living. At 5:30am yesterday morning, it peacefully did that. Mom chose her end and it happened just the way she wanted it. And we also made all the arrangements for her aftercare. Mom chose to be cremated and so we met with the Cremation Society of Alaska and they came to my home and we had another one of those hard conversations about what mom wanted. They are the kindest people. And it was such a blessing for right now, for today. Why? Because I literally have nothing to do. It is all done. Oh, there are little details, but nothing major, because we planned it all ahead.

People have been texting and calling. Some stupid calls from agencies already wanting to collect the bed she used or the nightstand next to the bed. She’s only been gone 1 day! Ugh. One of my closest friends called and she was being all sweet and kind and I told her to stop being so nice, or I would start bawling all over again. So she says, “Your hair looks bad today.” I love that woman so much! It was exactly what I needed. LOL. A good laugh. And quite honestly I am doing okay, until something stupid happens and I just start crying. Like the cremation man (not sure how else to put that!) called and mentioned mom’s cremains would be ready by Wednesday and I just lost it. Poor guy. He was so kind and I am sure he deals with grief every day. You just don’t know what will trigger it.

Woodland Fern

I was given mom’s wedding ring as they were preparing to take her away. I placed it on my right hand and it fit just perfectly. I thought I would just continue to wear it. As the day progressed it got a little loose but no big deal. My husband and I did some retail therapy after leaving mom yesterday. I’ve been looking for ferns to grow in a shade garden we have and I wanted to stop by this nursery I really like. We stopped and walked around. It was good for me to be outside. We found several varieties of ferns. So today, feeling all mopey and by myself, I decided to plant my ferns. It was good for me. My dog sat next to me while I dug in the dirt. I had bought 6 ferns so I was digging 6 holes. I was down to two more when I realized mom’s ring was not on my finger. I feverishly dug through those newly planted ferns until I found it. I put it back on and just sat there and cried my eyes out. I hope my neighbors don’t think I lost my marbles!!

But one of the things that has stuck with me the most was one of the comments my son made to me, while we were sitting there waiting for them to come and get mom. I was gently stroking her hair (she had the most amazing, soft hair) and he said to me, “I’m feeling kind of happy for Grandma because it all makes sense now, for her. She’s not confused anymore.” And he is right. All this time, with all the things we were doing to help her and she bristled at it, well, now she knows we were helping her. When we visited and told her how much we loved her and we hugged hard (even going against regulations and actually touching her) she now knows why we clung to her so hard. We truly were loving her, but it didn’t make sense to her why these strangers were there, and why they were hugging her. I’d like to think on some level it made sense and she knew, instinctively, that we were family, but I know with certainty, it is all clear, now. She stands at the timeline with God and He is explaining it all to her. She is surrounded by the angels and the saints, and her parents, and she is glowing and happy and joyously worshipping God – for eternity. The Holy Spirit has completely filled her so she is perfect once again, and in no pain, and with clarity of thought denied to her all these years.

Not gonna lie, even though I knew this day was coming on swift wings, and I was prepared for it with all the details taken care of, it hurts. It really does. I am a strong person and although I have been known to weep at TV commercials, I am usually the one helping everyone else grieve. I am allowing myself some time to fall apart. I am allowing myself to grieve, whenever and however it comes at me. It will lessen in time, I know. But right now, it is sharp and my heart aches. And I miss my mom already, even though we’ve been practicing this goodbye for so many long years. The pain of loss is still real. The other part of the equation is I am also relieved. And please don’t take that wrong. Mom is clear now. She can walk and not need her walker or wheelchair. She isn’t lost anymore. She is finally with her parents in a heavenly version of New Zealand. She is making her way to eternal glory through the mercy of God and His omnipotent forgiveness. God is good, and He has mom, now. I can rest in that.

Mom – I love you

“…our next breath…”

Every day is a new day. It’s another day we are “on the right side of the dirt.” That’s a phrase I just learned and it makes me laugh. But it is true…”we are not guaranteed our next breath,” as Fr. Justin Rose would often remind us. This week, violence erupted in Las Vegas, taking everyone by surprise. My god daughter was there and two of her friends were shot. They escaped the scene via taxi and were grateful to be taken swiftly to emergency medical care. My son is a 9-1-1 dispatcher and shared the news with me via text, as it was happening. He was asking us to pray for Las Vegas. When he first called, I panicked over my god daughter, because I knew she was there. Thank goodness for cell phones and texting! I cannot imagine the fear the families of the many victims were feeling, until they had definitive proof their loved ones were safe, or at least they knew where they were. The brutality and callous disregard for human life was so apparent, and my stomach roiled all night long, as I worried about the death and injured. I had no idea the toll would be so high.

We don’t wake up in the morning, thinking as we prepare for the day, that it will be our last. The last time we hug our spouse, pet our cat, use our favorite coffee mug, or drive our car. We don’t think, as we leave for the day, we will never return. The people killed this week in Las Vegas did not know they were not going home again. They had no idea that their entire life, and all its dreams and goals, would be fulfilled that night. That they would be leaving this life, and heading to eternity.

Matthew 6:34 tells us: “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And if we spent our moments today in panic over tomorrow, we would not be able to function. So we go about our lives, living them – enjoying them – celebrating them. Because it could very well be our last day.

I was able, during a very lucid afternoon, have a great conversation about dying with my mom. She is 87 and says she’s not too concerned about it. Some days, she says she’s tired and done and just wants to die. Suffering from Alzheimer’s is tough. And she truly misses my stepdad. Since he died 4 years ago, she has not really lived. But as we chatted, she spoke about how dying is not the end, just the end of “this.” She isn’t sure what is next, but she said she is ready for it. We chatted about how she wants to be cared for in her last days, what sort of burial arrangements she wants, and how, exactly, she wants to die. It was cogent and simple and real. One of the best conversations we have ever had.

 

I think more of us should have these sorts of conversations. I think we all need to think about dying. We need to know that today, yes, today, I am ready to stand before the Throne of God, accountable for this life, and ready to be accepted by God into His Eternal Light and Praise. My mom’s brain is all churned up by this crazy disease that eats more brain cells every day. Her synapses have to find a way around another dead end, to enable her to function in this crazy life. But she inherently knows some things. She knows she is dying and it will be sooner rather than later. She told me it isn’t one of her favorite things to think or talk about, but it doesn’t scare her any longer, either. I think we all need to get to that point, living moment to moment, where we are not afraid to pass into this next existence – an existence with God in a pure spiritual life, surrounded by a Holy Light and the choirs of angels. Mom and I laughed about having nose bleed seats, because we will be so grateful to be in heaven, we won’t care about the seating arrangements.

With all the ugliness this week, and how even uglier we are treating each other, it is almost cathartic to be around someone with Alzheimer’s, where every five minutes, you have a chance to get it right. And you don’t recall the past five minutes, where you may have screwed it up. It’s all forgiven and forgotten, and there is joy in that next moment.

My thoughts tonight are filled with sadness over the grieving families, for those still suffering and in danger, and for this world. We seem to be losing our sense of the preciousness and sanctity of all human life. Take this moment, forgetting about all the past moments, and make it your best moment, yet. Forgive, love, repent, prepare. We are not guaranteed our next breath. Thank you, Fr. Justin, for ingraining that into my heart.