A nurse got my mother up for therapy. She was unable to participate. The next day, the head therapist phoned and asked me to come to his office. When I arrived, he smiled, shook my hand and said, “I’m curious about why Dr. Perry sent your mother here. To stay here, patients must be able to get out of bed, do therapy twice a day, take a bath and eat in the dining room. Your mother can’t do any of these things. What was Dr. Perry thinking?”
“I promised my mother I’d never put her in a nursing home!” I explained. “Dr. Perry is trying to buy some time until she’s stronger; then I’ll take her home.” The therapist said, “You’re very small. Do you have someone to help you with her?”
“My husband and children will help, and I’ll take advantage of any available home health care,” I told him. Surprisingly, this strong, young, handsome Greek man wiped tears from his eyes and said, “You’ve restored my faith in human nature; I admire you more than I can express!” I thanked him. He told me to call him any time and he’d stop by and help with Mother. I left convinced there is still some good in the human race.
I stopped by Mother’s room. She was asleep. One glance overwhelmed me with emotion. She was wearing a light blue satin nightgown; her silver hair was brushed forward on her cheeks accentuating flawless, alabaster skin. She looked so peaceful. I stared at her for several minutes wishing I’d brought my camera. I’d never thought of her as a beautiful woman, but now, her delicate beauty was remarkable. This is how I’ll remember her, I thought.
The phone woke me early the next morning. Dr. Perry said, “Your mother has pneumonia. You can either send her to the hospital and start tube feeding or call in Hospice and take her home.” Stunned, I said, “May I think about it?” He said, “Don’t take too long!” I hung up and told my husband, who said, “It’s your decision.”
“I don’t want her kept alive by artificial means,” I said. “But I’m not ready to give her up either…” She was 85 and very ill. The outcome would be the same either way. It was up to me to decide whether it happened sooner… or later.
Shortly, a nurse from Hospice called to ask me to meet him in Mother’s room at two o’clock. We heard Mother’s raspy breathing long before reaching her room. I greeted her cheerfully; she showed little response. When the nurse came, he asked if I wanted to talk somewhere else. I said, “She’s hard of hearing; it doesn’t matter.
He explained how Hospice works and said a hospital bed could be delivered to our home the next day, but I couldn’t bring myself to sign the papers. Tears filled my eyes. He said he’d go for coffee and let us talk. Soon, a stranger entered the room and introduced himself as a Hospice minister. After he prayed with us, Mother smiled sweetly and thanked him for coming.
When I walked out with him, he assured me I was doing the right thing. He said to prolong Mother’s agony would be inhumane. When I returned, my face wet with tears, the decision was clear. I signed the papers.
But fate stepped in. It was as if she knew instinctively (or heard) what was about to happen, and willed it to be different. How like her to take control! Within an hour after arrangements were made, her breathing became raspier; she struggled to breathe. Inside thirty minutes, the first dose of morphine was administered. That was the beginning of the end. Her breathing came easier, but she wasn’t with us. After a couple more doses, her eyes were glassy. It was heartbreaking, but I held onto the hope that I’d be taking her home tomorrow.
I stood at the window. My husband said, “Something’s happening!” I turned to see my mother’s eyes wide open... heard two loud gasps... and it was over. I grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her, but two nurses gently moved me aside. I cried for a long time.
I took one final look at the lovely face, kissed it tenderly, then walked out of the dismal room for the last time. Outside, the evening air was humid. A splash of orange adorned the western sky. Another incredible sunset was finished.