July 26, 2013

Be not afraid

When my mother-in-law was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia a week ago, we knew it would be her last hospital visit. She broke her hip more than 15 months ago, and she’d lasted longer than anyone thought, living in a nursing home where we could visit her daily.

On Friday, her three children and nine grandchildren gathered in her hospital room. My sister-in-law and her daughter drove in from out of state, a trip they’ve made many times over the last 15 months. Smiley Girl drove to the city where Shaggy Hair Boy has started his intensive grad program, and brought him back. Blonde Niece came: she knows my mother-in-law from all the time she’s spent at our house.

My mother-in-law could still whisper, and she could definitely hear them all, as they talked and joked, crowding around her hospital bed. She knew she was surrounded by family. When I arrived Saturday morning, after a long train ride home from my friend’s beach house, I asked if she’d enjoyed the party in her hospital room, and she whispered that it had been “loads of fun.”

We held the phone to her ear so she could talk to a long-time friend, who assured her that death was "going to be beautiful." My husband’s best friend from high school came up to visit. His cousin drove in from out of town to spend the afternoon. I got the idea of using the iPad to play music, and for the next couple of days, we kept using youtube to find the songs she loved — everything from Marian hymns to the theme from Hawaii Five-O.

She grew weaker. We stayed with her around the clock so that she wouldn’t die alone. My husband and I pretty much lived in her hospital room: my daughter brought us meals, and we used camping mats to sleep on the floor. The nurses stepped over and around us, and they always stopped to chat with us and help us figure out how much longer she had.

Her hospital stay lasted almost a week. The last couple of days, she was unresponsive, but I’m sure she felt our presence as we sat around her — her three children, her out-of-town granddaughter, and me. We used the iPad to play silly games — like guessing the names of songs. We looked up songs from our childhoods, everything from Gilligan’s Island to the folk mass songs from the 1960s. We knew the nurses by then, and they knew us.

Wednesday evening, we’d been keeping watch so long that we were all exhausted. My brother-in-law left to go home and get some sleep. My sister-in-law and her daughter left to buy her the blue dress she’d requested for the funeral. My husband lay down on the floor to take a nap.

I cleaned up the room, tossing away empty food containers. I brushed her hair one last time. I blew up some of the blue hospital gloves so that they looked like balloons and hung them above her head. (Blue was her favorite color.) I straightened the necklace and rosary around her neck. I sat down in the chair next to her with a book, hoping that reading would keep me awake. I hadn’t even turned the page when her breathing pattern changed. She took her last breath.

We are burying her today on the feast of St. Ann. She'll be carried by her grandchildren into the church she attended for more than fifty years. My husband and brother-in-law will be the altar boys in the church where they grew up. The organist will play her favorite hymns. We'll gather, the whole family, to say goodbye.

34 comments:

Lorianne said...

Teary-eyed here. You, your husband, and your whole family have my condolences.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Love and hugs to you and your family. She must have been a wonderful person.

Flavia said...

I'm very sorry for your loss. But it sounds like her passing was peaceful and full of love.

Bardiac said...

My condolences. I'm sorry for your family's loss. And your family sounds so wonderful at times like these.

beemama said...

And it will be beautiful. May we all go thus, surrounded by the comfort of those we love. And may you all share that comfort as you remember your dear one. Wishing you peace, though I suspect you already have it.

L said...

What a beautiful post! I am glad that you all were able to be with her to the very end -- it must be comforting to know that she left this life surrounded by her loved ones. Thanks for sharing these moments with us!

liz said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, and so grateful to you for sharing this.

Zhoen said...

A good death, our last and most important wish.

Annette said...

No one could ask to be more tenderly loved than what I read here. To be eased into the next...."from the arms of love to the arms of Love.". I am sorry for your sadness and grateful I know such a beautiful person. xo

Heidi said...

Condolences.

What Now? said...

It sounds like she had a beautiful death, surrounded by love. Wishing you and your family many blessings in this time of loss and transition.

Elaine said...

Love.

momo said...

I'm certain that your loving kindness brought her much peace. May you find comfort in each other.

kathy a. said...

jo(e), much love to you all.

museyme said...

So sorry for your loss.

Tom said...

I'm glad the end was peaceful.

Artist Friend said...

My condolences to Bill and your whole family. I know that it's never easy to let go of a parent or a grandparent. It seems like she was blessed to be surrounded like that by her family. That's the best possible way.

Magpie said...

holding you in my heart, dear.

Psycgirl said...

So sorry about your loss

Karin said...

So sorry for your loss. It sounds like she was loved and lived a wonderful life.

Cindy said...

Sorry for your loss.

Val said...

This sounds like a beautiful and loving passing. Peace to you all, jo(e). ♥

robin andrea said...

Such a beautiful, calm, and loving exit.

Anonymous said...

My condolences on the loss of a beloved member of your family.
ChrisinNY

chicago foodie girl said...

Oh, jo(e)... such a beautiful post.
Sending you all many positive vibes & healing thoughts. xo

readersguide said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Jo(e). I don't know what to say, except that it must be that time of life. My kids have one grandparent left, and I'm definitely taking notes on how I want to do this myself -- and as these things go, it sounds like your mother-in-law did this as well as it can be done. Still sad, though -- we had oysters last night and remembered how much my mother-in-law used to love them.

Rana said...

I am so sorry. ((hug))

Lomagirl said...

Blessings on you all- What a blessing you have had already to be with her in such a loving crossover into death. Thanks for sharing this.

Melinda Hartman said...

My condolences to you and your family. Spending every possible minute with my grandmother at the end of her life is something I will never regret and always remember.

Di said...

I had the privilege of witnessing this kind of scene just a handful of times in my year at the hospital. The peace and love present are overwhelming.
I'm sorry for your loss, and grateful that you've shared.

Martha Spong said...

jo(e), what a gift that your family could be so present to your mother-in-law and to one another. May she be long-remembered and loved.

susan said...

Just catching up after my vacation....I am so sorry, but as ever so impressed by the way your family gathers together with love, joy, songs, and stories. I hope that is all a comfort--I know it is.

Michelle said...

I am so sorry, but glad that she had the warm company of family to walk with her on this path.

Anjali said...

So terribly sorry for your loss. But what a beautiful way to say goodbye.