Monday, June 25, 2018

What do you wear to your Mother's funeral?

What do you wear to your Mother’s funeral? What dress? Which shoes? It matters. It’s the last time you’ll dress for her. What would she want me to wear?


My mother was very particular about what we wore to which event. She taught me to dress well, always wear earrings. She loathed pants in church and once told my daughter to go upstairs and get changed, that she was “Not wearing sweatpants to the mall!” To which my daughter quipped, “Go put on a bra, Mom Mom!” We all had a good laugh!

When deciding which dress to wear to the funeral (no, pants were not an option for this daughter,) my daughter, Becca, said, “I don’t have any dresses that fit. I think I’ll wear pants.” I said, “Wear what you’re comfortable in. Mom Mom wouldn’t care.” My daughter said, “Yes she would! She hated when we didn’t get dressed up for church!”

I visited mom nearly every weekend once she went into hospice. I didn’t want to miss any opportunity to be with her, breathe the air she breathed, touch her skin, hold her hand.

The first visit after they put her on morphine, I walk into her room and she is curled up on the bed, sleeping with her head at the bottom and her feet at the top. I sit on the bed and say, “Hi Mom, it’s your daughter, Angela.” Her eyes flutter open and quickly close. Arthur tries, “Hi Rose, it’s Arthur.” She opens her eyes and looks at him before closing her eyes again. Sleep is winning.  I begin to cry, thinking I missed the upswing she had, eating her meals in the dining room, getting her haircut. 

The next time I visit, she is weaker, thinner yet. The nurse’s assistant puts her in the wheelchair to take her to the bathroom where she changes mom into her pajamas. I see her legs and think, who belongs to those legs, so thin?

Mom and I sit on the bed side by side, her head hanging down. Can you lift your head and look up? No. I sit on the floor in front of her. I want to see her eyes, her beautiful brown eyes. She raises her head slightly, her eyes looking up.  She mumbles something inaudible. Just a short while ago her voice was strong. I ask her to repeat, try to follow her lips. I look at Arthur and shake my head.

May came and went and mom hung on.The first weekend in June I visit her. I sit on the bed, she opens her eyes and says, “Did you have lunch?” Just like I was visiting her at home. She reaches for my hand. She puckers her lips; she’s thirsty. I get her water and a straw. She tries to hold the cup herself while I support the bottom. She says to me, “Next time.” I know. She wants it cold. Ice cold.  She takes my hand in hers and kisses it.

When she opens her eyes again, she lifts her hand and rubs the palm of it down my face. It’s a gesture she used to do to me regularly and it annoyed me. Now I laugh. She reaches her arm up and hooks it around my neck, pulls me to her for a kiss. I bury my head in her neck; tell her I love her. Her lips mouth the words back to me. Then she is sleeping again.

Each time she wakes up, she rubs my arm, like she used to. And smiles and pulls me to her, arm wrapped around my neck. She takes my hand and holds onto it while she drifts off to sleep.  When she opens her eyes again, she purses her lips, she wants a kiss.  Later, she looks and me and Arthur and says, “Good night.” It’s 4:30 and daylight.

Leaving is hard. The decision to leave is hard. All the kisses, the hugs, the recognition. Her being present and knowing me. I want more and I want it to go on. If I leave and this is it…then it’s over. No more hugs, kisses. No more seeing her brown eyes looking into mine.

I had a premonition on the ride over that it would be the last time I would see her. I am reluctant to leave her.

I  had one last visit with Mom. A bonus visit. The Sunday before she passed. Her nails are freshly painted pink. She eats 5 spoonfuls of applesauce. She wants to sit up; she wants to put her socks and shoes on. Where is she going? After I dress her, she stands with my help, walks to the end of the bed. Takes a few more steps. She's weak and exhausted. She sits back down on the bed. She says, "I miss Tacony."

She is ready to lay down again. I help lift her legs on the bed, tuck the blanket around her. It's time to go. Arthur and I have a long ride home. I kiss her face, rub my fingers through her hair. Walk away and return to repeat this several times before I finally say, "I have to go Mom. I love you. I'll see you later." She lifts her hand and waves to me. "Take care," she says.

She passed away on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. It was my 8th wedding anniversary. It was an honor that she chose that day. Her mother passed away on her wedding anniversary.

I prepared the program for the funeral mass. Made a board of photos from her life. Gathered comments from friends and family about Mom. I did it with joy. It would be the last thing I do for her.

The funeral mass was at Our Lady of Consolation in Tacony, PA at the church she grew up in, the church I grew up in. Laid to rest in St. Dominic's Cemetery next to my dad, Paul, her mom, Angelina and her father, Pasquale.





Thursday, May 3, 2018

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Part VII The End of Life Mirrors the Beginning of Life. My Journey while Mom is in hospice.

April 3, 2018, Tuesday

As I was driving home from visiting Mom (it's a two hour drive if I don't stop for a bathroom break and there's no traffic!) it occurred to me that the end of life mirrors the beginning of life.

Life is a parabola. We start out as helpless babies, growing, learning, doing, becoming. We crest - our career, our marriage, our family - whatever the high-points are for us individually. Then we begin the decline towards retirement, relaxation, when we're no longer striving but being.

I remember my dad telling me about his school reunions. "In the beginning," he said, "everyone talks about their careers, how successful they are. As the years go by, talk is less about what you've accomplished and more about family, memories."

And after that. The inevitable decline towards end of life.

Babies sleep a lot. In fact, that's mostly what they do for the first few months. Now, my mother sleeps most of the day. She is no longer interested in participating in life. The place where she is most content is in her bed.

At the beginning of life we nurse our babies or feed them with a bottle.  I hold the straw while my mom sips from her cup. She tries to hold it, hands shaking. Tries to find her mouth with the straw, sometimes misses while I gently guide it to her mouth. 

We feed our children with a spoon until they are able to feed themselves.  The caregivers feed my mother a few spoonfuls of applesauce in the morning; it's all she'll eat.

Babies grow new teeth. Old people lose them. When my grandmother was in a nursing home, my dad brought biscotti to her. He would dip the biscuit in hot tea so it would be soft enough for her to eat without her teeth.

We feed our babies to help them grow strong, introducing new foods to their palate. We lose our taste buds as we get older, then lose our desire to eat. Mom is not interested in food. Her body is shutting down. 

Babies learn to walk, unsteady at first, wobbly, holding on. Older people unlearn how to walk, holding on to the nearest object – a chair, a table, a railing. Today, my mother leaned on my arm for support as she got up from the bed to make her way to the bathroom. 

Children need help going to the bathroom. Parents need to help children take their pants down and pull them up. Today after using the potty my mother said, “I need help.”  She couldn’t get her undergarments and pants up without help.

As parents, we teach our children hygiene. My mom taught me to wash my hands after using the bathroom. Now, I have to remind her, help her wash her hands. I have the towel waiting for her to dry her hands.

In the cycle of life we have babies and we care for those babies. And someday those babies will grow up and care for us as we lose the skills we learned as children and we taught our children. Brush your teeth. Mom no longer does this. Wash your face. She has to be reminded. Take a shower. It’s too cold; she doesn’t want to.

We bundle our kids up to keep them warm. At the other end of life, we bundle our parents with blankets to keep them warm. Their bones frail, so little fat to keep them warm. The temperature regulators have stopped regulating.

We put slippers with grips on our babies as they begin to walk so they don’t slip and fall. We put sneakers on with grips so Mom doesn’t slip and fall.

She shuffles now. No longer the strong purposeful walk, heading out the door to work or the mall. She is hunched over. It’s the first time I’ve noticed this. As if her head is now too heavy for her shoulders. 

As my friend, Doreena, who recently lost her mom, so eloquently put it, "Slowly moving backwards, lights turning off, as she forgot how to do ordinary routines, one thing at at time. Unlearning what it took her a lifetime (to learn) one by one. Innocence returning." 

As my mother held me when I was a baby, today I held my mother as she hugged me.  She used to tuck me in bed. Today I tucked her in, lifted her feet up onto the bed. Covered her with a comforter. And kissed her before I left, her head on the pillow, her eyes closing, drifting off to sleep.




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