Dear Deb -
It's now been over three months since my Mom passed away, and I'm only just beginning to comprehend the depth of this loss. I not only lost my Mom, but my best friend, my "daughter" - and my identity as a caregiver - a position that I held for the last 15 years (not only with my Mom - but with my Dad and an aunt - in California). The hardest part is not having that "buffer" zone...no strong and immediate support system to help me through the daily grief...no family, no children, no wife, etc. - to help me deal with the devastating life-changing loss. And it's been nothing less than devastating and life-altering - as I have been forced to work through all of this on my own. No one really understands the loss of a parent until you lose one. But even then, some who lose parents, at least have wives, husbands, a remaining parent, and children to help carry them through the grief. I have none of that.
However, my Mom would now want me to move on and live a full, happy life. And as I look back, I would not have done anything differently. I loved my Mom a great deal - and again, I still do. Whatever good that is inside me was placed there by God through my Mom. I always had only the best of intentions with whatever decisions I made for her - as she was so clearly unable to make them on her own. And, again, as I look back in perspective, I realize that everyone else's intentions and decisions for and with her also were only the best. We are all only doing the best we can in life.
That last year of my Mom's life, was such a trying, challenging time for me. In the deepest part of me, I knew and observed that she was dying a slow death. And even though her great energy periodically betrayed that realization, I was scared for her - more than she could have ever been scared for herself.
Fortunately, my Mom was not aware of her gradual dying process - and also, gratefully, she never felt any pain. If she did feel any pain, she would forget about the pain (due to her dimentia) minutes after it would transpire. As such, she would bounce right back. And that had always been my prayer: that she would never suffer. And she never did.
It was another part of my prayer that she would pass away in the middle of the night - thinking she would attend the wonderful activities at the ILS senior center the next day. And that's exactly what happened.
My only remaining fear is that she may have felt the impact of hitting the floor when the nurse (Sue) called me and said, "Sweetie - it's your Mom. Her heartbeat is faint. We found her on the floor..."
It is now my great hope that her soul left her body before she fell to the floor.
That all said, not many people know of my interactions with her leading up to the day she died:
I had just moved to my new apartment at Greenleaf Meadows in Greece. I was hoping to begin a new life, now that my Mom was secure at ILS. But when I moved in on a Thursday, she died on a Monday.
I had no furniture at my new apartment, as I set out to begin everything anew, once I got to Greenleaf. So, I decided to stay with my Mom at ILS for those initial few days of May. But on the Sunday night before she died, I wanted to go home - even if I had to sleep on the floor. I wanted to go home and sleep in my new apartment.
So I said, "Mom - I think I'm going to go home tonight."
She replied in only the fun-fiesty way for which she had become known. "Well," she said, "I'm probably going to die tonight."
"Mom," I said, "you're not going to die tonight. I'll see you in the morning. Nellie (her evening aid) will be here at 9:00 to put you to bed."
Then - I went home. Upon arriving inside my apartment, the phone rang. It was my Mom, who went on to speak in what had become a child-like, even sweeter voice than usual (due to her missing lower dentures that we had been working on to replace).
"Are you going to come back and visit me?" she wondered.
"No, Mom," I replied. "I was just there. I'll see you in the morning. Nellie should be there soon."
Sure enough, as Nellie herself would tell me the next day, she walked in my Mom's apartment at 9:00 on the nose. As my Mom relayed to Nellie that night, "Herbie J said you were going to be here at 9:00 - and here you are."
My Mom trusted me to the end, and I have a measure of guilt for leaving her that night - and then not returning to her apartment when she requested that I do so. Later, naturally, as I slept, I had what turned out to be this prophetic dream:
My Mom and I were on the beach - and in front of us was a huge tidal wave. It wasn't murky and threatening - but clear, beautiful, strong and calm - and it was coming toward us. I stepped into the wave, and then walked through it. But when I turned to my right to look for my Mom, she was no where to be seen.
That's when the phone rang, and I received the life-changing news from Sue, the nurse.
I rushed through five red lights from Greece to Irondequoit to get to ILS. But I was too late. My Mom, or "St. Frances," as she was so fond of as referring to herself, was gone.
Fortunately, during that last weekend at ILS, she sang on Saturday afternoon for everyone at lunch in the community room (on the Hudson Housing side), and attended The Lawrence Welk Show gathering on Saturday night. Friends from my old apartment complex at North Village had invited me out to dinner. About one hour into the evening, I said I had a scheduled "date" with my Mom to watch the Welk show with her every Saturday. I begged their forgiveness, went on to the ILS community room to sit with my Mom, and we watched Mr. Wunnerful, Wunnerful together for what would become (then unbeknowest to me) the last time.
We then spent all day together on Sunday, and talked for a good measure of time - mostly while sitting in the front area of ILS, looking out the windows.
"Oh, Herbie J," she said, "look at all the trees....they're so green - and all the houses are so beautiful." As I relayed at her Memorial Service, it was like she was already begininng to see Heaven.
Then, after my Mom did leave this Earth, I wanted to leave with as many ILS employees and residents as possible some form of momento of hers. Some aids received vases, other ILS employees and residents clothes...a few others, some jewelry. Either way, I wanted as many people as possible to have a "solid" memory of my Mom.
So, in closing, I just wanted to say - in a very public way - thank you to everyone at ILS who did and gave their best for my Mom. It was and will forever be appreciated.
Blessings to you all....