I watched my mother take her last breath. My mother brought me into this world. She fed me. She clothed me. She taught me to be brave and walk to kindergarten, elementary school and junior high school. My mother showed me unconditional love, like my heavenly Father does. My mother loved me like no one else loves me. My mother was a strong woman. She loved her children so much. She loved my father so much, yet at times I realized later it must of been difficult as he had some personality swings and occasionally went back to the bottle to cope with his pain. Yet, my parents both loved the Lord and were an example of love, perseverance, commitment and faithfulness to the Father and family, which spoke volumes to me.
My mother went into the hospital in March of 2011. Mom and our whole family had all just recently returned from one of the most fun trips together in Park City, Utah. She was having trouble breathing while in Utah and continued that when she returned home. The doctors had her on inhalers, but none of us had any idea until the end how bad she must of been. In December of 2010, she spent her last Christmas with me and my family in Destin. I am so thankful for that time together. Yet, while she was at our house she was struggling with her breathing, but didn’t want to go to the ER. She called her doctor and had him call in some medicine. Looking back, she definitely did not want ANYTHING to mess up her trip to Park City, Utah that we all had planned a few months later in March. Mother was part of a wonderful surprise announcement that my son, David made while we were in Park City. He had planned to ask his long time girlfriend and now wife, Shannon to marry him. Mother had the ring with her and just couldn’t wait to witness it all.
After the Park City trip, mother returned to her home in Birmingham and her best friend, Nancy came for a visit. Mom didn’t feel well so Nancy took her to the ER. Nancy still says to this day how she wishes she would of never done that because she just wants to believe that she would still be alive if she had not. Mother never made it back home. She stayed in two different hospitals the entire time from March through July 19th. My brothers, sister and I made many trips to the hospital to be with mother and help her in any way. While coming to Birmingham to see her in the hospital and staying in her home, I saw seasons pass and her flowers on her mailbox come into bloom. I saw the dogwood trees bloom around her home. Everything else was turning green and showing color, yet my mother was dying before my very eyes. She wasn’t able to see any of it. One of her most favorite things in the world, to see her flowers bloom and to watch the birds from her window, and the only thing should could do was to look at the walls of the hospital, a television and a small table on rollers in front of her. I have thought about that small table many times. My mother loved beautiful things. She treasured things passed down from one generation to the next. Her gift for hospitality was evident the minute you walked into her home. Mother had such a gift for decorating and placing furniture, pictures, etc. She hardly ever measured when hanging anything. She would just “eyeball it”! Some days she would call me and tell me she had just moved the sofa from one side of the room to another. She loved rearranging and changing up things occasionally in her home. It broke my heart to see her in that hospital bed, and the only thing she had to rearrange were the things on her little roll away table. She would move her hairbrush around, or maybe her calendar, notebook, pen or cup of chipped ice, and that was about it. My heart broke for her, but I felt I had to stay strong. I truly believed she would be getting out of the hospital at some point.
My husband saw the need to buy me a smaller car to travel back and forth from Destin to Birmingham. Our l999 GMC Suburban wasn’t ready for the junk yard, but just could not be counted on to make long trips on the highway. It was a good decision. Abbey, our last child was in middle school at the time, and her dad helped out so much at home with her while I was helping with my mother. I hated being away, but knew I needed to. Two sons were already married, and the third one had just become engaged. Mother and I talked about the wedding plans for David and Shannon. It gave her something to look forward to, as well as us to talk about. I would bring outfits to the hospital and she would help me decide on which one to wear for the rehearsal dinner.
Mother spent a lot of time in the hospital bed. She had occasional P.T., but not a lot. She had unforeseen complications that we never imagined would happen. Her intestine, or stomach open up. I don’t remember why, but it just busted open. She had to get that operated on, and that slowed down her physical therapy and her recovery with her lung issue. She needed to get up and walk to help her lungs get better, but she couldn’t because of her stitches and operation. She was developing drop foot. Her skin was thinning and sores developing. It was just horrible. It was horrible to see my mom wasting away. I painted her nails. I brushed her hair. Whatever I could do to make her feel pretty I did. I was an advocate for her. I am sure my brothers and sister were also, but many times we were not there at the hospital all at the same time, so I don’t know all the many good things they all did for her, but I know they did. She wanted me to be there with her as much as possible, and I wanted the same. Momma knew I would be firm if she needed me to ask the tough questions or advocate for her in any way. Like momma, I have a strong determination and a strong will. All of her children brought just the right things to her side when she needed us to.
She had been put on a breathing tube to help her breath. Later she was on a feeding tube. How could all of this be happening? How did just going from an inhaler to fighting for your life happen this quick for my mother? I still don’t understand all the reasons why, but just have had to trust in God’s timing through it all.
My son Kevin and Natalie came to visit her the weekend before she died. As we all returned back to Destin, we were given hope by some of the staff at the hospital. We were told she would be getting off her breathing tube soon. I was in complete shock and dismayed when just about 24 hours after Kevin, Natalie and I returned from Birmingham, my brother Skip called me and said that the doctor had come in the room to talk to mother, and after that, mother made a decision to remove anything that was keeping her alive. If I remember correctly, I believe she was given a choice of going to a nursing home in another state, that would basically just keep her alive on her breathing tube. Mother didn’t want that. She wanted quality of life. She made her decision but I just couldn’t process it all. It was too much to process right then and even years later.
The next day, I returned to Birmingham alone. The only words I can think of is horrible. It was horrible and so painful, yet I felt I needed to be brave, so I was. Mother was the bravest of all though. The morning of July 19th, my two brothers, sister and I, along with some of my nieces and nephews, all gathered in her hospital room. Nancy, her best friend, along with her husband Bob was there also. It sadly and honestly felt like a circus to me. It felt like some type of out of body experience, or some movie that I was watching. People were doing different things in different parts of the room and hallway. The nurse was coming in and washing mother down. I had brought music to play, so that was being played. Mother was wide awake. She knew everything that was going on. She even motioned to my brother to get out of the way of the fan, because she wanted it blowing on her. I remember nieces and nephews chatting and talking about things like golf and laughing about things unrelated to mother’s death. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it all and wanted to scream to everyone to be quiet…..but I didn’t. We were fixing to watch my mother die and everyone was chatting like we were dining out in a restaurant. It was somewhat upsetting to me, but perhaps this is exactly what mother wanted. She never actually expressed down to the details of who she wanted to surround her at the end, but she would have put a stop to it if she didn’t want something. I truly believe she would have wanted it just the way it was…..a room filled with family, chatter, laughter and talk of what everyone’s day was like. It was me that was trying to process this all. It was very painful. To this day, when I hear consistent beeps, there are times when I flash back to my mother’s bedside and her machines the day she died. The nurses forewarned us that as my mother was being taken off the machines, we would hear loud beeps and the beeps could get faster and louder. We all finally because silent, but the beeps were louder. One minute mother is alive, then she is not. I watched my mother take her last breath. How interesting that she came into the world taking her first breath, and left this world taking her last breath. That was that. It seemed so cold. It seemed so horribly cold and unfair. My mother was so brave. So loving and so unselfish. It was me that felt selfish, as I wanted her to live and to not go, but knew it was her choice and new deep down it was the best choice, and it must of been very difficult, yet right. I imagine if I was where she was, I would have wanted to leave this earth also under the conditions that I was living in. Momma knew she would be seeing daddy soon, and she knew she would be in the arms of her loving Father soon. That was the most comforting thing about the whole death experience.
Was there a manual out there somewhere on how to handle all of this? Where were the death instructions? No one equipped me. No one prepared me. Only minutes after mother had taken her last breath, the hospital was asking details and business questions to my brother and I, who were co-executors of her will. STOP! STOP! STOP all this craziness I was thinking. Can’t you give us some time! ….but I was brave and felt I had to carry on. I was reminded that mother chose me and my brother to carry on…so we needed to do that. I tried with my brother’s help to navigate through it all as best as possible, yet we all made mistakes along the way. Emotions were high at times. It seemed like all of us siblings were grasping to hold on and not let go in our own way. Perhaps we were experiencing what it felt like to all be out of control, but wanting to be in control. Who knows. What I do know is that after my mother’s death, we all took it very hard. We could of all worked together in unity better. But you know what….when you are going through things, you do the best you can and somehow God gets you through it. Hopefully the pain brings about change and the diversity brings about unity in the end.
Almost eight years later now, and although like the saying goes, you never get over it, but you get through it, is true. With God’s help, time heals. Counseling helped to heal. Grieving helped to heal. Laughing and being around my family helped a lot to heal. Sitting and staring helped to heal. My husband and my children were the biggest help and support that I could have asked for. With both my parents gone, my desire to be around my siblings is even stronger now than before. I look forward so much to those times we can gather together.
I imagine my mother’s last breath was her best breath ever as she joined my father, her parents and her Heavenly Father that had prepared a place for her and for all of us. I will always love my mother and my father. I will forever be grateful for their love and sacrifice for me and for our family. They will never be forgotten. We had a wonderful life growing up and many fun times together. Our tough times made me stronger. I am thankful that when I look into the eyes and hearts of my children and grandchildren I see a part of my mom and dad and lives on. When I see nature and God’s creation, I am reminded of my mother and father. I am thankful for our time and seasons together. I wish so bad they could have been on this earth longer, as daddy was just 61 and mother was 75 when they passed, but it just didn’t happen that way, so I continue to trust in God’s timing. When they left me, they left me with a wonderful legacy of faith, hope and love….they greatest of these being love.