Mom has been home in hospice care for almost 2 weeks. We are determined to keep her here until God calls her home. Since she has now become what they call a total care patient I knew I would not be able to handle all of her needs on my own so I arranged for an in-home aide 6 hours per day during this time. The CNA the care giving service sent us is a lady from Ghana named Agnes. I have come to think of her as Mom’s African Angel.
Rocky greets her enthusiastically each morning at 9 a.m. The first few days she was quite alarmed by his loud greeting. I assured her it was just his way of saying hello and announcing to me I had a visitor. By the second week I could let him out the door when she arrived. He leaps off the front porch and gallops towards her barking “ferociously,” comes to a halt when he reaches her and wiggles his hind quarters in hopes of a friendly pat and greeting. She obliges and they walk up to the front door together.
By then Mom has usually been awake for a bit and I’ve given her something to drink. She never takes more than a few sips. Sometimes I’ve even gotten her to eat a little breakfast by the time Agnes arrives. Yesterday it was ice cream with mashed bananas. She managed about 1/4 cup before she could no longer make the effort to swallow.
Agnes greets Mom with a wide smile and asks her how she is doing. Mom always says, “Fine.” After making a bit of an assessment of Mom’s condition we begin the morning ritual. Agnes prepares a warm basin of water and sets out the items she will need to wash and dress Mom. I pick out some clothes for Mom to wear and then stand on the other side of the bed ready to assist when needed. I talk quietly to Mom and rub her arm or leg. Yesterday I asked her if she knew who I was. She replied with a smile, “Mama.” And so I am.
I never considered I might some day become Mama to my own mother. When she first moved in I often thought it was like having an eight year old in the household based on the care she needed, the questions she asked, her understanding of her situation. As the months have passed she has become younger and younger. Usually there is an event that has reduced her age–a surgery, a mini-stroke, a hospitalization. Now she is like my not-so-little baby, only a bit older than an infant. She is not sure where she is, she can no longer walk, she often needs me to hand feed her, but she knows our faces and our names. And for that I am grateful.
After getting washed and dressed, Agnes sits Mom up in the bed and transfers her to a wheel chair. I’d like to say I help, but it’s really Agnes’s strength that gets the job done. I just grab the waist band on Mom’s pants and guide her into the chair. Agnes wheels her into the living room and again “we” transfer her to the blue recliner by the picture window. Agnes skillfully props her up with pillows and elevates her feet. I offer her something to eat or drink frequently but most of the time she declines. She usually manages a bowl of ice cream at some point. It’s the one thing she always seems to enjoy and not have trouble getting down. At this point we offer her ice cream a couple times per day.
Agnes leaves at 3 p.m. each day so around 2:30 we start the process of getting her back into bed. After Mom is settled in she often takes a nap even though she has napped off and on throughout the day. I think just moving her from one location to another tires her out.
The rest of the day I am in and out of her room–checking to see if she is comfortable, thirsty, or needs anything. One day I asked if there was anything I could get her and she told me she would like her shoes so she could come to dinner. I told her why she would not be able to get out of bed knowing it would be forgotten in minutes. I think next time I will just distract her with a different conversation.
I put a TV in her room so she could watch her favorite show, The Andy Griffith Show. Netflix has all 8 seasons. She’s watched it through Season 5 many, many times since she moved in with us. Don Knotts left the show after Season 5 and Mom declared it wasn’t worth watching without Barney Fife. He’s her favorite character. A couple days ago after watching several episodes Mom told me she and Dad had met Andy Griffith and Barney Fife at the Health Department when Dad worked there. I think Mayberry and all its characters must remind Mom of the simpler days when she and Dad lived in their own small town where they raised my two brothers and me.
Around 7:30 p.m. I prepare Mom for bed. After I get her pajamas on her, I arrange her pillows to prop her up and relieve any pressure points. This is something I have to do several times before the morning. More than one nurse has emphasized the importance of repositioning Mom to prevent pressure sores. I trick my body into waking up in the middle of the night by drinking a good sized glass of water before I go to bed. Otherwise I might not be able to make myself get out of bed to attend to Mom. I still pray with her each night before I say good night, but she no longer offers her own prayers. One night before turning out the light, my daughter came in and suggested we sing some hymns. We are a hymn loving family and know quite a few by heart. As we sang, Mom moved her lips but her voice was too soft to hear. It was a sweet time of worship.
I check Mom often when she is sleeping in her room–whether it is napping in the late afternoon or after she has gone to bed for the night. I watch her chest to make sure I see it rising and falling. We are all only one small event away from eternity. God has numbered our days, and only He knows the day and the hour He will call us home. But I am acutely aware His time for Mom is very near. It’s my prayer and heart’s desire to be at her side when she steps away from us and into His presence. I think I have a secret hope I will see some of His shining glory and get a little glimpse of heaven when Mom leaves to join the heavenly throng.