Some days I find myself thinking: How long can I do this? How long can I watch my mother shrink away both mentally and physically? But that makes it all about me. This is not about me. It’s about my mother. It’s about relying on God for strength and grace to take care of someone very dear to me and even more dear to Him; trusting the One who knows, who cares, who sees the end from the beginning.
Recently Mom has been awake when I check on her around 5:30 a.m. I have no idea how long she’s been lying there, eyes open, still as a rag doll. I ask her if she’s been awake long, just to say something. The other day she looked at me in such a strange way and asked me why I hadn’t told her I would be coming to visit. She thought I was her mother. I stepped into her reality and apologized. I stroked her face and told her how glad I was to see her. Another morning she asked where her husband was. She told me he had gone to buy a crib for their baby. I imagine the labyrinth of her memories. In some way she is walking through that maze and a far away memory is triggered. And she believes it belongs to the present. It’s a mystery.
Mom has not been able to drink water since her stroke. She would take a sip and hold it in her mouth and eventually have to spit it out. Thickened liquids were no easier for her. I went to bed one night feeling crushed with guilt I was putting my mother into a state of dehydration. I lay in bed praying for wisdom. And then I got a picture of ice chips. The next morning I took some ice cubes, wrapped them in a towel and hammered them to bits. I took them into Mom and was able to feed her a small cup of ice chips one tiny spoonful at a time. I have to watch her as she crunches them, waiting for the swallow before I offer her more. Sometimes the swallow takes a long time. I’ve discovered if I bring the empty spoon to her mouth it will trigger her to swallow.
It’s challenging to find something Mom is able and willing to eat. She’s had a lot of ice cream in the past few weeks but I’m always trying other things I think might be more nourishing. When she first came home she could eat broccoli cheddar soup. The broccoli started becoming difficult to get down so I pureed it. When even the tiny pureed bits of broccoli wouldn’t go down, I strained it. But now she can’t even swallow that. I tried yogurt with mashed banana, honey and protein powder. She made faces when I tried to feed her that. Most recently I have frozen the yogurt concoction and even added a little coconut oil to boost the calories. Right now she is willing to eat it it like that, but as soon as it gets a little melted she refuses it. Each day is different in terms of what she can swallow and I just have to try different foods, different strategies. At least she has been able to take the ice chips consistently and I offer them to her frequently.
I don’t think my mother is suffering–she is not in pain, she does not know she is dying, she seems comfortable, although it’s hard for me to imagine. She doesn’t even know she is spending the day lying in bed because she will often tell me she’s been out when I come in to spend time with her. But even if she isn’t suffering, my family and I are as we watch my mother linger and drift towards eternity. It is painful to see her body get smaller and smaller as the days go by, her face becoming so pinched it’s hard to recognize her.
Since she can no longer be moved to her recliner in the family room where she enjoyed looking out the picture window, we set up a bird feeder right outside the window in her bedroom. This afternoon a small host of sparrows stopped by to entertain her. She listens to one of 2 Pandora music stations I set up for her. One is Piano Hymns and the other is Big Band Radio. I think the familiarity comforts her. One brings a reflective, peaceful atmosphere, the other is strangely festive.
Life in our home seems surreal. There is a softness, a quietness, a sadness that permeates the house. The days seem small and collapsed on themselves. Part of me wants this to end, wants God to take her home where she will be whole and complete, reunited with loved ones, and most importantly, rejoicing in the Savior she has worshipped and served so faithfully. And part of me is quite reluctant to let her go. I’m grateful the decision is not in my hands. Father, give us grace to rest in You, peace to trust Your ways.