[We knew we were entering the Valley of Peace a week before. She is at peace now.]
A good enough moment
Mom took her last breath at 9:40 a.m. Monday June 13. The time is not precise, the moment wasn’t perfect. They were good enough.
Dad was working on the well pump.
I was packed for a work trip and just out of the shower.
“Pennie, you may want to come up here.”
A good enough daughter
For many reasons, uneasiness shoots through my body when people tell me, “You’re a wonderful daughter.” Writing about mom’s journey with Alzheimer’s, I’ve included many tender moments, and some of the choices we made with each other along the way, but I know (and I point out when I write) that I haven’t made the most sacrificial choices, I haven’t been heroic in any way.
Take mom’s final week. When she stopped eating on June 6, I didn’t drop everything to sit at her side that week. I warned work that I may not be able to make the business trip on June 13, but I still moved forward with plans to go, I worked, I visited a bit. I was ready to drop what was necessary when the time came, but I didn’t drop it all to dote on mom. That was good enough. I’m not a wonderful daughter, but I’m good enough.
A good enough goodbye
By the time I walked from my house to my parents’, mom’s lungs had been still for a couple of minutes. Her body was done.
It wasn’t the better part of me that wanted to be with mom for that final moment. That was my ego, the story I’d carry. For all I know, she didn’t want me there, and I never thought to ask her. When that regretful, self-pity thought began to bubble up, I reminded myself: “This is good enough, you’re here now, and she’s at peace.”
I sat with her, held her hand as I made the phone calls. At some point I told dad, “I’ll let work know I’m not coming.”
I found myself asking the question I have hated answering for the last six months. “Are you okay, Dad?”
Of course, we’re okay. This is sad, but we’re happy. Not giddy let’s dance happy, but relief happy. The monster is gone, mom is free from the Alzheimer’s bull. For nearly six months, she’s been in the worst of hells, sitting, unable to use her legs, unable to form sentences. We were happy to feel the heat of that hell evanesce.
We had reached the part where you look at each other, “What now?” Where you look at your phone, “Who else do I need to call?”
I struggled with how to share the news. “She’s gone,” are the words I used, and immediately wanted better ones, but it was done, I had already said it. And that was good enough.
Dad called his preacher, the funeral home. A friend came and sat with dad, prayed over mom. The hospice nurse came.
I just sat with mom, held her hand through every “What next?”
What else could I do?
We ticked through all the preparations we had already completed when mom stopped walking in January.
“What are we forgetting?”
Shrugs. I sat and waited, holding mom’s hand as the nurse emptied the morphine and other drugs mom never used, as the sitter collected the hospice items, as small gestures began the room’s return to a previous iteration, as the heat slipped from mom’s hands.
Making peace with the moment
In my head, I had planned this moment. I’d be with her, and, with the sitter’s help, I’d bathe her. “We just bathed her,” the sitter explained. Mom was clean. I could feel the warmth of life in her hand, I rubbed my fingers across her knobby knuckles, still moist and soft with lotion. The moment wasn’t how I imagined it would be, but this moment was good enough.
Unmoored and anchored. Sad and happy. Relieved and bereaved. The room moved like lungs drawing and releasing air, hospice things into bags, meds down the drains, chairs under tables, people in and out. The funeral director arrived, times and dates on waves of breath that land on documents.
We asked the professional: “What do we need to do now?”
“Nothing. You’re all set. We can finalize the documents and details at the funeral home. Is tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. good?”
“Sure,” dad and I said. “So that’s it? We don’t need to bring anything?”
“Nope. Sounds like you’ve chosen the dates, you have the obituary ready.”
“That’s all we need for now. So, we’ll see you Tuesday at 9:00.”
Then the nudge. The whole thing, mom’s moment, every little detail of the timing lit up in my head.
“Can we meet Wednesday at 9:00 instead?”
“Of course, that’s fine.”
Perfectly Good Enough
It’s interesting to listen to the anecdotes about how the dying choose the moment. “He waited till we all left” or the other end of it: “She waited until every last one of them was in the room.”
I don’t know if mom chose. Honestly, how does anyone know? I hope mom chose. I pray she had the agency to declare, “Now.” I’ll never know for sure, but I do know this is how her last day unfolded for us.
- Mom died on Monday, June 13, not on Sunday, June 12, not on her granddaughter’s birthday.
- Mom died in the morning on Monday, when I was fresh out of the shower. Not two hours later when I would be halfway to New Orleans for my work trip, not Monday evening when I would have been at dinner with my work team.
- Mom died mid-June, three and a half weeks before the third house on the farm would be occupied and unavailable for family; not late June or early July, when we might have to make hard decisions about accommodations.
- Mom died on Monday, not Tuesday, and early enough for me to make my first engagement.
I’m not the wonderful daughter who stayed home to sort through the feelings. I made my business trip with the surreal sadness of She’s gone, I embraced the grace of a busy day and a half to occupy my mind and I lifted my gratitude for the timing.
I’ll never know for sure how much agency mom had in the timing, but the timing was more than good enough. The timing was divine.
In this imperfect world where disease robs some of us of the basic connections, good enough works out perfectly.
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2022