Eleven years ago, on the second Wednesday in February, my father died – at the Kenney retirement home in West Seattle – room G330. My mother was at his side. This last week, on the second Wednesday in February, my mother died – at the Kenney retirement home – in room G335 – just down the hall. She had turned 99 years old last November.
In the month following Dad’s death, Mom suffered a myocardial infarction, a heart attack. I found her on her apartment floor – her skin dusky, her voice weak and halting, her pulse 20 – after she had lain there for 6 hours. Thanks to the crew of Engine 37 and Medic One (11), a cardiac surgeon, and a pacemaker, she bounced back for another eleven years. During those years, she survived pulmonary emboli, E. coli, macular degeneration, and a broken hip. On her 95th birthday, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. One MD gave her only 6 months to live unless she underwent major surgery and months of chemo. She said no. Six months later, she was released from hospice because she had not needed their services. That is, until last week, four years later – and probably due to her age and her dementia, not cancer.
In recent years, her dementia (possibly Lewy body dementia) has become more apparent and it sometimes became more difficult to communicate with her. Her hearing was poor, her ability to use the correct words waned, and she often was experiencing her own parallel reality pieced together from memories and fantasies. Still, she always seemed content, happy, and reaching out to others. She was under the excellent care of the Kenney staff and of Providence Elderplace. They all thought that Mom was the sweetest woman.
A bit over a week ago, my brother noted that Mom was having a difficult time keeping her apple juice down at lunch and last Friday, I got a call from Rekik, the day nurse at the Kenney, saying that Mom had not been eating for three days despite their attempts at coaxing her. Mom’s doctor had been notified. Providence hospice was brought in and comfort measures initiated. My wife Kathy and I went to visit Mom that day. She was a bit distraught at times. I would try to comfort her and she would say that she was dying, that she was afraid, but when I leaned in to hold her, she hugged and patted me on the back saying “My boy. My boy.”
Over the weekend, my brother Larry and his wife Susan stopped in to see Mom as well. She was a bit less responsive and unable to communicate much. The morphine and ativan they had been administering kept her asleep and peaceful for the most part. Her breathing changed from deep, relaxed, and rhythmic on Saturday morning to shallow and somewhat fitful by late Sunday. Sunday night my sister Joan flew in from Massachusetts and Monday all of us gathered around Mom’s bed as she slept to share our memories of Mom. In the afternoon Leah, the new minister at Mom’s church, stopped by and held a brief beautiful bedside service of readings, scripture, and prayer. It was a perfect family moment. Tuesday, my sister-in-law Susan and her friend sang for Mom, as they are part of a Threshold Choir that sings those in hospice on the edge of death – another wonderful moment.
Early Wednesday morning, I received the call from the hospice nurse to let me know that Mom had died just before 4 am. Joan, Kathy, and I quickly headed to the Kenney. Shortly after we got there, a woman from First Call Plus arrived to transport Mom’s body to the University of Washington. Mom had been part of a study for many years – “Adult Changes in Thought” – which is examining how our brains age. As part of this study, Mom agreed to having her brain autopsied. It will be preserved and studied for several months and correlated with the results of annual tests Mom had been given over the previous decades. It is fitting that Mom would want to help even after she has gone.
We are planning to have a celebration of Mom’s life at 1 pm on Saturday March 12th – second Saturday in March – same day of the month as Dad’s service. It will be held at Fauntleroy Church, UCC, 9260 California Avenue SW, Seattle 98136. There will be a reception in the church Fellowship Hall after the memorial service where we can all share memories of Mom’s long and productive life.