I spent the last twenty-seven hours of my mother’s life sitting by her hospital bed. Mom’s oxygen-assisted breathing beat the rhythm to her dance toward heaven. Three weeks earlier, Mom told Daddy she wanted to go to heaven. She was nearly there.
The past year had been a misery: two broken hips, a broken wrist, a dislocated collarbone, dementia, hospitals, nursing homes, wheelchairs, and walkers. A potty chair replaced the nightstand between Mom’s and Daddy’s beds. The worst was when Mom no longer recognized her husband of fifty-one years.
“How did we meet that man?” Mom whispered to me, cutting her eyes toward Daddy.
Later, Mom refused to eat ice cream because she said “that man” was poisoning her.
Each time I watched Daddy answer the bell Mom rang dozens of times daily, I choked back sobs. He loved her so.
“What do you need, sweetie,” he asked tenderly, patting her forearm. Then he’d lift her from the bed to her recliner. “You’re so beautiful, sweetheart. I love you,” he’d coo, and he’d kiss her forehead.
I was with Daddy and Mom when the doctor said pneumonia was winning the battle. Mom was unconscious. Daddy decided it was time to let Mom go to heaven. The hospice sent two angels in nursing uniforms to guide us as Mom found her way. They took care of the business of dying while Daddy and I sat, holding Mom’s hands, watching the clock, and waiting for the pharmacist’s comfort cocktail to arrive.
That night, I sat alone with Mom. The nurse stopped in to check on her morphine drip, and I asked him if Mom seemed comfortable. “Oh, yes,” he smiled. “Talk to her. Tell her it’s okay to go. Then, she’ll finish her journey.”
When Mom and I were alone again, I talked to her. “Bye, Mom. I’ll miss you. Don’t worry about me. You did a great job raising me. I’ll watch over Daddy. I love you, Mom.”
Three hours later, Daddy and I watched as Mom drew her last breath. I held her hand. Daddy hugged her.
“Remember what I told you, honey,” he whispered. “You get a place ready for me. I love you.”
In losing Mom, I found a deep respect for Daddy. I am awed by the love and courage he demonstrated in the last year of Mom’s life. Caregiving is the hardest job, yet Daddy did it with a strength and grace that allowed Mom to live and die with dignity. Seeing his commitment to her—even when the work left him exhausted and despairing—deepened my love for Daddy, and for them as a couple.
I believe it was finding comfort in Daddy’s daily demonstrations of love that gave me the courage to let Mom go.
Gale A. Workman is a journalism professor in Tallahassee, Florida. She worked as a reporter and editor for five daily newspapers and two television stations. Her father, eighty-eight, lives independently in Melbourne, Florida, in the home he and his wife shared for nearly twenty years.
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