Caring for a parent, Death & Dying

Tales from the Manor: Benediction

Perhaps this blog isn’t quite complete after all. Words still pour into my head. Or maybe it’s just that I can’t stomach another loss just yet.

It took my slow two week drive across the country in 2012 even to begin to reconcile myself to the reality of the changes I was facing. Seventeen months ago, when we moved Mama to assisted living, my life underwent another adjustment. For weeks after I helped my 17-year-old cat Smudge go, I continued to see her on the end of the bed. It’s taken several weeks to be ready to sell my 20-year-old car as I continue to get used to the new one.

Each change has been like a move across the country into a foreign land where the accents are different, the street signs unfamiliar, I’m not sure which side of the road to drive on. And Alexa—who has moved in with me—says, “I’m sorry, I don’t know that one.”

There will be more about the adjustment, but today I want to tell you about the bridge my sisters and I have been crossing between death and life in the days following Mama’s one-way bridge going the other direction. And about her friends at the Manor and in the community.

Following her last breath around 1am Saturday, my sisters and I sat Shiva with her. (I’m sure that in the tradition of the Jewish faith, that’s not really what we were doing, but it felt like sacred time.) We were waiting for the hospice nurse to come and officially pronounce her death and give us some words around what comes next.

We tried to sleep, but none of us did. I sat with Mama a bit, stroking and kissing her still warm and soft cheeks and her gnarled hands that she had positioned over heart and stomach. I removed the hearing aid she was no longer in need of, and touched her worn wedding rings that had long hung loose around her finger, kept in place only by her arthritic knuckle.

My sisters went home to bed as dawn approached. I wasn’t read to leave Mama yet, and I wanted to visit the residents when they gathered for breakfast and let them know their friend was gone.

Mama’s table mate Lorrayne came into her room around 7, as I believe she did each morning to make sure Mama knew it was time to be getting up and dressed (thank goodness I was there). She stopped when she saw me. I went to her as she whispered,  “How is she?” knowing Mama hadn’t been feeling well.

“Oh, Lorrayne,” I said, “she’s gone, Sweetie.”
“Oh no, oh no,” Lorrayne moaned as she fell into my arms sobbing.

She returned to her room, needing to be alone, and didn’t go to breakfast. When I saw her again at lunch she asked if she might have Mama’s flowered mug. “Two other tables invited me to join them,” she said; “but I said I can’t, not yet. She’s still here, right there across from me.”

I met Hilton in the hall on my way to the dining room. He’s a new resident, but when I told he called me “Honey” and said he was so sorry.

I told Lona, who already knew, thanking her for her steadfast help at meals. “I loved your mom,” she said.

I thanked Bob for getting her over the hump those first hard weeks. He befriended her the first week of her arrival, walking the halls with her, stopping by her room to accompany her to meals, showing her his wood carvings before eventually dumping her for another woman (fickle men). His eyes filled with tears.

Bernice told me she had a chocolate teddy bear on a stick she was saving to give my mother for her birthday. “May I give it to you?” she asked.

I thanked Neva for the last gift she gave Mama: the opportunity to provide comfort to someone who was hurting. (I wrote that story here.) I’m not sure she understood, but she looked bereft.

I wasn’t going to speak to Irene, who sat facing me from across the room when I was there at lunch time. I have never seen her speak to anyone and she had no connection to Mama that I was aware of. She reached out to take my hand as I passed. I can’t remember what she said, but she had clearly noticed and admired Mama. I realized then that my mother probably touched in some way every single person on the floor.

Sandy, another early helper before she experienced her own decline, hesitantly asked if she could have one of Mama’s hats. We have decided to take the whole lot of them, sans our own picks, to the Manor, imagining the residents wearing them. One of her private aides—all four of them, along with the Manor aides, shedding tears—also asked for one.

What must it be like for these people to watch friend after friend leave, not knowing who would be next but that it won’t be long, and maybe it would be them? It’s a house of loss.

At 10:00 my sisters and I met the Earth Day work crew on Seminary Hill to share the news with her comrades there. Later we took a walk to Staebler Point.

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While Rebecca told and shared tears with everyone who came into her store on Saturday, I began notifying people I wanted to hear the news from me, not on Facebook or in the paper. I called, emailed, and texted relatives and friends, both hers and mine and heard many stories of what Mama meant to them.

The grandkids came and we hugged, cried, and rejoiced. Saturday night I slept for the first time in 60 hours, save four hours Thursday night. I was out for nine hours without waking.

Sunday, as we cleaned out her room, we learned that we could leave anything we don’t want in the room and they will dispose of it one way or another—a huge gift. We were asked if they could give her mattress to Donald across the hall from her room, the man whose friend moved away recently. He is a large man and has a terrible mattress. I love that so much—a gift from the smallest resident to the largest.

Monday and Tuesday we went to the mortuary (twice), banks, the investment office, the attorney and her CPA, and the newspaper—sharing stories with a reporter doing a story on Mama for today’s paper. We told her hairdresser, who cried, and her favorite teller at the bank. We had lunch at her two favorite restaurants. Everywhere we went, we met her friends and admirers. I fell a bit more in love with my little town that has known my family for nearly 60 years. And with my mother.

By the time it was done, I could barely remember how aggravating she has been these past five years. My heart is full of the love she had for life, the gentleness of her spirit, her passion for service, and the love and respect of all who encountered her.

Wednesday, I went to Paradise. (Photos here.)

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21 thoughts on “Tales from the Manor: Benediction”

  1. Dear Gretchen:
    And now you have written the most beautiful story of all, a story that could only be told by a witness and fellow traveler. You have written an elegy and a hallelujah chorus, you have written a song, so full, so sweet, so true. I am so touched to hear it in these days after and to come.

    Love,
    Maezen

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    1. Oh, Maezen. Thank you for your beautiful words, both here and throughout this walk. I would so cherish the gift of meeting you some day. I have more freedom now; maybe it will happen. Gretchen

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  2. Thank you from my heart for sharing the journey you, Becca and Jo Ann have had with your mom . I cherish reading each post, and I reflect on my own journey with my mom…who also touched many folks in her nursing home –when I returned in the decade following mom’s passing to visit her sister, my aunt, in the same place, I had staff coming to see me who remembered Mom. Those conversations were so healing for me.. Blessings to you..

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  3. So much to love and celebrate in this post, dear Gretchen! The ways you have given yourself so fully to this experience (including the sensitive ways you have introduced us to the faces and hearts of your Mama’s roomies at the Manor) has extended blessing into the larger world. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. “Grief does not change you, it reveals you”

        (John Green)

        These last days of your December walk have been extraordinary and I love what is being revealed as you grieve. Your mama raised some pretty amazing women. I feel privileged to be a part of your family of readers here. You have done more for others than you may ever know ♡

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  4. Oh, Gretchen, please keep writing. It would be a loss to all of us if Daughter on Duty was to end. Your posts are so beautiful, your writing is so moving, so real. I have loved sharing every bumpy turn in your journey, and am sending love to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

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