February 15, 2010
The phone rings. I remember looking at the clock, seeing 6:00 and thinking …dang I must have fallen asleep in the afternoon and I need to make dinner. As I drew the phone to my ear, a women softly says, “Mr., Walin, your mother has just passed. I went into her room at 4 AM and she was sleeping comfortably, but when I went into her room five minutes ago, she was gone.”
“WHAT? WAIT? She died? She’s dead? She was only there to control her pain meds.” I was confused, it was actually 6 AM. I’m in shock. The nurse says, “Take your time and drive carefully, please don’t rush.”
My mother just died…I began to cry. My first thought was to call my cousin for help. “There is no way I can do this alone. PLEASE come with me,” I beg her. Within 20 minutes my cousin was there and another 35 minutes we arrived at the Hospice Center.
Mother was still in the room she was so impressed with, looking as though she was quietly sleeping. A foul odor filled the room as we entered. I thought, “Does a body begin to smell so soon after death?” Then it dawned on me, the odor became familiar. I asked my cousin to leave the room for a moment.
“Why? What’s wrong?” She asked. “Just give me a minute and leave the room.” I said in a half angry tone.
As she left the room, I put on a pair of rubber gloves and inspected mother’s colostomy bag. It was full and I mean brimming full! I sent four replacement bags with mom when she went to Hospice House. When I located the spare bags, none of them were used! They had not changed mom’s bag in 4 days - 4 DAYS! I was fucking pissed. “HOW DARE YOU TREAT MY MOTHER THIS WAY!!!!!” my mind said as my grief turned to raging anger.
I removed the overflowing bag, cleaned mother up, and attached a clean bag. I was so angry, I stormed down to the nurse’s station with my arm stretched out, bag held high above my head filled with mother’s steaming excrement, and angrily barked at the nurse, “DISPOSE OF THIS!”
The nurse gasped in horror when she realized what I was holding and apologetically said, “We would have taken care of that for you!” To which I angrily snapped, “I would have thought you would have done that BEFORE we got here. You had an hour to do it. I need air freshener NOW!”
After this issue was attended to we were left alone in the room with mom. In fact, it was a very long time. For the first time in 8 years, I was sitting in a room with my mother in peace. Pure silence engulfed us, no oxygen generator surging, no blaring TV, no loud nebulizer, not a sound. She looked so peaceful, almost happy. Her skin looked beautiful and her color was good.
My cousin and I spent hours with mom, talking about her and holding her hands. She honestly looked good. You would have never known she was dead. It was so very strange.
I sat back on the couch. As I tearfully viewed my mother so peacefully at rest before me, I finally realized what I believed she was trying to tell me the day before. She kept repeating the word, “Wood.” I couldn’t understand why.
As I stared at the bed, I realized it was made of wood. Even though it was an adjustable bed, it looked like fine Scandinavian furniture. There were 4 tree trunk wooden posts that supported the bed, no wheels, no bulky rails, no metal in sight. The sides were trimmed in wood and the bed appeared to be an oversized, perhaps a full size. This was not a hospital bed. I realized this must be what she was trying to tell me. I would have this in my own home. It was beautiful.
I wondered why we were left alone for so long. I was waiting for someone to come in and tell us what to do next and the staff was waiting for us to finish saying good-bye. Mother stayed warm for 4 hours, and looked as if she was only sleeping. Her fingers were nimble and her color looked normal. But when she began to feel cool, I couldn’t take it any longer. I was done with my goodbyes and it was time for the next step.
I went in search of an employee and asked, “What do we do now?” She asked what her plans for internment were. “Mom wants to be cremated and buried with the family in Michigan.” I explained.
“Well, which crematory are you using?” She kindly asks. This was a subject brought up two weeks ago by the visiting hospice Chaplin, who promised to give us some local options. Another ball dropped by this hospice group. He never got back to us.
After being given 3 options, we made a decision. Within 20 minutes mom was removed from hospice, draped by a royal blue crushed velvet blanket. This would be the last time I would ever see my mother.
To save time and understanding how I emotionally handle issues like this, we immediately head over to the crematory to make all the arrangements. I have always had a delayed reaction with my feelings. I’m fine during a major issue, solid as a rock some say, but give me time to think about it and allow it to sink in…well then I fall apart and often become a major mess. So, this had to be done now, today, while I’m in my “take care of business zone.”
I know mother was going to die, but 4 days ago she was flipping through a Pottery Barn catalog to buy furniture and only went to Hospice House to “regulate” her pain medication!
This all happened too quickly. Perhaps for the best, but I can’t help thinking mistakes were made, people were irresponsible, and I was just too tired to keep up with it all. I did the best I could, given my own health issues.
The nursing home failed to send mother to the hospital when she requested. She was wrongly sent to the hospital on a “non-emergency” and redirected to a hospital that was unfamiliar with her case history. Then, hospice failed ME miserably. But, to be fair they did take good care of mother with the exception of not changing her colostomy bag, which I will never forgive them for.
When I finally unpacked mom’s bag that was sent home with all of mom’s personal effects, I had a good long cry. The Valentine’s Day card and huge heart shaped box of candy were never opened. It broke my heart.
I have been asked by a few people why I would air such a personal story for all to read. It was actually moms’ idea. When she was in the hospital, just before she agreed to hospice, I took a picture of her in her hospital bed.
She asked me to make a video for my blog. When I asked, “Why would you want me to do that?” She responded by saying, “If I can save just ONE person and get them to quit smoking, it would be worth it. I know I did this to myself, but smoking killed me and my second hand smoking might have caused your cancer. I want people to learn from my mistakes.”
I love you momma, rest in peace.
The circle of life continues...another is born.
I can still hear my mother saying, "I gotta pee!" Benjamin Franklin once said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." After watching this video and seeing the circle of life beginning anew, I'd have to add... "and ya gotta pee!"
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