It was Sunday, May 10, 2015. My mother’s smile lit up my life.
She had suffered multiple strokes and was confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home. She was eating very little, wasting away before my eyes. She had been deaf for years. I struggled with how to make Mother’s Day special for her.
The day dawned sunny and warm. I suddenly knew what to do.
I sped off to the grocery store. I bought a lobster tail, a lemon and a small bouquet of flowers. I stopped off at a bakery for a cream-filled pastry. At home I broiled the lobster tail, melted the butter, poured some sweet white wine into a thermos, packed up a plate, utensils, a linen napkin, a crystal wine glass and a small vase, packed it all into a basket, and headed to the nursing home.
I found her still in bed. I dressed her in her favorite outfit, popped her in her wheelchair and pushed her out to a picnic table under a lovely flowering tree on the grounds. She seemed a bit befuddled at first, but when she saw the broiled lobster tail on the plate and wine in the glass, she lit up. I cut the lobster into small pieces, dipped them in the drawn butter and lemon, and fed my mother. Bite by bite, she ate every morsel. Sip by sip, she drank all the wine. Then she plowed through the entire pastry. When she had swallowed the final forkful, she looked up at me and smiled. A huge, warm smile. A loving smile. She couldn’t speak, and she heard not a word I said, but we communicated perfectly that warm, spring Mother’s Day.
That was my mother’s last meal. A stroke that night left her unable to swallow solids.
Before she died three weeks later, I gave her another gift: Hospice. When Hospice finally took over her care, it felt like a miracle.
I thought I knew everything about Hospice, but I discovered very late in the game that I was sorely misinformed. I thought that assisted living facilities and nursing homes offered Hospice-like palliative care. They don’t. I thought that Hospice only offered care at a patient’s home or at a Hospice facility. Untrue. Hospice will provide palliative care for patients in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers–anywhere! And a doctor does not need to order Hospice care. You can pick up the phone and request a Hospice Assessment. It is a myth that a person has to be at death’s door to be eligible for Hospice care. Hospice determines who is eligible, Hospice care can continue for years, and Hospice care is free.
My mother was in assisted living facilities for more than a decade, and in a nursing home for nearly a month. I begged for palliative care, for additional medications to make her comfortable enough to read and to enjoy meals, but the in-house doctors and nurses instead routinely tried to decrease the dosages, making her ever more miserable. She suffered through a horrendous, long Memorial Day Weekend while I waited for a doctor to order Hospice care. I could have just picked up the phone and called. When Hospice came on the scene, the nursing home staff suddenly moved her to a (clean!) private room, and Hospice ordered the medications and equipment that she needed to be calm and comfortable during her final few days.
Please do not wait until your loved one is at death’s door to call Hospice. Please do not wait for a doctor or health care professional to call Hospice. Please call Hospice regardless of where your loved one resides. And please support Hospice in every possible way. More than a dozen individuals made a donation to Hospice in lieu of sending flowers to my mother’s memorial service and I disposed of not one single wasted blossom.
The final gift I gave my mother was me. She lived in terror of dying alone, as do we all, I suspect. With the help of Hospice, I recognized that she was preparing to die. I sat with her for hours, talking quietly, telling her stories, holding her hand. She could not hear me, of course, but she knew that I was there. I was stroking her arm and holding her hands in mine as she drew her final breaths on the final day of May seven years ago. We held a lovely Celebration of her Life the following July. But that was for us, not her.
This Mother’s Day I will have no mother to honor. But many years ago I learned to thank my children for making me a mother. What an amazing gift that has been, one captured beautifully by Sara Simon in The Chickadees and the Moon Above. What a great way to celebrate Mother’s Day. With Mother Love.