My mother-in-law passed away this weekend. I would like to say the whole family surrounded her and she passed easily, but neither case was true. We tried. She tried, as she worked very hard to die on Saturday. My husband, her daughter, her grandson and I “cheered” her on. She was suffering so much and laboring so hard, who couldn’t help but encourage her to let go and end her earthly suffering?
She wasn’t responsive when we got there, but we believe she was conscious for a bit after we arrived. We talked among ourselves and I told my husband and sister-in-law one of the stories of my early experiences when she was first placed in hospice care. For a time, I visited her on my own on Wednesdays. I didn’t know what to do for her, because though she was coherent and greeted me as I arrived, she slept most of the time. I’m Catholic and my main source of prayer comfort is to recite the rosary, which is a prayer tool that looks like a beaded necklace. It is made up of the rote prayers, Hail Mary and Our Father. Though the Our Father is a universal prayer for many Christian faiths, the Hail Mary is not as common a prayer for non-denominational faiths such as hers.
The problem arose when I vocalized the prayer, even quietly – “Hail Mary Full of Grace…” She would startle awake “What?” Her name happens to be Grace. As I related the story that day she lay dying in her unresponsive state, my MIL giggled.
Then my husband and SIL told a story from their childhood about when their grandmother gave them coffee on the mornings they stayed with her, which was really a concoction of milk and sugar with a splash of coffee. My MIL groaned in exactly the tone of voice she used 10 years ago when one of them brought up that story. She didn’t like it when their grandmother fed coffee to her children no matter how sweetened it was. There were a couple other things we talked about that she out and out exclaimed over before she started having mini seizures. She stopped responding to us because I believe she became very focused on the business of dying.
When the hospice nurse got there, my SIL, who was her main caregiver throughout these months, needed a break and left with her son. The hospice nurse added oxygen to soothe her lungs, additional pain meds, and anxiety meds to quiet the seizures. After my MIL was more comfortable and calmer, my husband and I left. We sure didn’t want to, but we were exhausted. We were with her the entire previous day also and though not agitated, she was unresponsive then, too.
As encouraging as we all were, she just wasn’t ready, I guess. She passed Sunday morning, before the day staff arrived, before her family was even out of bed. She couldn’t hold out any longer for whatever she was ultimately waiting for, perhaps for her husband. We got a call from my SIL at six in the morning. My husband and I got there as soon as we could and sat with her for a bit. After all her suffering she looked as if she was finally at peace. We cried, we said goodbye. We arranged her removal with the funeral home and saw her off on her final journey.
“It is done. Bless her soul,” I texted my sister.
She is free, free at last.
Gretchen Leigh is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Covington. You can read more of her writing and her blog on her website livingwithgleigh.com, on Facebook at “Living with Gleigh by Gretchen Leigh,” or twitter @livewithgleigh. Her column is available every week at maplevalleyreporter.com under the Life section.