A long goodbye

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It has been a tumultuous few weeks. I did not have to wait in the roller coaster line for too long after all…my mom died on June 9.

It was a remarkably quick and merciful end. She could not really chew anymore and while in the hospital for a UTI, aspirated on some oatmeal and was not found by nurses for an unknown while. By the time they did find her, she was brain damaged and never regained consciousness. Morphine kept her comfortable for a week until she just stopped breathing.

Just stopped. It’s something to see that something as seemingly endless as life – and as powerful as breath – can just cease. A human being goes from a person to a body as easily as water can go from a liquid to a gas. My mom’s essence just floated out of her body.

The big surprise was my own reaction: relief, calm, acceptance. No tears. The best advice I received was just to feel everything and not judge the feelings. I was shocked at how non emotional I felt. I really do think it’s because of the long timeline that comes with dementia. Most of the time, when people die it happens pretty much all at once – they are alive, then they’re dead. With dementia, the dying is very slow, but just as real. My mom’s vital person-hood disappeared bit by bit over a decade.

But I have cried. When my mom took me shopping a few years back and asked me to run her credit card through the reader because she forgot how – I cried. When she told me that she wasn’t sure what was happening to her, but she was frightened – I cried. When she sold her car because she forgot how to drive – I cried. When my dad would call me frantic because she ran away (again) or told someone when wouldn’t go home with him because he wasn’t her husband (again) I cried. Every time she lost a piece of herself – the power shopper, the person who shrugged off healthcare fears, the lead-foot driver who drag raced as a teen, the devoted wife – I cried.

I mourned her in stages until there really wasn’t a whole lot left. Who are we, really, without those qualities we might not think are important, but the absence of which makes us into different people. Without my love of reading, my ability to cook, my devotion to my family, my practice of yoga, a joyful stride down the street or laughing and drinking wine and listening to a friend. I would not be me – I would be a shadow of me.

In the end, I couldn’t cry for a shadow.

Mom – wherever you are I hope you are driving fast and shopping until you drop. Love always – your daughter

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