The spirit of gratitude: Lessons learned during my mother’s death journey

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Life is funny. Actually, sometimes it’s down right cruel. Today, I was supposed to be going a family road trip for the Thanksgiving holiday, just like we did last year. We would crack jokes the entire way, stop at Boomland to buy useless knick knacks, and hit the casino as soon as we arrived in Tunica, MS.  And the following weekend, I would be preparing for my last trip of the year, a solo vacay to Montreal I had been planning since September.   But none of that would ever happen.  Why? Because tonight, I’m preparing for my mother’s memorial service next weekend.  A memorial service.  I had to say it again, because I’m still in disbelief.  I know she’s gone, but I don’t want to believe she’s gone.  I had hoped that both my mom and I would grow old and gray together. I think most would agree that we all want to believe that our parents will live well past the age of 99 and pass peacefully in their sleep. We don’t expect to lose them so suddenly, especially when life is going pretty well. This isn’t exactly how I intended on ending 2016.  But, I guess life isn’t the last 2 minutes of The Titanic.

Life can really change on dime.  Nothing would prove this theory greater than the events of October 26th, 2016.  I never fathomed a simple ER visit would lead me here: looking for poems to include in my mom’s obituary, yet here I am. Vague flu-like symptoms would turn into a severe headache.  A severe headache would turn into a full blown seizure.  My mother’s last audible words to me would be, “make it stop”. I would rub her head and tell her everything would be okay.  And every day, over the course of 15 days, I would be reminded that everything would NEVER be okay. She would never speak again.  She would never laugh again. She would never squeeze my hand again. She would never gain consciousness again. My worst fears would be realized and my emotional rollercoaster would begin.

Fifteen years of nursing experience would never prepare me for the nightmare in front of me.  As a health care professional, it’s a difficult place to be when the roles reverse.  I mean, I speak their language. I’ve seen this movie before in my professional practice and I know how this story ends. I know pathophysiology. I read the expressions of concern and hopelessness in my mom’s prognosis when the residents and attending make their morning rounds.   I comprehend abnormal lab values. I understand abnormal diagnostic reports.  I know when I walk into my mom’s room and observe she requires three powerful vasopressors to sustain a blood pressure, that it’s NOT a good sign. I know that abnormal ABGs and a low oxygen saturation levels means that my mother is going into respiratory failure. She can’t breathe on her own. She can’t provide oxygen to her most vital organs.  She can’t talk to me. She can’t fight off whatever infection is ravaging her body.  And the worst part about it is that I know ALL of this and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it. I’m completely powerless. I don’t sleep at night, because I know a phone call in the middle of the night means the worst.  I sleep with my lights on holding my phone.  I don’t drink alcohol at night or go to social events, in anticipation of having to rush to the hospital at any given moment.  I exchange the same looks of worry and despair with other families when I visit every day. My heart drops in the pit of my stomach when the ICU attending wants to call a family meeting to discuss palliative care and hospice options.  Nursing school prepares you how to meet the needs for other families during a time of crisis, but it never prepares you how to keep it together when it’s your own loved one. This isn’t my patient or a case study. This is my mother. It’s a devastating place to be…a hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

So, what could I do?  What do you do when your the woman that gave you life is dying and there is nothing you can do it about it?  What do you do when you pray, but the answer is no?  The only remedy I could provide was to ensure my mom was comfortable as possible. I could accept her fate and make decisions the way she would want me to on her behalf. We didn’t have much time left.  So, I could make those last moments count.  I could spend as much time with her as possible.  I could talk to her and speak from my heart even though she couldn’t hear me. I could massage her feet even though she had no idea I was there.  I could thank her for being an amazing parent to me and my brother, wife to my father, and grandparent to my nephew. I could thank her for the many life lessons and wisdom she has passed down to me.  I could tell her that if she was tired, it was okay to go, even though it hurt like hell for me to let her go. I could reassure her that we would all be okay and I would carry the baton if she wanted to pass it to me. And on November 10th, 2016 at 11:10 pm, my beautiful mother did just that.  Her last vital organ shut down and she took her last breath.

It’s only been two weeks since she’s been gone and it still hurts as if it were that fateful day. But I still find gratitude in having my mother, a pretty AWESOME mother might I add, for my 43 years of life.  Many people don’t have that.  I’m grateful that we had a great relationship at the time of her passing. She was there for every important milestone in my life that mattered: my graduations, my nursing pinning ceremony, my sorority induction, and my wedding. Some people can’t say the same about their mother and daughter relationship.  I find gratitude in being there with her every step of her death journey, from the time she lost consciousness until she took her last breath. I advocated for her and carried out her wishes the way she would want, at least I hope I did. I find comfort in learning how many people loved my mother as much as I did, and hearing how amazing she was from the perspective from other people. I find solace in those that have reached out to me during my bereavement and encouraged me to remain strong and live the life my mom would have wanted me to live, even though at times I feel like dying. I find gratitude in my parents’ example of undying love. My father, husband of 43 years never left my mother’s side.  He never gave up on her, even when the doctors had given up…even when I had given up.  I am a product of their love and I am grateful. In the midst of my gratitude, I would be a liar if I said I didn’t feel angry, hurt, or cheated.  I feel all of these things… to my core.  We had so many plans that will never materialize. But gratitude was the greatest lesson in this journey. I would be doing my mother’s memory a disservice if I didn’t focus on the gift she passed down to me: GRATITUDE.

 

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Thanks for everything Mom, Rest in Power ❤

@urbantravelista

10 thoughts on “The spirit of gratitude: Lessons learned during my mother’s death journey

  1. Melanie Williams

    I wiped a few tears away while reading this amazing, beautiful tribute. There’s that word again. I remember chatting with you recently and I told you that I thought you were amazing. You are! You are the epitome of grace, honor and strength Stephanie. Much love to you, your Dad, your Brother, y our Nephew, and ALL family and friends who are mourning your Mom.

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  2. Alfreda Young

    Stephanie…I held my mother’s hand as we both wept and cried reading this…thank you to you and your mom for this gift…love you and I pray for you each day…

    Like

  3. Cassandra M. Nelson-Sappington

    Your tribute to your Mother is absolutely amazing! I’m sending you mega hugs, Soror. I pray that God gives you the strength to keep living life and sharing your lessons of Gratitude with others. You definitely blessed me with your expressions of gratitude. I love you Soror.

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  4. Wow! Praying for your continued strength and that God will give you comfort. It’s awesome that you got to witness a love life the one between your parents. Thanks for reminding me to be grateful for every second with those I love!

    Like

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