It doesn’t seem quite right to do a normal post tonight, so I will tell you a bit about my mother-in-law – especially my last day and a half with her.
I met her fifty-five years ago when I was 17 and she was 43. That is when I first began dating her oldest son. (This picture of her and Daddy was probably taken a few years later.) She was dedicated to honoring and pleasing Daddy.
She was hardworking, spunky, and fun-loving. She enjoyed traveling and helping her children. She was never overbearing, but patient and loving toward me – her first daughter-in-law.
In her later years, a highlight of her days was meeting new grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. She loved when they came to visit her.
She was healthy most of her life. Cerwin thinks she was in the hospital one time before I met her – for a hysterectomy. She had some heart issues in her later life and was given a pacemaker, then years later a replacement. (The above picture is from 2007.)
Her general health changed toward the end of 2014 when she fell and broke her hip – at the age of 97. We weren’t sure that she was going to live through that – and she did have fragile health for a few months. Then springtime came and she was almost back to her normal self – except she spent most of her days in a wheelchair or in her favorite La-Z-Boy in Room 129 of Oregon House in Landis Homes. Several months later – after therapy was finished – she was moved to the room directly below – Room 29 in Manheim House. I am not sure that I ever saw her dislike anything as much as therapy. 🙂
Photo from February 5 – twenty days ago.
She never regained her strength after her hospital experience in mid-January. Before long she was too weak to be moved to her La-Z-Boy and was bedfast for the past month, but was usually comfortable – except for the toes on her right foot. This was the result of poor circulation.
We saw a gradual decline in her health and strength, and before long she needed strong meds to control the pain in her toes. Last week the pain also began affecting the toes on her left foot. Soon she needed stronger meds, which caused her to sleep away most of her days and nights. The family was pleased when we found her alert.
Now to her last day and a half.
I arrived in her room yesterday about 10:00 AM – after a routine dentist appointment. She appeared to be sleeping, but when I touched her arm to let her know I was there, she opened her eyes and said, “Kiss.” I was smiling inside and out to know that she recognized me. Cerwin and I (and most of the family) always kissed her when we arrived and when we left.
Cerwin’s sister Velda came a short time later. The family had decided to begin with Hospice – and the Hospice representative was supposed to arrive between 10:30 and 11:00 AM. (They and Landis Homes nursing staff work together.)
I think it was after the Hospice rep came when we noticed that Mother wasn’t always breathing. It happened so quietly that we barely noticed at first. After the rep left, Velda and I watched Mother closely for her breathing pattern. I was wondering when we would know that it was time for someone in the family to be with her around the clock. I hadn’t planned to stay all day, and I am not sure that Velda did either, but we both seemed to know that it was “time” to begin our vigil.
Sometime later in the day the “death rattle” began and morphine was given on an hourly basis to keep her comfortable. Most of the time the breathing rattle became comfortable to us because we knew she was breathing. She became a bit uncomfortable toward evening but the morphine amount was increased and she soon relaxed again – settling into a comfortable rattle.
Mel, Velda, Cerwin, Elvin, and Pat decided to go for supper. I wasn’t hungry and asked Cerwin to bring me some ice cream.
I offered to stay for the night and sleep on the La-Z-Boy. The others agreed because of morning appointments and some have evening meds they need to take – and they did not have them along.
We each told our children what was going on. Our son Jere and Kristen stopped in for a bit. Kristen is a nurse for the doctor who cares for Mother. They had a sweet visit and prayer with her.
A nurse brought me a blanket and pillow, and by 10 PM I was nestled in the chair. I kept a light on so I could keep an eye on Mother and so the nurses had light when they came to give her morphine every hour. By this time she was breathing so quietly that I occasionally checked to see if she was still breathing.
I slept pretty well from 10:30 until 3:00 – occasionally hearing a nurse or Mother’s chime clock. A night supervisor friend of mine came to see me at 2:45, but I was sleeping. When the nurse came at 3:00 to give Mother her medicine, I woke up and heard that her breathing was becoming labored and the rattle had become more of a gurgle.
Before long I sat on a chair next to her, trying to comfort her by letting her know I was still there. I was troubled by her breathing, but the nurse said it was normal. She also said that this could go on for a few days. 🙁
I asked the nurse if she could contact my friend Orpha Strausbaugh and tell her that I was now awake. She came and we caught up on each others lives – and kept an eye on Mother. She also assured me that the death rattle was normal. Before long Mother was breathing with a comfortable rattle and Orpha went back to her office.
I went to the Café for a cup of coffee, then sat by Mother as I read a book and enjoyed my coffee.
Velda awoke early, so arrived about 6:00 AM. I told her about the evening and we visited while sitting close to Mother. About 6:45 Mother’s breathing became labored again and soon it was much worse than at 3:00 AM. We called a nurse – who gave her morphine – probably about fifteen minutes before her hour was up.
I had decided to wait until daylight to go home, and had my coat on when Mother began having difficulty breathing. Before long I took my coat off and stood next to Velda as we watched Mother struggle to breathe.
All of a sudden her breathing relaxed. I looked at her face and said, “Something changed.” Velda agreed. Then, she was gone. Both of us were amazed and delighted to be there. Velda because she came earlier than she planned, and me because I had not gone home.
It happened so peacefully and quickly at 7:12 AM that there was no time to call anyone.
Before long Cerwin, Mel, and Elvin arrived. Then there were representatives from Landis Homes, Hospice, and Buch Funeral Home. Everyone was thoughtful and kind. Nurses came to hug us, cry, and say goodbye to Mother.
We made lots of phone calls and sent lots of texts. I did a quick post on Facebook.
After the activity stopped, we gathered a few of her things and went home for a bit before going to Buch Funeral Home to plan the viewing and funeral.
For local people – the funeral will be next weekend (Friday and Saturday) because of the number of family members who are coming from various states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Maine. The obituary will be in Monday’s newspaper. The undertaker encouraged us to wait until Monday instead of publishing it tomorrow – so nobody shows up at Landis Homes (viewing) or Erb Mennonite (funeral) one week early. 🙂
As I sat next to her, the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:25 (CEV) seemed real: Christ will rule until he puts all his enemies under his power, and the last enemy he destroys will be death.
It has been a long day and a half for us, and I am ready to get out of the clothes that I have been wearing since yesterday morning. 🙂
God was gracious in allowing us to have Mother for so many years and though we shed many tears today, we are praising the Lord that she is now HOME.