For each day in November, many people write and post to their Facebook status something in life for which they are thankful. And although I know my life is full of reasons to feel grateful, this month marks the first anniversary of Mom’s final battle with her monster, Huntington’s disease.
The first weekend of November last year, her tongue became an uncoordinated slug that thrust against anything we put into her mouth. She could no longer draw upon a straw to drink, nor could she pull soft foods into her. Dehydration robbed her body, making her skin pull tightly against her bones. Hours in the emergency room led to some relief when they started IVs to treat the dehydration. Nightmare days in the hospital began where the nurses gave up on trying to get medication into Mom, leaving the task up to me; where we followed Mom’s directives and refused tube feeding; where I made the calls to set up Hospice care.
Last November slipped into endless days of coaxing miniscule amounts of food, and then water, into Mom. Within the first week of bringing her home, she stopped eating. Three weeks later, we could no longer get her to take the drops of water we offered through a syringe. Three days later, she died.
Thankfulness comes wrapped in grief. Looking back, I recall spending hours in the rocking chair, reminiscing with Mom about long ago events. She could no longer speak, but often she’d smile. I knew at the time that she struggled to stay with us because of my brother’s promise to see her on Thanksgiving. No calendar marked the days, but her heart knew she needed to be with him one more time. When he entered the room, she raised her hands and took his in embrace. Her smile warmed the room. Whatever energy she had left, she’d siphoned off and saved in some secret spot, and she drew heavily upon these reserves in the day that my brother stayed.
No one likes to talk about the vigils we endure as loved ones die. No one wants to admit to whispered words of release. For the next three days, I stayed with my mother and gave her permission to leave us. I assured her that we’d take care of one another. That the love she and my father had showered upon us would continue to hold us strong through the rest of our lives. I counted the blessings of our life together.
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman