Heavy D’s Farewell
I have wanted to write more in depth about the last hours with my mother, but for so long it seemed too painful, too intimate to type the words. It doesn’t seem possible, but it is over five and a half months since Mom passed, and perhaps it is time to finish telling her story. Those moments have replayed themselves in my mind over and over again, bringing tears and comfort at the same time. Life moves forward, each tick of the clock healing us imperceptibly, moving us with it in its inevitable and unstoppable flow.
This is not a lament – on the contrary, when I think of my mother, I think of unbridled joy and zest for life. I will always miss her, and will probably always tear up when ripples of loss move over me from time to time. That is okay- I consider those ripples gifts of memory, visits from my mother. I am doing well, moving forward, excited at what the future will bring. Heavy D lived a long and rich life; she left this world with me by her side, having no doubt that she was loved- just the way she told me she wanted to go. I know my mother loved me with all her heart, and I feel nothing but gratitude and joy for every moment I spent with her- even, and maybe especially so, the difficult last weeks. I think of ours as a great love story, and true love stories have no end.
I have lost many people in my life, including my father and two siblings, but I had never had the honor of being with someone as they passed, and especially not someone with whom I was so profoundly bound. I had no idea what to expect, and, in all honesty, some part of me believed up until the last few hours that my mother would pull through and live to be one hundred as she had often said she would. The only thing I knew about the experience of death other than pets was what I had seen in movies, and that is so not what it was really like. Mom had always pulled through before, she was so full of life, and I just didn’t want to believe that the time had come for her to leave. I will always be grateful that I listened to my inner voice and stayed with her that last night, even though everyone at the hospital encouraged me to go home and get some rest, that she would be fine. Because of that, I was able to laugh with her before bedtime, feed her her last meal, be there when she called to me three times during the night, to help her when she needed, and to calm her fears as she asked several times if she was dying. We were also able to say to each other what we needed to say before we parted, and that was a priceless gift.
By the morning light, it became very obvious that Mom was not doing well. In the early hours, she talked to me, telling me she had prayed for God to take her during the night, but that he hadn’t. Her voice became sing-songy, childlike. During her last night, she asked me why she was in the hospital, that she thought she was going to live at St. Martin’s. She told me she knew school was starting up soon, and that she wouldn’t see me as much- she didn’t want to live this way. I assured her that I would still see her every single day, but she shook her head sadly and insisted that I would be too busy. I saw her make up her mind to let go in that moment- it was so clear. My mother’s iron will to live had loosened its grip.
We went back to sleep for a short time. When I woke up and checked on Mom, she was vastly different. I called the nurse, feeling panic rise up in my chest. The young doctor who I had always missed because he came so early in the morning walked in, and when Mom’s BiPap mask was removed, I saw in his face what I didn’t want to see. He hugged me and told me he was so sorry we were meeting like this. He was the first one to really talk me through what would happen, telling me Mom might have twenty-four to seventy-two hours left. He told the nurse to give her more morphine and Adovan, to keep her comfortable. The mask that had helped her to breathe was to be left off for good. My true vigil had begun.
When we were alone, I talked to Mom. There was still light in her eyes, but she could barely speak. I called my sister to tell her what was happening, and held the phone to Mom’s ear so that Linda could tell her goodbye. Mom tried to say to Linda that she loved her, but the words were mere whispers, and my sister and I cried and said goodbye. I leaned over my Heavy D, thanking her for being a wonderful mother, for being my best friend, for loving me so much, for all of the sacrifices she made for me. I stroked her beautiful silver hair and kissed her hand and her cheek as I opened my heart to her. I tried so hard not to cry, but failed miserably, my tears falling on her face. I told her that she was my greatest love, and her weak grip tightened ever so slightly on my hand. She had no more words, but I knew.
I felt her drift farther away, and I swear the room felt like it was full of angels, there to help Mom make her transition- there seemed to be a hum of energy around us. I was thankful that she had been given so much pain medication to prevent her from hurting, but I so wished that I could have asked her what she saw and felt. She was experiencing the great mystery of death, but she had to travel there without me. I sat next to her, periodically getting up to kiss her forehead and tell her I loved her, that it was all going to be okay, that she would soon be with all of her loved ones who had passed over before her. I asked her if she saw Grandma and Grandpa, my brother Bud and sister, Sharon, her siblings, her cousins, my dad, her dear friends…her many loved ones whom she had lost.
Soon after, the death rattle began, and her eyes were far away, barely registering that she heard me when I spoke to her. I have never heard a sound like it before, and it completely undid me. I paced the room, feeling panic with the knowledge that she would be gone soon. I called my sister again and we cried together as the nurses came in and out, giving me knowing looks. The night nurse who had been so kind, came in, staying past her shift to make sure Mom was comfortable by giving her one last dose of morphine and Adovan. She had lost her mother the year before. I requested that Mom be bathed, as I knew she would hate to leave the world not being clean, and I brushed her beautiful hair for the last time.
Her eyes that had looked so distant closed, and she became very peaceful and still as her breathing became more shallow. I sat by her side and messaged with a dear friend about what was happening. I felt comforted to have my friend there with me, even if it wasn’t in person. Suddenly, I felt something change, and I don’t know what or how. I leaned over Mom, felt her forehead and cheek, and they seemed very cool. I checked for her breath and felt nothing. My heart dropped and I felt so heavy. I called the nurses, and they came to check her vitals, the very kind male nurse turning to me, shaking his head and then coming to hug me. She was gone. I called my sister first, and we cried and also laughed, telling Mom stories. I called Dan next, and he immediately left work and headed to the hospital to be with me. I called my brother, then sent messages to friends…I just couldn’t talk to anyone anymore.
We were alone, just Mom and me. It seemed so fitting that it all ended this way, the two of us together. Mom brought me into the world, and I was able to help her leave the world peacefully. The last thing I did before leaving her was to kiss her forehead and say, “My sweet Heavy D, you rest now. I love you so much. I promise to write a beautiful book about you and tell your stories.” I left the hospital, but a part of my heart stayed in that room.
From the vantage of almost half a year since Mom’s death, I can see the precious gift that she gave me in sharing the mystical experience of her passing with me. Being there made me a better person, I think, by shifting my perspective of what is truly important in life, and by witnessing my mother’s courage and dignity in how she faced her final hours. My sister and I have become very close, and we keep Mom alive in our hearts by telling her stories, sharing our memories…and we laugh a lot. We seem to know when the other is feeling Mom’s absence more keenly, and we are there for each other. I have made copies of photos of Mom and Dad to share with my brother and sister, as well as the grandchildren, and have made sure to follow Mom’s instructions of getting special things to her special people. I feel in some ways that I have become the keeper of our broken family’s history, something that was always important to Mom.
I think of how many people’s lives my mother touched with her kindness, her humor, her generosity. She was far from perfect, but the imperfections only make her gloriously human. I look to the example she set in her life, and so many things inspire me in the way she handled the difficult challenges she faced. She never gave up, she celebrated life to the end, and she spread joy. I hope some day to be remembered for the same gifts. Beautiful life lessons imparted from a beautiful soul. I feel her with me every single day, her giggle tucked away in my heart, ready to cheer me at a moment’s notice. Love never dies- its gifts continue forever.