Two Sundays ago, we lost our mom. It was sudden and totally unexpected even if she’s been in and out of the hospital for the past few years. It has been challenging to deal with the fact that she is no longer in her room, as always. It feels weird that her seat at the dining table is now usually vacant. Sundays will never be the same…. *sigh* Sundays… will never be the same.
In the beginning
Mom moved in with our little family around this time two years ago. Right after surviving a mild heart attack and after we found out that she had stage 1 kidney cancer, the family decided that it would be best if she stayed with me, my husband and two kids. They seemed to think that it was the most logical set-up; I’d be able to take care of mom because I had taken a break from work and I homeschool the kids. In all honesty though, I thought we were the most unlikely family to be given such responsibility. I was scared but we prepared our small home for mom anyway.
Before mom moved in, we were such a rock-and-roll family. We were carefree, we took off whenever we wanted to, we stayed up late, we were loud, crazy and we were always with friends. It was always about having fun whether it was through camping or going to gigs. I remember worrying about losing our freedom. We wouldn’t be able to leave the house, just the 4 of us, because no one would be home with mom. It would’ve been a different story if mom was still as strong as she was ten years ago, but she wasn’t. I had to set our family’s expectations that life wouldn’t be the same. We would have to make lots of sacrifices and compromises. It was tough to accept but we all knew it was the right thing to do. It would be worth it for sure.
Life was never the same
Life definitely wasn’t the same when mom moved in. We didn’t lose our freedom like I had feared. Instead of just 4 crazy people living in our home, there were 5. I had forgotten how much fun mom was. Having mom around, enjoying whatever we could with her, was our new normal. It wasn’t always easy, especially when mom lost most of her vision, but somehow, we made it work. We were able to convince her that a wheelchair would allow her to be a bit more mobile because then she wouldn’t have to be scared to walk around because all she had to do was sit and trust us.
Mom never had to go through chemo or any cancer treatment. The doctors just told her to switch to a healthier lifestyle and she’ll outlive cancer. Throughout the two years, her tumor didn’t get any bigger. Since her diet was healthier, comprised mostly of vegetables, her blood sugar levels went back to normal and her doctor confirmed that she no longer needed her maintenance meds for diabetes. Those were two big victories worth celebrating but her hypertension was still troubling, even if she took her meds regularly.
Mom had two more hospital stays and a few runs to the E.R. throughout the two years she was with us, mostly because of her hypertension and her heart problem. She’d always be able to recover though and come out a champ. She was happy about it but at the same time, she kept saying that her time was almost up and she can’t wait to go to Heaven and rest.
She was okay for the past few months. There were barely any more mentions of how she felt she was gonna die soon. She would often bring up though that she found it hard to remember stuff. She said she felt her brain was blank and she couldn’t access certain memories. My sister and I suspected that it was early signs of dementia. Other than that and her recurring UTI (which truly bothered her), she really seemed fine.
Until two Sundays ago.
Sunday mornings will never be the same.
She was fine the day before. I mean, she seemed fine. She didn’t complain about any headaches or feeling dizzy. She was lively and enjoyed all the food she ate that day. Our Saturday was just like any other quiet Saturday. She didn’t fall or slip or hit her head anywhere. She was fine.
She seemed fine Saturday night when I tucked her in, put drops in her eyes and placed her water bottle next to her. She seemed fine when I stroked her forehead and hair, kissed her forehead and said “Goodnight, mom. I love you.” – just like I would every night the past few weeks…simply because there was a small voice in my head telling me to do it because I didn’t know if it would be the last.
However, Sunday morning when I went into her room to wake her up a little past 9am, she was not fine. She was far from fine. I was far from fine. I was in shock to see my mom, unconscious, unable to wake up even if I was screaming the loudest screams of my life. She had slightly dry blood which dripped from her nose down to her mouth and right shoulder. Her tongue was out yet she was still breathing. I checked. I checked multiple times. I was able to find her pulse. She was alive for sure.
My husband rushed to get help from the security guards in our community and I ran to get help from the soldier who lives next door. If there was bleeding, I knew we couldn’t just lift her without care. Thank goodness for those who knew how to carry her (while on her mattress) and into our small car.
I held her as we were on our way to the hospital which was around 3 minutes away from our home, begging mom to wake up. She was breathing. She was alive but seemed to be in such deep sleep.
As we got to the emergency room, I yelled for the nurses to hurry. Time was ticking. Each second was vital. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I couldn’t believe what had just happened in the past 20 minutes. It felt like a scene from a movie. It was all so surreal.
As the doctors and nurses were taking care of mom, I had to tell them that mom requested a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) should anything happen to her. Two years ago, a doctor told us to make certain decisions while we were in the right state of mind, not when we’re in an emotional situation. The way the doctor explained it was if one is in the hospital, if you don’t sign a DNR form, they will do everything to revive you and even put tubes in you when needed. However, if you request a DNR, the medical team would know what can and can’t be done to you (at least that’s how it is here in the Philippines). Throughout the past two years, mom and I would talk about it. She was 100% certain that she did not want to be revived. Her words were, “Pag umalis na ako, wag niyo na ako pabalikin.” (If I leave, don’t call me back).
Every time we were at the ER and whenever she stayed in the hospital, whether for something minor or major, I’d always ask for the DNR form. I used to sign that form every single day. But two Sundays ago, when I asked for the DNR form, I didn’t know what to do with it. For the first time I had to consult with my older sister who was in Canada. That DNR form just got real. It was a tough decision but we both knew that we had to give mom what she wanted. I eventually gained enough courage to sign that DNR form.
One by one family started to arrive. It still seemed so surreal. The E.R. doctor who saw her CT scan said that her scan showed definite signs of dementia. Moreover, mom was bleeding and unconscious because she had brain stem hemorrhage. It didn’t look good at all. The brain stem controls the flow of messages between the brain and the rest of the body, and it also controls basic body functions such as breathing, swallowing, heart rate, blood pressure, consciousness (info from medicinenet.com). If mom ever survived, she would be in a vegetative state, something she would absolutely hate.
At first, the E.R. doctors said that mom needed to be in the ICU. But after a while, the cardiologist who saw mom’s scan told us that there’s a huge chance that mom would pass away within the day. He was the first doctor to clear us to get a private room instead of a bed in the ICU. The neurologist confirmed this too. She said it would be better for mom and everyone if mom was in a private room with us when she passes.
A little after 4pm, we finally got clearance to transfer to the room. Most of my siblings and other family members, at least those who were in Manila, were finally in the hospital. The nurses had just transferred mom from the E.R. bed to her room bed and they were just fixing all her IV contraptions when my aunt and sister-in-law noticed that mom took her last breath. We didn’t have your typical movie scene where we saw a flat line because mom was transferred from the E.R. to the room without a cardiac monitor, which apparently was a no-no. When they said mom didn’t seem to be breathing, I remember putting my ear to her chest. I could no longer hear her heartbeat. I couldn’t find a pulse. Nor could my niece or the nurses. Mom was no longer breathing. They tried one cycle of CPR because it was something my brothers wanted and I totally understood why, but I remember yelling to let her go. That’s what mom wanted. She said not to call her back and just let her go because she was tired. She needed to rest. It was time to rest.
Up until her final breath, it seemed like she still thought of the comfort of her family. It felt like she made sure we had our own room where we could cry and be with her when her time was up.
We all got to spend a little more time with mom even after she passed. I was able to stroke her arm, hug her and kiss her. It seemed as though she was just sleeping. Before I left the room, I tucked her in one last time, stroked her forehead and hair, kissed her forehead and said, “Goodnight, mom. I love you.” – just like I did every night.
Coming home that night was the worst. As soon as we entered our unit, I saw her empty bed right away. At that point it hit me…it hit all of us that life at home would never be the same. It was back to just the 4 of us.
Life after mom
Our morning routine has felt so incomplete because I no longer have to make breakfast for mom. It feels like I’m forgetting to do my weekly errand which was to buy and refill her meds and diaper supply. The kids no longer have conversations (and quarrels) about who would help mom get from her bed to the dining table for lunch. I just have to mind my own plate now. I no longer have to strategically put food on mom’s plate and guide her hand to where each food item was on her plate. Her usual chair at night when watching her favorite telenovela while eating her toast and coffee has been empty. It’s crazy. Even going to the grocery has been tough. Everywhere I look I see something I used to buy for her.
I miss mom terribly. I feel like I see her everywhere I look but then she slowly disappears. I know she is finally happy, healthy and free of pain in Heaven. I know nothing could compare to where she is right now. Nothing would be better. I know she is in a better place. I know it was time to rest. I know it was time to go home. I know that God was being a good Father to mom when He brought her home. I know all of that and my brain understands it…but my heart hasn’t caught up yet.
There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed because of the pain and because I know it would be another day without mom. It’s weird because she was pretty quiet here at home but now it feels so different without her. There are days when I’d think that she’s just in her room, sleeping while I’m out in the living room working. But then I walk by her room and I’d be zapped back to reality that mom is no longer with us.
One day my heart will catch up. One day it won’t be as painful. One day I’ll get used to our new normal. For now, it is a season to mourn. I’m taking it one day at a time. There are days when I feel horrible, but lately, I’ve been choosing to think of gratitude. I am grateful that two years ago our family took on our biggest adventure yet because we have learned so much. We are still a rock-and-roll family but I’m sure we’ve got a lot more heart and spunk. Mom has taught us not to take the people we love for granted. Mom has taught us that there is honor and blessing in taking care of your parents.
Losing mom has been painful but there is peace. There has always been peace. My kids have seen and experienced selfless love in its purest form. My daughter, who was extremely close to mom, still breaks down, as I do. But we tell each other that it’s okay. It’s a time to mourn. We keep telling each other that we will be okay. My son misses her too, of course, but he said at least she is no longer sick in Heaven.
Mom would always ask if I would be okay when she’s no longer around. I’d always say I’d be fine and she didn’t need to worry about me. So now, I don’t really have a choice but to be okay…or at least try to be okay each day. I promised her and now I have to keep my word.
Sundays will never be the same. I think I’ll always remember mom, especially on Sundays. I’m sure there will be a day when instead of remembering how she looked like when I found her two Sundays ago, I’d remember happy memories of her. Instead of feeling the pain of losing her, I’d be okay…just as I promised her.
I desperately miss her but I know that she is happy in Heaven now. She is with dad and they are together forever. Somehow I am grateful that God pulled the plug (literally, `coz hello, brain stem) when He did because at least mom no longer had to experience life with full-blown dementia. She definitely wouldn’t have liked it. That’s what my brain keeps telling me. My heart isn’t there yet but one day, my heart will catch up.