Yesterday I was sadly reminded again how very short life can be. Unfortunately the life that was lost was a beautiful 19 year old soul named Jarod. Everyone at the funeral spoke the same words about this precious boy. How he was joyful and loved everyone he knew. Jarod sadly was another senseless death due to the hands of the terrible disease, addiction. I can not even fathom the pain and grief this family is going through.
As February began I felt something well up inside of me. It took a few days to put my finger on it, but last year Mama met Jesus in February. On this same day a year ago, I had no idea my life was about to change forever.
Mom and our family fought a long 8 year battle with Early Onset Alzheimers. Those years were hard. Most days I could not see my life at the end of the tunnel. It has been said our generation is often called the “sandwich generation” because we are having to care for our children AND aging parents. It isn’t fair, but it is a very real reality and the numbers are increasing as our parents age. Mom got her Diagnosis at almost 61 and by the Grace of God we got pregnant with our first child soon after. It had taken us 5 very long dark years to have a baby. I felt torn daily in caring for my newborn and my Mother. I remember the day my first child was born I sobbed for hours because my Mama couldn’t be there. All I wanted was my Mom to share in this moment and Alzheimers had ripped that away from me. We were then Blessed with two more children in the year and a half to follow. Caring for her and all of my children became increasingly hard.
I remember one time Mom had to be transferred to the hospital and I was with her in the ER room with my youngest daughter. Mom being pretty far into her dementia at this point didn’t want to stay in the bed. Realize her young body kept her VERY active until the last year. My baby girl started wailing loudly during the chaos of trying to keep mom in bed. Her feeding schedule didn’t wait for me to make sure my Mom was ok. She was starving. When the ER nurse finally walked in I had my baby on my breast nursing and one leg physically holding my Mom in the bed. It was not my brightest day.
One night out of the blue Mom aspirated. It didn’t look good. In an instant, everything changed. This was always a fear of mine and something that is almost impossible to prevent. In the end stages of this horrid disease patients will forget how to chew and swallow. Aspiration is when fluid of some sort gets in to the lungs. It can happen from eating, drinking or even from saliva in the mouth. It is a very common way to die for Alzhimers Patients. I remember rushing up to her facility that evening of February 20th. Her hospice nurse (who we had for years), didn’t have high hopes and suggested we start making end of life plans. I was frozen. Even after caring for Mom for all of those years, the reality of the end was never planned. I had assumed I would be prepared for this moment since I had grieved for so long. I was very wrong. It took my Mama seven days until she went into the loving arms of her Lord and Savior. That is a story for another day as I learned so many lessons during that time. I felt like Mom’s theme song of those days was, “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. During that time she celebrated her last Birthday. 69. That night was one of the most incredible nights I have ever experienced in my life.
Mom’s Birthday is February 22nd and I knew it was going to be a special day. She loved Birthdays and a good party. My children: 5, 4 and 2 at the time had drawn her Happy Birthday pictures. I had taped them to the wall by her head. The facility had bought her a beautiful Birthday balloon bouquet. During the day some of her favorite visitors came to visit. The angels that were placed as Mom’s hospice company workers, especially her nurse, Gloria, social worker, Christina and Chaplin Morris. And my sweet husband, who I am pretty sure she liked much more than she liked me! For those 7 days, I was there almost everyday all day. He had to take over the house with our small children. It was rough. Luckily our village, our precious God given villiage also stepped up BIG TIME! Chris seeing her like this for the first time broke me in two. My strong and tall man, was mush. She was loved hard on her Birthday.
That early evening of her Birthday I was alone with her. Up to this point I felt strong. I had been reading my bible to her, listening to music and people had been there to help me though this. I started to feel weak and alone. When it comes down to it, during the time when someone’s family is dying…they need support. Even if you don’t know what to do, think of something. Anything. They do not know they need it, but they do. About an hour into this solitary realization of the brevety of what was happening, only something God could do happened. My village showed. Women that are closest to me came one by one. They brought smiles and hugs. As women started to show up, we would add more chairs into my Mom’s small room. The room’s walls were filled with love letters from her big brother, Jim who wrote to her every week. Each week the amazing staff at Autumn Grove here in San Antonio, put them up for her. Some were long tales of their childhood together, some pictures he would color for her. Each one specially made for his baby sister. Each woman who attended Mom’s Birthday party that night will tell you that the room was filled with The Holy spirit. It was a room that I will never forget as long as I live. We read scripture, we laughed, we cried. Sometimes there were no words. We visited with Ms. Mary who is nothing short of a powerhouse of a woman, who at 90 something brought smiles and joy. My little sister (half sister) who was also about to give brith mind you, showed up with an ice cream Birthday cake! It read, “Happy Birthday Melanie.” My sister is an angel. Mom and I love ice cream, it was the perfect ending to this day. The feeling in the room was heavy as we started to light the candles. Someone then realized Mom’s oxygen machine was still in the room. YIKES! We all about died laughing at the fact that we almost blew everyone up! As Mom’s end of life nurse, Mike wheeled it out of the room the candles were lit. Each of those women joined me as we sang my sweet Mama Happy Birthday for the last time.
Fast forward a year and I am still hurting. I feel like most days/months I bury the pain and grief down deep. Suppressing it because I honestly didn’t know how to process the fact that my Mom was no longer on this earth. Therapy did help, but after a few months I was feeling better. Then another wave hits unexpectedly. My nephews high school graduation that she should have been at yelling louder than anyone in the auditorium. The times when my kids do something adorable/ridiculous and I want nothing more than to hear her reaction to what they did. Seeing a cardinal ornament during the Holidays and literally running out of the store crying. It doesn’t end. At first I kept wondering when it would “be over.” When the pain would stop hurting so bad. The phrase “it comes in waves” could not be more true. With a great loss the pain is never truly over.
Realize I have experienced grief many times. Maternal/Paternal grandparents (My Maternal grandfather also died of Alzheimers),(My Paternal Grandfather died from falling off a ladder and hitting his head), a good friend in high school Amy in a terrible car accident, my half sister Stacy dying of breast cancer, my uncle Eddie of a random heart attack and my nephew Luke who died tragically in a house fire almost two years ago. Even after all of that loss, nothing prepared me for losing my Mom. Nothing.
As I spend this next week in reflection of my Mom, her life and the year since she has been with us, I leave you with this. At the funeral today the father of the boy who died spoke bravely to all that attended. He said so many amazing things about his son and his life. But the one that stuck out was the story about his own Mom and some life lessons she gave him. She taught him to never not say “I love you and goodbye” to the ones you love. You never know when our last day will be and you don’t want to regret your last words to someone you love. Jack’s last words to his little boy Jarod was “I love you and goodbye” and he will always be thankful for that. I hope that you can start to implement the same things with those that you love. God says that life on earth is “But a breath.” I pray that you love hard on the people that mean the most to you. Tomorrow is never a guarantee.
Many Blessings my friends!
“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered- how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.” Psalm 39:4-5