The buzzy, arcing live-wire of worry bounced around somewhere in her consciousness since my mid-teens when I began my rebellion. By the time of her death, it didn’t keep her up at night anymore. I think that somewhere deep in her fog of dementia she still recognized me because her expression changed pleasantly when she realized I was present, even though she couldn’t communicate verbally. She didn’t understand forty years ago when I left home, seeking a creative existence, disregarding good advice, stumbling frequently, falling very much short. She didn’t understand two years ago when my darkness ended and I landed on my feet. I have the same intuition now as I did when my dad died: Now she understands why I am this way. My black sheepishness is un-necessary.
My mom, Ann Elaine Schuurman, passed away peacefully in her sleep July 26, 2017. These were the events of her final days:
My wife wakes me up saying something is going on with my mom. I call Patty. She says she’d been contacted by the nurse and informed of a change. Mom’s oxygen was low, and she was not responding to a supplemental feed. She had not been eating or drinking for two days. The hospice caregivers were now acting in accordance with my mothers’ living will instructions. They didn’t expect her to wake up again. It would only be a matter of days. Me and Julia arrived late afternoon. We sat with her for some then left. Her breathing was shallow.
Patty had spent the night with mom. She told me there were no dramatic changes. She told me mom’s blood pressure was low. They were administering morphine to keep her comfortable, but that was all.
I took over from Patty from 9:30 AM until noon. At 7:30 PM I returned and settled into mom’s room for the night. She continued to sleep comfortably. I fell asleep before 11. I dreamt that my parents were meeting us at a hotel somewhere, but we couldn’t find them. The nurses and attendants came in throughout the night.
At 5 AM the nurse gave my mom a morphine dose. Around 7, a nurse came in to take her vital readings. Her temperature was up to 102.4. There was a purple area on her thigh that she brought to my attention. I asked her if she was able to compare these readings to the last ones taken. She said she would get them into the system, and we would be informed. I updated Patty on the phone, then left for work. I called Patty from work and we discussed this around 8:30. At the hospital, she spoke with the caregivers, but there were no clear medical events yet indicating death was imminent. Around 10 AM Patty called me and told me our mom was gone.
We met at Patty’s house around 8:30 AM. The families were all present. We drove to the cemetery and parked, lining the narrow lane. The ceremony was brief. We left flowers for her, and she was lowered next to my dad. We drove to the Lutheran church. The service was nice. Family members spoke along with people she had mentored, worked with, and befriended. People spoke of her serving the poor alongside my dad in the 80’s in Washington DC. They mentioned how she was a successful business woman. Vince Salerno, my old friend and collaborator, accompanied Helen, the church music director, in a rendition of ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ as my mom requested. Afterwards there was a dinner at a restaurant where we were able to mingle and share memories.
I watched my mother fade over the last decade. When her passing finally occurred, there was sadness, but there was more a sense of relief. Years ago, when she was fully present, dementia to her was the worst imaginable exit. Nonetheless, she endured it with dignity and grace. All her children carried her in their hearts as she receded into her twilight. She was tended to most heroically by her faithful and devoted daughter Patricia. My mom is once again with her beloved husband Richard. When I was little, I remember wondering how I’d react when both my parents were gone. They are both gone now. I’m missing them very much.