“Your mother’s soul is deciding whether or not to stay here,” one of my closest friends told me the other day. It’s 43 days until my mom is 100 years old. When my daughter and I visited her on Wednesday, I thought it was touch and go if she was going to make it through the end of this week. We arrived after her first day of physical therapy, and she was totally exhausted. Everything was drained out of her. It scared me since I was the one who insisted that they had to start PT immediately if she was ever going to walk again. I worried that I was forcing her, causing pain and suffering when it was time for her to go.
The whole slippery slope downward began with my mom’s dentures. Her mouth is shrinking, her teeth don’t fit and after twenty years, they are falling apart. Two weeks ago, she got some food stuck in her esophagus, and couldn't swallow anything, not even her own saliva. I made the emergency decision to operate, requiring her to go under full anesthesia in order to clear her passages. I don’t regret that, but once she returned to the nursing home, she was no longer able to walk. My mom’s motto is bluntly, “keep walking or you’re dead”. She has never even had to use a walker, and she travels the halls with the therapy dog and loves to go to the dining room for lunch each day. Now, we couldn’t coax her to take more than a few steps. She was frightened and in pain.
On Wednesday, for the first time ever, the spark of life had gone out of my mom’s eyes. She could barely focus to recognize me. There was no fight left in her. Very alarmed, I spoke to the head of nursing, and she recommended that we give it a week to see what would happen. The physical therapist promised me that she would be gentle and assured me that we were on the same page about letting my mom set her own course. So, there was nothing left for me to do but pray and worry. I’m really good at that. I spent several sleepless nights, covered in a heavy blanket of sadness.
Yesterday, as we have done each Saturday for the past five years, my husband, my daughter, the dog and I went up to see Nana. She was sitting in the day room, with her hair done and her teeth in, holding court like her usual lovely self. She was enjoying a bowl of strawberry ice cream. The transformation was truly miraculous. Having her hair curled and styled is absolutely essential, getting dressed in a pretty flowered outfit, being able to smile graciously is critically important to my mother.
Once she got settled in her favorite chair in her own room, she invited Stella, our crazy pup, up onto her lap so she could give and receive doggy kisses. “I love you, I love you, I love you!” she sang as always does while her face became covered with dog slobber.
Wow, Wonder Woman, you aren’t done yet, and we love you too.