Mom is gone. She died on Dec. 21, the winter solstice, a day that marks the beginning of longer days and a new season, one with temperatures plummeting below zero and the ground covered with clear ice and white puffy snow. It also marks a day when Paws’ and his mom will be opening a series of new doors to uncharted territories.
In mom’s case, the dying process was nothing other than ugly. For almost two days, she lingered almost comatose. Her eyes fluttered a few times. She never spoke. She was very warm and did not appear to be in physical distress. If she became uncomfortable, she was given morphine and Xanax (alprazolam) to stop the tremors.
When my sister and I arrived, she was unresponsive. We had been warned of this. What we had no preparation for was the unnerving sounds of the ‘death rattle’.
It’s a consistent rattle that sounds like gurgling for air. Was she drowning? Were her lungs filling up with fluid? We listened for hours? We later learned it was the saliva going back and forth in the throat because she was too weak to swallow. Sometimes it would be a bit softer after they moved her into another position.
It’s like a rattling, loud cat purr, but much less peaceful. It was distressing, reality provoking and unnerving. It was sickening. On one hand I wanted to stay and be with her. On the other, I wanted to bolt from the room and run as far away as possible.
As I was there with mom, I couldn’t help thinking about my two cats that had passed on. In both cases, I had elected to make the decision to put them down. With Smokey, she was getting so weak and thin.
With my Tubby, I knew that his FIP left no decision but to end his misery. He was so weak he couldn’t even crawl onto the couch without help.
Meanwhile Mom continued to breathe. I kept thinking about how quickly they went in the very end. As I held Smokey’s paw, she looked at me saying thank you. There was a great peace about her as she passed over the Rainbow Bridge.
With Tubby, it was sadder. There was no peaceful look of thanks. But there was no other decision. There was no hope for recovery. The final dying process was quick.
I wondered what mom was feeling? There was no apparent pain. I’ve heard that people continue to hear and feel touch to the end. We kept saying what a wonderful mother she’d been. How much we loved her, and we thanked her for everything she had done for us. We were encouraging her to find her peace and follow the light to a forever peace where she could rejoin my dad, gram, her parents and her friends that are no longer on this earth.
She had been with us for 86 years. Many are less fortunate, losing their parents at much younger ages. My Smokey was almost 20. My Tubby was a little over two.
Because the cats ended their lives quickly, their kitty spirits were present till the end. I’m not so sure with mom. She knew we were there. There was a presence, but did it stay? Was she in that body till the end? Was she looking at us hovering over her from the top of the room? We’ll never know for sure.
At 2am, I felt my stomach rolling over. I knew that if I were to make it through another day, I could not stay any longer. We left. It was freezing rain. About two miles up the road, a deer bolted across the four lane highway. He could barely stand up because of the ice. Could we make it home? We wondered.
My sister told me of two deer that had been on the hospital lawn from our brother-in-law, Roger had died, almost 20 years earlier? Had he come to get her? The ride home was dicey, but I made it. At 3:30 I crawled up to bed, only to have the phone ring an hour later. Her hands were turning blue. There had been a greenish discharge? I said a quick prayer for Mom to be at peace, and rolled over. Ironically, no cat joined me that night. I think they wanted to leave me to mourn by myself.
I woke up at 8 am, and made plans to make the 20 mile journey back to the nursing home. I called before leaving. Her condition was about the same. When we arrived, the hospice nurse was there. She said she would pass today. We wondered whether or not that would happen. It did.
The journey with Alzheimer’s has lasted for many years, but it has become more poignant each step of the journey – the loss of memory – the wandering – the move to residential care – the move to a skilled nursing facility – and the loss of her long-term memory, and then one by one – all of her mobility including that of being able to feed herself. But her contagious smile and laughter continued till almost the end.
She could also relate to cats. When I would mention the cats, there was a beam of light that would come from her eyes. Sometimes she’d laugh. When I read her a story about a funny story that I had written, she was mesmerized, almost like she could remember that particular humorous incident.
As we open a new door into a room without mom, it is time to take on new beginnings. One will be adding a life, death, and beyond segment to Paws for Reflection, once a week. We haven’t committed to which day it should be yet. The posts will involve humans and pets. As Paws continues to develop our voice, we will look at not just the human-animal bond, but the many similarities between cats and humans
Another milestone is that Paws will be able to be more consistent in blog posts in 2014 because while mom’s loss is very real, we will no longer be going through a roller coaster from one month and week and day to the next. That will give me and the cats time to put together our endless to-do list of future blog posts.
May peace be with you as we complete our move through the holidays, and embark upon a new journey and a new year.