She had been sick, but I did not expect to be writing this blog post when I visited her on Christmas Day. Still, as I look back on that visit, there was a sense of finality to it, and I can't explain why. I visited her at least once a week since she went into the nursing facility...sometimes twice. I'd been there on Monday, Dec. 22, but this visit just three days later felt different from the start.
When I got there, she was uncomfortable, so I got the nurse. They helped her take care of some business while I waited in the hallway. When she was done with that, I went in and I sat down next to my mom, and I mostly watched her sleep. It gave me a chance to reflect on my relationship with her over the past few months as her physical being deteriorated quickly before my eyes. You could tell she was going, but I guess I didn't realize how fast.
Parkinson's Disease does that to you. It robs you slowly at first of the ability to move and to voluntarily control your muscles. In the end, it progresses much more quickly and the medicine, I'm told, only helps for so long. My mother's tremors had rapidly gotten worse. She also had a myriad of other health problems that forced her to take a regiment of medication daily just to maintain her condition. It wasn't a fun existence, but Mom persevered like a champion even though she wanted to die at times more than anything just to be back with my father. I heard her say it so many times.
She plugged on making people smile and laugh when she could. She listened to the problems of the health care workers at the nursing facility where she was. They liked my mom because they could talk to her, and she dispensed good advice. She lived a good life, and you can read an obituary I wrote for her here.
Back to my final visit with Mom. Once she was comfortable, she slept peacefully only waking up to open my gift to her (a Colts sweatshirt, a 12-pack of Diet Cokes, two packages of Oreos, and some Emeraude perfume) and to keep an eye on me. At one point, she reached out and grabbed my right knee. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, "Nothing. I just wanted to make sure you were still here."
I sat there while she slept, and I looked at the three or four pictures of my parents that surrounded her bed. Above her dresser, she had a picture of herself as a young woman, a picture of my dad as a young man, and a picture of them as a couple. My mom was such a beautiful lady even up until the end. There were pictures of me and my brother. There was a picture of my Grandma Easter, too. I even asked my Grandma, if she was listening, to watch over her daughter-in-law.
When it came time for me to leave, I stood up and put on my jacket. Mom lamented the fact that she didn't have a gift for me. I chuckled and told her that it was ok. She gave me the gift of life 39 years ago. She didn't hear me, so I had to repeat it louder. She kind of smiled. Then, she said something I'll never forget.
"Jon, thanks for all you've done for me these past few years. I don't know what I would do without you."
I told her that of course she would figure something out. After all, this lady was battling Parkinson's and arthritis and had kicked breast cancer's ass a few years ago. She had been through losing two children and also her soulmate. Mom was a survivor, so I told her. "Mom, you would do fine without me. You're a survivor."
"I don't know," she said, with a chuckle.
I bent down to give her a kiss on the forehead, and she stuck her lips out, so I obliged her with a kiss on the lips. I got really close to her, and I smiled. I said, "I love you, Mom."
She said, "I love you too."
I told her I would bring her some pudding tomorrow, Friday, and be out to see her and make sure she was feeling better. She said ok and repeated that she loved me.
"I love you, too, Mom. See you tomorrow."
Those were the last words I said to my mother. Somewhere about 11:00 p.m., nestled snug in her pajamas and under her blankets, my mother died. She'd had enough of all that ailed her, and it can't touch her now. She's in heaven, and she made it home for Christmas with Dad. I got the call about 11:30 p.m.
Make sure that you make every visit with someone you love count.