Last month, I traveled to Sacramento to see my 92-year-old mother for the last time. Again. Eighteen months ago my mother was lying on her deathbed gasping for an elusive breath while loved ones tearfully kept watch.
Two days later she woke up with an appetite. Chips, cake, and junk food of any kind, she’d wolf it all down. Then came the daily beer that she loves so much. For her meager nutritional needs, the doctor advised giving her anything she wants, as long as she is eating.
She was sleeping soundly when I entered the room. Upon seeing me she quickly sprung to life—as much as a feeble person can--as if she were waiting for this very moment. We chatted for about 15 minutes, in between bites of Cheese-It snacks that I brought as a treat. She asked questions about my life, eager to hear everything. I knew she was doing her best to be animated. My mother is a good actress. The show must go on.
Soon, she stared mindlessly at the TV. Even on good days, ten minutes of conversation can wipe her out. But within the next few minutes she perked up again to ask questions about my friend, Pam, whom I visited before coming to Sacramento.
In her infirm state, my mother still shows her intelligence by making small talk about life and possessing a keen interest in other people. She has a remarkable memory for dates and places that I’ve long forgotten about. When I inquire about her life, she cheerfully though wearily replies, “I’m fine as ever.” Her will to live has outlasted her physical body. In fact, she's already used up her six-month hospice care three times.
It is well documented that about 80% of elderly patients die within the first year upon entering a nursing home, many within the first six months. It’s also noted that people with strong social connections live the longest. Fortunately for my mom, she has lots of visitors due to our large, extended family.
I feel that the real reason for my mother’s longevity and general well being stems from the unconditional love shown to her by us and Maria and Bill Tintas, her caretakers, who own the board and care home where she resides. It’s a residential home where licensed caregivers live and render assistance with bathing, feeding, dressing and managing the medication of a maximum of six patients. Home healthcare, hospice and other medical assistance can be brought in from outside providers. Some of the patients in this home have been there for many years and even one patient recently turned 100-years-old.
To be sure, changing diapers on a 92-year-old patient six times a day is not an easy job, but Maria and Bill do it with kindness. They show respect to all their patients, making them feel wanted. I’ve even heard Maria tell my mother that she loves her, as my mother is an easy patient who seldom complains. The Tintas’ seem content in their business decisions, wise in their dealings with no hidden agendas.
“Maria has seen a lot of death and sadness, yet her spirit is light. That is a God given gift to a caretaker,“ said my sister, Dolores Martinez. “Maria has God’s love and spiritual protection which brings peace to the house.”
I dreaded saying goodbye on my last day. Fortunately, my sisters Jeanne and Dolores were by my side. We had a great two-hour conversation with mom, talking about our travels together and good times. Mom could remember stories with details, much to our amazement. We laughed a lot and took photos. The mood was light.
I finally did say goodbye, with a big kiss and a firm hug. I was almost ashamed of myself for not shedding tears. I’ve said goodbye so many times before why would today be any different? I walked out the door with Maria’s reassurance that mother will be there the next time I’d come to visit.
I wish I could believe that.
In two weeks, my mother will turn 93. How much longer can she go on with her body slowly but surely shutting down? As my sister Jeanne reminded me that today could be the last day we see anyone. It is in God’s hands.
In truth, we really lost her a couple of years ago when she decided not to walk anymore. Now it’s a waiting game. It is not sad, for she has lived a good, blessed life albeit one with its peaks and valleys that she ventured through being guided by a cosmic north star.
I pray that when the time comes for her passing, it is done in her sleep, peacefully. I can only hope for myself to live such a long life filled with love and with no major illnesses. In reality, it means keeping physically and spiritually healthy. There are many books written on both topics, but in the end, it is up to us individually to figure it out for ourselves. This seems to be the topic I like to write about because it is so big and important. I’ll keep you posted on my mom. In the meantime…
Over To You
What are your thoughts on death and dying? Have you ever dealt with caregivers? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Please leave a comment below.