I recently had the privilege of being my mother’s roommate in the hospital for 4 days. There were many challenges, including meeting with several doctors, having to stay in the room all morning because you never know when they’ll show up, and communicating with 4 brothers and sisters as we came to the painful realization that my mom is in the last chapter of her life. I went to be with her because I hadn’t seen her in a while and I wanted to help make the experience as peaceful and joyful as possible. I wasn’t sure how I would feel and act in this difficult time, but being with my mother filled me with gratitude and joy that is in my heart forever. Mom has dementia, so her short term memory is very poor most of the time. This is no doubt a blessing, because she really is in the moment, and already forgot most if not all of her stay in the hospital. Thankfully she still has long term memory and she can have a very intelligent, authentic conversation, and even play well at games – she just won’t remember it later. But I will remember it with gratitude and joy.
Part of me is still there, and I could write pages about how grateful I am to have a healthy heart, to think clearly, to be able to move and breathe easily, to go anywhere I choose, and so much more. I’m sure many can relate to that feeling after seeing another, especially a loved one, who is no longer able to experience vitality. I could write pages more about all of the things my mother was and did that make me grateful. She did the best she could and all of it contributed to who I am and I am grateful for every bit.
However I am drawn to write about what I experienced in the hospital that makes me so proud and grateful.
A little background: My mother was admitted to a hospital in Pittsburgh that has a reputation for good doctors, but a place I would never recommend. An old hospital under construction with narrow drab hallways, boring rooms, marked up walls that should have been painted years ago, broken blinds (her middle blind wouldn’t open), and dirty windows. I had to ask for towels and toiletries, clean up after her because it took over an hour for anyone to respond to my requests, buy her bottled water, and even buy her meal the first night because she was in the emergency room when dinner was served. The view in front of her bed was primarily trash receptacles and a board with the rarely updated names of her current caregivers and the goal of her visit: “home”. My sister brought lots of photos and decorations from home on the third day which was wonderful. I am happy to say she is now home where she wants to be with my sister, and we have all decided no more hospital.
My mother’s experience: Every morning she pointed out the “beautiful sunrise” – she is a country girl who is used to seeing the sunrise through trees – this one was over another drab and dirty hospital building. She enjoyed walking the hospital hallways, admiring how wide they were, and looking out at the city through the window down the hall since there was no view of it from her room. Mom told me several times how impressed she was with what a great job the cleaning woman did. She was so kind and friendly to the nurses and aides, even when they came in all night every couple of hours. One nurse said she was the sweetest patient he’d had. We sat together for hours looking at movies I’ve made of her grandchildren, and pictures from trips we made together as well as my travels. I even showed pictures from my walk through the nearby park in the afternoons, and she never complained that she could no longer do those things. Her middle name is Grace. Really! Vida Grace Brown. But also figuratively.
My mom’s not superhuman – she did have a breakdown one morning after thinking she heard someone die down the hall during the night and cried about not getting that goal of “home” that she sat and stared at all day. But she didn’t resist when I crawled in bed with her and was soon laughing at dog and cat youtube videos on my computer.
At 85 years old, my mother is young to have advanced congestive heart failure for her family. Her parents lived into their 90s, and she never drank or smoked, was very active, and ate healthier than most. She told me she couldn’t understand why her heart was giving out, and I reminded her that she had a stressful life and she had done a wonderful job in spite of that. She of course insisted it wasn’t that bad. She expressed frustration that the medicine wasn’t helping her very well, and I gently led her to discuss her death, because I wanted to know if she was afraid and if I could help with that. I was so glad to see and hear her authentic assurance that she was ready and happy to go to heaven.
As I read back over this, I realize I really can’t put into words the gratitude and joy I feel from this experience. I wish I had taken a picture of the view of the sunrise she saw from her bed. It is forever ingrained in my memory – I was so humbled by her joyful expression of its beauty, even on the first morning before my sister and I had a chance to decorate her room. The sun itself was the only beautiful thing in that view, and that is what my mother saw. I will be inspired forever by that moment, perhaps the greatest gift she has ever given me. Thank you Mom! I am eternally grateful for you!