As time progressed, though, I saw that the nursing facility was exactly the place she needed to be. She was content, comfortable, and happy until the end of her life. As spotty as her cognitive and language skills were, I appreciated that there were times when I was able to communicate with a person who really did seem like my mom again. Because the nursing home was a longer-term situation, a lot of things were easier for both my mother and for me. Between the nursing home staff and the hospice folks that worked with them, they found ways to make my mom’s life more comfortable. They spent time with her. They talked to her. They were truly caring. They provided much more competent care for her physical needs than I would have been able to do in all my well-intentioned ineptitude.
Most importantly, I didn’t really “leave her in a nursing home.” In fact, I never left her. I was with her almost every day as she journeyed towards the end of her life. We talked, looked at pictures, and watched detective shows on television. Whenever I went on a day excursion, I brought her a souvenir and new stories about my adventure. I sang along with old musicals on a portable DVD player. I made her ice cream sodas. I cut her hair and gave her manicures. I cried with her, for her, and for me because we knew the time was coming when she would leave me. Because the nursing facility was taking care of most of my mother’s physical needs, I was free to do what I alone could do… be her daughter. My caregiving became much more about just being with my mom, loving her, and letting her love me.
I traveled with my mother for twelve excruciating, exhausting, and amazing months. It was hard to let go when the time finally came. I saw my mother start slipping away from me in that thirteenth month. In the last weeks and days of a person’s life, it is important for that person to complete her own internal journey. That journey belongs to the dying person. It must be whatever it must be for that person. At some level, death is something that we each have to do on our own. Traveling with my mother on her path was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. It was unimaginably harder to know that she was coming to a fork in the road where she would go one way and I would not be able to follow.
One night she took that fork in the road. When she awoke, I am sure she found herself in God’s dwelling place instead of in a nursing home bed. Her beam of light faded from this life into the next one, leaving this life darker and colder and considerably less sparkly. On the other hand, it is inaccurate to say that I will ever be traveling my own path without her. All that she was is embedded in me and will be with me forever.