When my sister Lindy called me and told me our mother had slipped into a coma, my first reaction was shock. Not shock that Mother was now unable to communicate, but that she had relinquished that ability so quietly. We had both been prepared for a loud, difficult, and traumatic ending to her life–one in which she cursed everyone she had ever known and threw in a few insults for us for good measure.
Instead, when I arrived the next morning, I found my sister reading a book and Mother breathing in a shallow method while she rested peacefully. The first day we didn’t quite know what to do. Should we talk to her? They say people in a coma can still hear what is going on, and with our dad we had kept up a cheerful conversation right until the end. Should we stay close by? Probably since she could go at any minute.
That gets old once you realize the person is not about to take their last breath. My sister Lindy and I talked to each other and watched as people on the staff came in to hug our mother and whisper encouraging things in her ear. One young woman began weeping as she talked with Mother and she told us the two of them had often stayed up late talking when she worked the night shift. She told Mother she loved her and left the room sobbing.
I sat stoically while this was going on. Later I told my sister how bad I felt that these virtual strangers had better memories of my mother than I did. Lindy reminded me that Mother would have loved this as she always had better relationships with strangers than she did with her own family.
That night Lindy and I had no more gotten home, and we received a call from the home saying that her breathing had changed and we should come back. Back we went, but there was no change that night.
The next morning we arrived to find the TV blaring as it had been the previous two days. Mother’s roommate was at breakfast, so I took the opportunity to turn down the volume. There was no discernible change with Mother and my sister and I resumed our positions. An hour later one of the nurses came in to swab out her mouth, and Lindy said
I think she’s passed away.
The nurse looked at her and said
My sister replied unemotionally:
Yes. I’ve been watching her chest and it hasn’t moved for quite some time.
The nurse calmly responded:
Okay, I’ll get another nurse.
While she was gone, Lindy and I looked at each other. There was something somewhat humorous about Lindy being the one to realize our mother was dead. Would the people at the home have continued swabbing her mouth out for another day?
I said to my sister:
You were the only one who knew she was dead.
And she replied:
I know. Isn’t it weird that she passed away while her roommate was gone and we were the only ones here?
We packed up Mother’s clothing and waited for the funeral home to come to pick up her body. We have a very strong religious faith and we had no need to spend time with the body. We believe that the soul leaves the body and all that remains is the shell of the person. Mother had been released from the pain of her failing body. Now we waited for the funeral home to arrive and begin the process of cremation as per Mother’s wishes.
The remarkable thing is that she passed exactly as she had wished: with Lindy and me by her side and no one else around. It seemed fitting that she controlled her last move as she had so many others.
Lastly, Mother would have been thrilled at the memorial service we held for her. It was on Mother’s Day of last year and her grandson Taylor officiated. We had all wondered how to properly eulogize Mother, and in truth had struggled with finding the right words and sentiments for this moment in our family’s lives. Thankfully, Taylor composed and delivered a very fitting, respectful, and touching eulogy for his grandmother. We let balloons fly away at the end of the service and I hope she could see the hopes for the future in each one as they floated up toward the heavens.