Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Memorial Services for Mom

My dad asked me the other day if I was going to continue writing my blog. I've thought about it a lot. What can I write now that this is all over? There are still so many things I want to say, things I want to write down so I can remember. But beyond that, I'm not sure where to go. Over the next little while, I may write down some of the thoughts and experiences that we had during Mom's last moments of this life. My dad and I thought it might be a good idea to keep this going and share helpful information, updates with the foundation, etc., so we will see where it goes. Hopefully people will want to keep reading, but if not, it's therapeutic for me to write anyway.

For this post, I wanted to share about Mom's funeral. There were some friends who weren't able to make it to the service but wanted me to share this with them.

Mom's service was held last Friday, August 11th at the church building she attended as a child and then later moved back to (about 30 years ago). This place was her other home. She spend many hours worshipping, praying, teaching, fellowshipping and serving in that building. It seemed only appropriate to hold her services there.

Despite the sadness and loss, it was a beautiful service. It's an interesting thing: years before Mom passed, she started talking about what she would want at her funeral, "just in case". She shared who she thought would be good at giving a eulogy. She picked out her favorite hymns that she wished to have sung. She wanted my sister and me to sing (the one wish I just couldn't honor...I didn't feel strong enough to sing, but my sister did a beautiful job). My family and I took notes of everything we had remembered her planning for her funeral and put together a beautiful program, honoring her and the life she lived.
We did have a viewing beforehand. Dad really wanted her to look like herself as much as possible, and I know that Mom would've wanted to look her best. Mom had told me on several occasions that she wanted me to do her make-up (she didn't want it left to a funeral home who didn't know her style), so I gathered all the strength I could to honor that wish. It actually ended up being a sweet thing, but I'll save that for another post. Her wonderful hairdresser, who she'd been going to for close to 25 years, went to the mortuary and cut and styled her hair for us. What an amazing gift that was. She looked beautiful and peaceful, as though she was sleeping. In all of the times I'd thought about a funeral, I was always uncertain if I should bring the kids or not. But it seemed to be natural to bring them to the funeral. They all had their sweet moments with grandma before she passed, and they would've been very sad to not attend her funeral and give their last good-byes.

David Robinson put together a beautiful eulogy. My parent's love story was the highlight, a love that saw my Mom through her final days. I'm going to see about getting a copy to add to this post.

We used a slideshow that my husband put together for our gala (you can view the slideshow by clicking here). I absolutely loved this slideshow, especially the video footage that he was able to get in there. I feel like it brought her back to life, if only but a minute.

My sister sang a beautiful song, which I know my mom would be proud of. She loved Josh Groban (the original artist who sang this song) and the words were so appropriate to Mom. I don't know how my sister held it together, but she did. Her friend got some video of her singing.

Mom's brother, Jeff, also spoke. They were the closest of the siblings and it was sweet to hear his memories and stories of my mom from her childhood. I also spoke, on behalf of my family. I shared some of the things that Mom taught us in this life, little life lessons. Some were more serious, while others were humorous and I included some stories and memories to illustrate how she taught us each thing. This included things both before and after her dementia. One thing my dad and I talked about was not leaving out the dementia parts of her life. Hard as they sometimes were, this was still a part of her life and we loved her despite the changes that the disease brought on. In fact, we have many funny stories and memories during this time of life, and we will cherish those forever.

Lastly, we had closing remarks from a dear friend and also leader in our church, Carl Harris. He gave us a beautiful message of hope and healing, reassuring us that this isn't good-bye, but just a "see you later." Mom is happy and free. She is reuniting with her parents and other people she loves. We are the sad ones, as we have this void without her here. But it isn't the end; we will be together with her again someday.

After her funeral service, we traveled to the cemetery where she was laid to rest. Something kind of comical (at least, now it's comical)....when we arrived to the cemetery, the plot that was 2 spaces to the left of my grandparents was dug up. We were a little worried about this because my dad had been thinking that he bought 2 spaces to the right; we thought they'd dug up the wrong grave! Turns out, Dad had looked at the map wrong, so for the past year and a half, he's been taking pictures of the wrong spot. Ha ha. We were just relieved that they didn't dig the wrong spot!

Mom's kids and grandkids each got to keep a purple rose from Mom's arrangement. Dad also bought carnations for each person to throw down on her casket after it was lowered to the ground. Something that brought tears to our eyes was when they lowered the casket; my 3 year old nephew watched as they lowered her and repeatedly said, "They dropping grandma, why they dropping grandma?" I didn't think that he really understood all that was going on; just goes to show that kids pick up on more than what you think. Sweet baby.
Our wonderful ward (church) family put together a nice luncheon back at the church for all of our family and close friends after all of the services were done. It was nice to be able to come back and sit down with family and not have to worry about fixing a meal or going out somewhere to buy ourselves food. They even decorated with purple (which was our theme for the day, since purple is the color for Alzheimers/dementia awareness). They even packed up the leftovers and sent them home with us, so we didn't have to worry about cooking that evening or the next day. What a burden that was lifted from this sweet service that they did for us! We had a slideshow playing (with lots more pictures that people sent in of Mom) during the luncheon and my husband and I put together a track of some of Mom's favorite music that he had playing in the background. I kept myself busy in the week before the funeral by sewing up pillows for all of Mom's grandkids, made out of her shirts, that they each got to take home with them. I embroidered a poem onto the fronts of the pillows, a message from Grandma to her babies.
"This is a shirt
I used to wear
Whenever you
Hold it
Know I am there
Love, Grandma"
My dad said it perfectly, in one conversation we had after Mom's passing: it's like we are mourning 2 losses here. One is the loss of the person she was, the life that we had with her (the life that Dad and she had built together). The second is the person she became. No more obsessive tapping on the doors, no more giggling like a little girl when we give her hugs, no more grabbing dad's hand to take him to the back room to show him the laundry pile that she threw into the corner of her bathroom floor. We miss those little things, yet we still also grieve the person she was before all of this. It's a complicated grieving process.

We are very grateful to all of our family members and friends who came to Mom's service and who have been here for us over the past few weeks. We are thankful for all of the wonderful caregivers that have helped us on this journey; all of her caregivers were there and they have become like family to us. We feel another void not having them around everyday. Several family members and even friends traveled from afar to come pay their last respects to Mom. I had friends who didn't really know my mom, but who came just to be a support to me. We've had meals brought in, gifts left for us, sympathy cards, flowers, phone calls, texts...the list goes on. My dad and I both want to express our deepest appreciation for all of these kind gestures. We couldn't get through this without the love and support that we have received from everyone around us. Since the week before Mom passed, we have had a constant flow of family of friends coming and going. Dad's house hasn't been empty at night since Mom's passing and there have been very few moments that either one of us have been alone. On Sunday, the last of the family members left for home and we are now left to settle into our "new normal" without Mom here. It is hard, but made so much more bearable by the love that we have surrounding us and the faith and hope that we will be reunited with Mom again someday.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Funeral Services

I wanted to put out all of the information for my mom's funeral services for all of those who wish to attend and honor her. My cousin is getting married in Colorado this weekend, so we didn't want to infringe on her special day. For this reason, we are waiting until next week to hold services for my mom. The information is as follows:

Friday, August 11th
8660 44th St, Jurupa Valley, CA 92509
Viewing: 9:00am-10:15am
Family viewing/prayer: 10:15-10:30
10:30-12:00ish: Funeral service

Following the service, any of those who wish to travel to the graveside are welcome to follow us over to Crestlawn Cemetery on Arlington Ave.

We felt like it would be meaningful for everyone to wear something purple. It doesn't have to be the whole outfit; if you want to wear black or gray or whatever, you can add a purple accessory (a tie, scarf, jewelry, etc). Purple is the color for Alzheimer's/dementia. It isn't required, of course, but we thought it would be beautiful to incorporate purple into the service.

Thank you to everyone who has called, texted, visited, sent dinners and gifts, etc. Your love and support means the world to us <3

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Last Breath

It is with a heavy heart that I write this post to let you all know that my dear mother passed away this morning at 6:40. Our prayers were heard in that it was a peaceful passing; there was no gurgling or gasping for air, her heart and her breathing just gradually slowed to a stop. She had her 3 children, beloved husband, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law and oldest grandson by her side as she took her last breath. Afterwards, her siblings and other family members and in-laws (and grandchildren) all surrounded with her love in her home. A close friend and clergyman from our church came over as soon as he heard the news and left our family with a sweet prayer as we all crammed into her bedroom by her bedside.

While I know that she is freed from her pain and suffering, and I know that she is having a beautiful reunion right now with her parents and other loved ones, we are all left broken hearted. This cruel disease took her from us way before her time. Her departure from us leaves a huge hole that can never be filled.

Thank you all for your prayers (I believe they did make a difference) and all of the thoughts and words of comforts. Thank you to those who came to visit with us this week and give my mom love before she left. Thank you for the dinners and the goodies left on the porch. We are blessed to have so many wonderful people in our lives to help us through our grief.

I will post an update as soon as we confirm funeral services (which will likely be done on Monday). I can say that we are aiming for the 11th or 12th of August, due to the fact that my cousin is getting married (in another state) next weekend and we don't want to take anything away from her special day. I will post an update as soon as we know so that friends and family members from out of town can make arrangements to be here to honor my mom.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Friday 7/28

Mom is still hanging on. She is one heck of a fighter. She has been sleeping (comatose) for over 48 hours now (not counting the 12 hours before her abrupt waking on Wednesday morning). Up until last night, her breathing was 6 breaths a minute but it has changed to more shallow breathing with short periods of apnea in between. There have been a few times where she has gotten gurgley (when we've moved her or given her meds). It's a little scary to hear her when she gets like that.

She has had a fever for the past few days which has been rising daily. The Tylenol hasn't been helping to manage it at all. Today, it climbed up to 102.5, so we made some ice packs to put under her armpits and neck to help cool her off. Despite the fever, her feet and extremities are cold. We haven't been able to get a blood pressure reading on her arm today either. The nurse came to visit today (we've had nurses' visits daily) and she explained to us that the fevers, cold extremities and inability to read the blood pressure is due to the recirculation of blood. As her body is shutting down, the blood is circulating more to the vital organs (in her core) and is basically being cut off from the other parts of her body. Because of all of this added work on her heart, her pulse is up to 135. The nurse was very compassionate and spent some time with us explaining the process and asking if we had any questions (we've had Aunt Sharon with us for most of the week, and she's already explained all of this to us so we already understood her condition). When she left, she said she'd see me at our next scheduled appointment on Monday, but that she honestly didn't think Mom would still be here by then. The good thing, the nurse said, is that she seems to be at peace. She doesn't appear to be in pain; she is in a content, deep sleep. She is surrounded by many family members and friends who love her. It is now up to her when she wants to go.

Mom has had a lot of visitors this week and it's been sweet to see the friends and family who have come to give their good-byes. We've had family members fly in from out of town and she even had her high school friend, Cheryl, drive 7 hours this past weekend just to spend one afternoon with her. All of her caregivers have come to spend time with her, all of her siblings, some friends from church. All week has been a family sleepover with grandkids who don't want to leave and her kids all around her. Even though it may seem like she doesn't know what is going on, her eyelids will sometimes twitch when someone speaks to her. I do believe she hears us and knows that we are all here. That's probably why she's still here-she's enjoying all this love that she's been receiving.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wednesday 7/26

I didn't get a post up last night because, in all honesty, we thought her time was close and we were all gathered around her into the early hours of the morning (until we all started passing out ourselves from sheer exhaustion of the past few days).

After my last post on Tuesday night, we went to turn Mom, who had been in a deep, unmoving sleep for hours, and she was non-responsive. She was still breathing, but it had become labored and she was only taking 6 apnea-like breaths a minute. She was running a low grade fever and she didn't even flinch when we touched or tried to move her. We gave her a Tylenol suppository, checked her blood pressure, moved her body, changed her diaper...and absolutely no response to any of these things. By all accounts, she seemed completely comatose. I called the hospice nurse helpline and they sent out a nurse to check on her. The nurse arrived around 11:00 pm and I could tell by the look on her face that she was concerned. I could tell that she was choosing her words carefully and hesitant to say what she was thinking so I told her that we understood what the breathing meant. She got tears in her eyes and told us that she was so sorry. She felt that, in the state she was in, she was likely to go by the next day (yesterday). By the time we were finished talking and assessing, it was midnight, and I sent out some texts to her siblings to let them know, in case anyone wanted to be by her side. I called my brother so he would know to get here soon (my sister had already come over just before the nurse got there). I also called Aunt Sharon, who had been here earlier in the day and wanted to know if anything changed. She and Uncle Tim came over right away (and she's been here ever since, as Mom's personal RN).

None of us got any sleep that night. We each took turns to have a private moment with Mom to say whatever we wanted to say to her. We sat by Mom's side and held her hands...and just waited. All of the sudden, at 5:30 in the morning, Mom woke up and almost immediately started trying to get up, but she hardly had the strength to sit up (it required someone sitting behind her to hold her up). She became very agitated and restless and was looking around at each person in the room. At different times, she would grab our hands, one time she looked at me and brought her hand up to my face. Other times, she would stare intently at different spaces in the room where nobody was sitting, yet it seemed that she was looking at someone. [There was also a moment earlier in the day where she rolled over in her bed and stared straight into my empty rocking chair (I had moved to her bed to rub her legs). She looked right where I'd been sitting and then slowly reached out her hand to the armrest, just like she had been reaching out for our hands throughout the day]. She also kept pointing to the corner of the room and fixing her gaze there. Sometimes, her face looked pained and she kept trying to turn over to get comfortable. We gave her some meds to try and calm her but she wasn't settling down. The nurse came by again and gave her a stronger medication to help her relax and finally, around 11:00, she curled up in her corner again and went back to sleep.

My brother got in at noon and spent time by Mom's side, rubbing her arm and stroking her hair. Mom had some visitors trickle in throughout the day, including a couple of her caregivers who have been relieved of their duties but still wanted to be with Mom (they've come to love her over the time they've cared for her). Her bathing nurse also made a visit and we gave her a bed bath. She slept through it, although she was a little more responsive his time around as she kept trying to turn back over on her side.

Her breathing remained the same throughout the day, 6 breaths a minute. She didn't wake up again, but she seemed to be comfortable and not feeling any pain. That evening, a family friend (and Ecclesiastical leader from our church) came to visit our family. He gave my mom a sweet prayer blessing, blessing her with the comfort to know that her family is here and loves her, that we will be okay and lean on each other to get through this. He told her that there are angels on the other side, family members who are waiting to help her on both sides. He also left my dad and me with a prayer and blessing of strength and comfort to get through what is to come. It was a nice visit and he left us (or at least me, since I can only speak for myself) with comfort and a little more peace. The anxiety and knots in my stomach that I have been feeling for the past couple of days have finally settled. I needed that prayer.

Later that night, we rolled Mom to a new position and heard some rattling in her chest. Her pulse has gotten weaker and Aunt Sharon felt like she was getting closer to the end. We all gathered around her bedside: my dad laying by her side and her kids and grandkids surrounding her and rubbing her and holding her hands. We stayed like that for a couple of hours, until the exhaustion of the past few days became too much and we started to fall asleep, one by one. The kids retreated to their campout on the living room floor, my brother and his wife took the bed across the hall from mom, and the rest of us crashed on Mom's floor or in chairs. Dad didn't move from her side on the bed. Throughout the night, we all awoke at different times to check on her. Miraculously, she is still here with us this morning. Her brother flies in from Pennsylvania at 1:00 this afternoon, and I told her a few day ago that he would be here. They were very close throughout their lives and he's the only sibling that hasn't been here to give his good-bye. I do believe that she hears us and knows us at this state and several of us feel like maybe she is waiting for her brother. We also have a couple other family members coming (my daughter comes at 4:00 today and my Aunt Peggy, dad's sister, comes at 7 am tomorrow). When Mom is ready, she's ready. Until then, we are keeping her comfortable and cherishing our last moments to love on her in this life.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tuesday 7/25

The day started at 1:00 this morning; I was startled awake by the sound of Mom coughing next to me. I popped out of my chair and she was coughing stuff out of her mouth. Because she can't swallow, the medicine residue and saliva had built up and she was (luckily) coughing it out. I called out for Dad, who wasn't on his air mattress beside her. Of course she waited for the moment he went to the bathroom to do this. After the incident, dad slept beside her on her hospital bed. I don't think the nurse did a good enough job explaining this part to me. I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't really expecting all of those secretions and since then we have been diligent about swabbing her mouth to remove the excess residue.

By 4:00 am, Mom tried to sit up. This time it was with a lot of effort. She became very restless, laying down and then sitting up, pointing to the doors (like maybe she wanted to go out for a walk). We gave her more meds but she was still restless for another hour and a half. I sat at the foot of her bed and rubbed her legs and feet in hopes of soothing her and that seemed to settle her down; she finally fell back asleep around 5:30. By 7:00, she was awake and restless yet again. She wasn't due for meds quite yet but she seemed very agitated, like maybe she was in pain. We gave her her next round of meds a little bit early and she tried to sit up again. She couldn't stand, but Dad was able to hold her into a standing position to give her a stretch and put her in the wheelchair; we thought maybe she'd like a little ride around the block. The morning air was cool and she did seem content as we pushed her up and down the street, but by the time we got home she looked ready to rest again.

Throughout the day, this pattern of restlessness and agitation continued. She seemed uncomfortable and in pain. I spent a lot of time rubbing her body in hopes of calming her. She seemed to relax a lot more when people were touching or rubbing her. I brought my essential oils and used them on her legs and back, hoping her help her find relief. In the meantime, I had put a call in to the nurse, who made her way to the house around 10:30. She agreed that Mom seemed to be uncomfortable and in pain, so after consulting with the head nurse and doctor, they decided to up her dosage of morphine. It took a while to kick in and there were still spurts here and there where she would wake up and start turning in her bed. She wanted to keep sitting up, but by the end of the day, she was too weak to do it on her own :(

By late afternoon, she finally settled down and fell into a sleep and I began to notice small changes in her breathing. My Aunt Sharon (the RN) also noticed. It is as if she is breathing in, holding for a few seconds, and then releasing. I know what this means. She has been laying in the same position for past 3 1/2 hours without flinching. I fear that when I am finished writing this post and go to try and turn her that she won't wake up from her sleep.

I'm not gonna lie, I am really struggling today. Dad has been busying himself with cleaning up the house. I know it is extremely difficult for him to see her at this stage; he was hoping beyond hope that it wouldn't come to this. He was hoping for the miracle that she would go quietly in her sleep. It is devastating to see her like this. My heart feels like it is breaking into two. I have prepared myself as much as I possibly could; I've read and learned all I could to mentally strengthen myself for this day and now that we are here, I am breaking. I don't know if my heart can take it.

My brother drives back in tomorrow night. My Uncle Jeff, Mom's brother, flies in from Pennsylvania on Thursday. My daughter, Maurina, flies in Thursday afternoon and my Aunt Peggy early Friday morning. I am hoping that they each will have a chance to say good-bye. And I really need them here to help me get through this. I know my dad does, too.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Monday 7/24

Last night I slept at Mom's house, just in case Dad needed me in the night. She seemed to sleep pretty well, until the morphine wore off around 3:00. As soon I heard Mom's bedroom door open across from my old bedroom that I was sleeping in, I sprung awake. I met Mom in the hall, who was being guided by Dad as she shuffled slowly down the hallway. Dad was bracing her, but she was very wobbly and looked very weak. Dad carefully walked her to the living room and back while I got her next dose of morphine ready. After giving her her meds, and changing her diaper, we were able to get her back into bed and Dad laid on one side of the bed while I laid on the chair next to her. It seems like 4 is the lucky number; she is content for about 4 hours until she due for her next dose of morphine. At 7:00, she sat up in bed (while we prepped the meds) but she didn't get up to walk this time; she was too weak. The next time she sat up was 10:00, and still she was unable to walk. It took great effort for her to even stand up, and that was with her arms around our necks and us bearing her weight to help her stand. We brought in the wheelchair and got her and took for a short walk outside. Our dear neighbors from down the street (whose daughter was my best friend all through grade school) were coming over to visit Mom at that same time, so they walked with Dad and me up the street until it started raining and retreated us back into the house.

Throughout the remainder of the day, Mom was unable to regain her walking ability. We took her for a few walks in the wheelchair, but it is a great effort to get her in there and I fear that tomorrow it may be too difficult for her. Luckily, her hospital bed arrived today and that has been helpful in positioning her more comfortably and getting her up into a sitting position. The nurse also made a visit. She has had a few low-grade fevers off and on but not high enough to warrant the Tylenol suppository. Her heart and lungs sounded okay, but her oxygen level dropped a little too low (87) so the nurse told us to keep oxygen on her. I thought she was going to rip the tubes out of her nose and she has fussed at them a couple of times, but she's actually kept it on most of the day.

Mom had quite a few visitors today and to be honest, it was a nice distraction for us. Mom laid and slept with her visitors sitting by her side. She was peaceful for most of the time, until the meds started wearing off. When the meds wear off, she starts to get restless. Her faced has looked a little more pained and she's been rubbing at parts of her body that seem to be hurting. I (and others) have been rubbing her back and legs to help her discomfort. I rubbed her legs and feet with lotion hoping that it might soothe her. Some of the older grandkids have been trying to help her get comfortable as well: stroking her hair, holding her hand, adjusting her pillows, and giving her rubs, which has been really sweet. She seems to enjoy the rubs and on several occasions her hand will slowly slip out from beneath her blanket to reposition my hand on a particular spot that she wants me to rub. There is one spot on her back-hip area that she keeps moving my hand to. If I even slip a few inches below that spot, she will move my hand back where she wants it! At least we know that she's finding the comfort in the rubs.

For now, I have kind of moved myself in to Mom's room. My husband brought in my comfy recliner from home and it's parked next to her bed. Dad has set up his mattress on the other side. Dad's taken his leave from work and my husband has been very understanding with my need to be beside her. Luckily, the kids all want to be here too (along with their cousins). I think they are finding their strength and courage in each other. If there's one thing I want them to learn from this, it is how to come together as a family to help those we love.