Three years ago today was the beginning of the descent which marked the final three weeks of my mother’s life. She was in poor health for years and there were many times when we didn’t think she would make it. Somehow she maintained a tremulous hold on this world, though in the final months her mind had moved on to thoughts of the next.

That morning I dropped the kids off for co-op classes and made my weekly grocery run. I called my mother from the store and no one answered; I didn’t think much about it because she took a long bath in the morning and wouldn’t have gotten the phone. I dropped the kids off at home at lunch time and left for a hair appointment that I would not keep. My dad had left a message on my cell phone because he couldn’t reach Mother. I called him, and he asked if I could drop by and check on her.

As I was driving the eight miles between our house and my parents’, a fear came over me of what I would find there. I called my husband at work and explained the situation. I spoke to him again just before I reached the house and he told me that he and two of his co-workers were praying, and to call him as soon as I knew something.

I have a key to the front door and I let myself inside, while the dog barked upstairs behind the closed bedroom door. That must have been the longest flight of stairs I’ve ever climbed. When I opened the door, I saw my mother lying in the bed, eyes closed. At first I didn’t think she was alive. She was breathing but totally unresponsive, although I spoke to her and shook her gently (she was so tiny and fragile).

I couldn’t reach my dad on his cell phone. He is a piano technician and my mother kept his schedule. The appointment book was lying on the bed, so I called the school where he was tuning. Because of the distance, it took him about an hour to get there.

I didn’t call an ambulance. We all knew my mother’s feelings: she never wanted to go back in the hospital or into a nursing home. She weighed 80-something pounds. The last time I had called an ambulance for her, it had hurt her so much to be lifted and carried.

As a little girl, I called my mom Mommy; somewhere along the way, my sister and I began to call her Mother. A few years ago my mother remarked on the fact that my dad was still Daddy, but she was Mother. I know it bothered her. I sat by her bed and pleaded, “Mommy, I’m here, please wake up,” over and over, while my heart broke and what I had feared and dreaded for so long became reality.

Amazingly, she awoke the next morning, surrounded by family and friends who had kept vigil all day and night. I think her spirit just couldn’t handle the pain of her poor broken body anymore and had retreated, encasing itself, cocoon-like. We called hospice that day, enabling her to live her final three weeks with some dignity in the privacy of her own home, on her own terms.

Those three weeks were surreal; every day was different and ranged from extreme highs to extreme lows. My sister and I and my five-month-old baby moved in with my parents, while my two oldest sons handled things at home. My husband worked but spent nights with me, realizing that I needed the emotional support. Our homeschool group delivered meals to our house, while our church and the neighbors supplied my parents’ home.

During those three weeks, my mother was able to say goodbye to friends and family. There were visitors almost every day. One friend dropped everything and drove 750 miles to spend a few days with us; a cousin did the same thing, from an even farther distance. There was such an outpouring of love. Everyone involved knew that this was the end. There was nothing left unspoken, no regret over sentiment unexpressed.

My mom passed on from this world almost three weeks to minute after I found her that day. It was my 38th birthday; she was only 57 years old. If I’m able, I hope to record more memories of her over the next few weeks.

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