The day was already not going well. I was headed to Detroit to speak at the fall conference of the Michigan Self Insurers Association, and had boarded my flight in Tampa. After a 40 minute delay over a hydraulic leak, the airline announced that the flight would be cancelled. I was put on a plane for Norfolk, VA, where I would catch a flight to Baltimore, and then finally catch a flight to Detroit. I would be arriving 7 hours later than originally scheduled.
It was while I was standing at a service counter in Norfolk that I got the call. It was my sister. My mother’s nursing home in Farmington, New Mexico had called. They had been unable to wake her that morning. Hospice was on scene, and had advised that she be left as is. There was nothing more anyone could do, but wait.
After my presentation the next morning, I left Detroit a day early and headed home, so my wife and I could prepare to head west. This has been a difficult few days, largely because every time I took an update call I seemed to be in a crowded terminal, or crowded plane, or crowded conference hall. Maintaining composure during these emotional calls is tough.
My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 5 years ago; although the diagnosis only served to clarify changes we had been seeing for a few years prior. She has been failing for some time, and this was not unexpected. It is always difficult to say goodbye to someone you love. In our case you would hope we were better prepared for this point, as we have really been saying goodbye to her for a number of years. It turns out you just can’t prepare your way out of the emotions over the final loss of a loved one.
Alzheimer’s is an evil and hideous disease; a disease that not only destroys one's mind, but steals their dignity as well. The harsh reality is that I lost my mother years ago, in the sense that the woman who bore me, who raised me, loved me, and taught me right from wrong was no longer here. In the end, only her soul remained bound to this earth, as her memories, her family, and her very personality were slowly drained from her consciousness.
There were rare moments of solace along this path. Her beloved father, gone more than 40 years, was suddenly back in her life, living in their house. She seemed to speak to him daily. As the disease progressed, she was suddenly surrounded by friends and family of her past, with those of us in the present merely being actors for the world inside her head. It sounds very sad, and it is, but at those rare moments they were happy times in her own existence.
I believe it was Nancy Reagan who called Alzheimer’s “the long goodbye”. She was absolutely correct. Watching a person fail in this manner feels like seeing someone off on a cruise, and you are left on the dock waving for years as the ship very slowly disappears on the horizon.
My mother endured a great deal in her last ten years or so. She had experienced a serious leg infection, and had her gall bladder removed. She had breast cancer and a mastectomy at the age of 81. Diverticulitis almost killed her a few years prior to that. Through it all she maintained an incredibly positive attitude and remained a happy, upbeat person. The Alzheimer’s diagnosis changed that. She was devastated by it, as were we all. In the early days, however, she at one point stated that she would never consider suicide, because “she wanted to go to heaven”.
My mother passed away this morning at 8:30MT. She was 88. We mourn her loss, but know that her soul has been released from her frail and failing vessel. As we gather in the New Mexico desert to say that final goodbye, we will take comfort knowing that her suffering has ceased, she is with God, and that she is once again whole.
Goodbye Mom, we love you.