When I wrote Keep Me In Your Heart: A Father’s Day Wish about the imminent loss of my mother and her father, I had no idea that my mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease would end just 8 days later.
Death after Alzheimer’s disease
The 5 days leading up to my mother’s death were physically and emotionally trying–watching her unconscious, struggling to breath, seeing her body succumb a little more each day to dehydration. Everyone told her goodbye and that it was okay for her to go Home but her stubborn little body just kept fighting. I was constantly racking my brain, trying to figure out what or whom she was waiting on.
My most emotional moments during those days were when I held my phone up to her ear so my grandfather could say goodbye to his only child and when my husband sat by her side talking to her for several minutes. He told me later that he told her we would all be okay.
I remember crying as I sat next to her, holding her hand, and telling my husband “I feel like when I hold her hand, I’m asking her to stay with me.” For some reason, I knew that she would let go when no one was watching her; I felt she wanted it that way.
After being at the nursing home, watching and waiting, that Tuesday through Thursday, I stayed home all day Friday. The next day, Saturday, June 22, 2013, I walked into her room with my dad, expecting the agonizing wait to continue. I stopped in my tracks as soon as I saw her, waiting for her to breathe. “Is she dead?” I asked, in disbelief, but I knew the answer.
It was done.
After a couple of days of absorbing the shock and trying to erase that final image of my mother’s lifeless body, I woke up that Monday morning feeling at peace. Her battle was over, and my years of worry, tears, and constant attachment to my cell phone, expecting calls from nurses in the middle of the night, were over. No more suffering, no more pain, no more Alzheimer’s disease. I spent the rest of that week scanning photos of my beautiful mother and finalizing details for her funeral services.
Services for my mother
We honored my mother, Dixie Benton Stucky (1953-2013), on Saturday, June 29, 2013, with a memorial service at Western Hills Church of Christ in Austin, Texas and a graveside service later that day at Sealy Cemetery in Sealy, Texas.
In March, I wrote in Slow Motion: The Alzheimer’s Grieving Process:
Alzheimer’s disease creates such a bizarre and unfair grieving process for families. I feel like I lost my mom a long time ago, but there was no funeral, no obituary, no headstone, no closure. People didn’t deliver meals or flowers. Sure, several people offered to help here and there, helping my parents move houses, or more recently, going with me to visit my mother. But people don’t quite know how to mourn someone who’s still technically alive.
When the funeral finally arrived, I felt like it was for everyone else, because I had already spent so many years grieving and honoring the memory of my mother and best friend. I remember staring at the casket spray, made by my amazing friend Terri, through much of the memorial service. As my brother’s poem was read, I realized the robust arrangement of roses embodied his words and our mother–“delicate and wild”.
A friend of my mother’s for 40 years, Stuart Platt, delivered my mother’s eulogy at her funeral and also spoke at her graveside service. He remarked at her graveside that how we live now, going forward, is part of her legacy.
My grandfather’s recovery
It has been a difficult summer for my grandparents, as they said their final goodbye to their only child after watching her struggle with Alzheimer’s disease for more than 10 years. Just 5 weeks after my mother’s passing, my 90-year-old grandfather fell and broke one of the vertebrae in his neck. He took a turn for the worse last Monday, after falling the previous Friday, and was struggling to breath and swallow and in a state of delirium and agitation for several days.
I had deja vu from watching my mother in her final days and months of Alzheimer’s disease and was expecting to choose hospice care for my grandfather when we met with the hospital staff last Thursday. That morning, however, my grandfather regained full consciousness, was able to swallow (pureed foods) again and was talking to all of us and even telling jokes. He has continued to improve and was out of bed and walking today!
We are overjoyed with his improvement, despite his probably permanent spinal injury, and are hoping to move him into a nursing home closer to my grandmother early next week. There’s no way of knowing how much time we have left with my grandfather before he is reunited with my mom, but we will cherish each sweet moment together.