This is, to the best of my recollection, exactly how this all went down. It all might not mean what I think it means…but I stand by every word of it.
Thursday February 3rd, 2011
This was the first day of what would be known as “The Snowpocalypse” in Dallas, Texas. In scientific weather circles it is known as the “Groundhog Day Blizzard”. Super Bowl XLV was scheduled for that Sunday in Arlington. An old high school friend and wife of my best friend, Marybeth was part of the planning committee for the game. As part of the festivities leading up to the game, there was a big party on this evening at Billy Bob’s in Ft. Worth – the “North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee’s Gala”. As one of the hosts, Marybeth had a couple of extra tickets to the gala and graciously offered one of the tickets to me.
It had been 3 years since my Father had passed and in that time I was still living in my parent’s house, having moved in to help take care of my Father in his last days in 2007. He had been stricken with glioblastoma, a terminal form of brain cancer. My Mother had been dealing with several cancers herself and couldn’t take care of him herself. Many years earlier my Dad had once said to me, after I had expressed some despair at having to go to him for help, “It’s OK. I’ll take care of you now and you can take care of me later.”
I was hesitant to go to the gala but my Mom told me to go assuring me with her usual words of “Be careful out there…I’ll be here when you get back!” And so I went to the gala and had a great time with friends, meeting celebrities, and having a few drinks. The highlight of the evening was getting to actually hang out with Walt Garrison, just shooting the breeze and having some laughs. A drunk Jay Novicek came in and bulled his way in front of me to take Walt away big timing me out of the scene. Walt’s wife just took my arm in hers and said “Don’t worry honey, you’re here with ME now!” After being there until about midnight I decided that I had better get back home to take care of things.
What I didn’t realize until I got outside was that for the 7 hours that I had been at the party about two feet of snow had fallen. It took me two hours to dig my car out and another 3 hours to make it back to the house through driving snow.
Friday February 4th, 2011
By the time I got to the house, it was almost 6 am. My Mom’s health had been declining for some time prior to that – to the point that her doctor had taken her off chemo since it was no longer necessary. She had colostomy bags that I would empty for her every morning – and so that’s what I proceeded to do once I get in the door. But there was nothing to empty out…and I knew what that meant. I called the home healthcare facility and asked them to send over the hospice doctor. The doctor arrived by 9 am. She was about my age which for some reason surprised me…I guess I expected someone older…and male. After talking to my Mom and examining her, the doctor came and sat with me in the living room. She expected to have a talk with someone in denial I think, but I knew the road we were on.
I called St. Monica’s and asked them to send someone over to perform the sacrament of “Last Rites”.
Saturday February 5th, 2011
Father Jason had called me Friday evening to arrange his visit…he was at the door promptly at 11 am. The Sacramental rites of the Catholic church can seem strange and perhaps useless (or maybe just “feel good” rituals) to some people. But to those of Faith, they are more than just motions to go through or some sort of spiritual placebo. There at Her deathbed, even though just Father Jason and I were the only other people in the room, as Father performed the Sacrament of Last Rites, it felt as though we were in the middle of the sacred space filled with hundreds of others…those who were thinking of Mom, those who had gone before, those who simple pray out in the world for others. My Mom fell asleep midway through the service. She was tired.
After Father Jason left, I immediately called my siblings, my daughters, and her sister and told everyone to be at the house the following day to watch the Super Bowl. I also said, without saying it, to be at the house the following day to say goodbye. It was time.
Sunday February 6th, 2011 – Super Bowl Sunday
I woke up early, made sure Mom was OK, and went to Mass. My girlfriend at the time, Jennifer – an RN, was working as a home health care nurse. She had some visits to make – the snow had receded some by this time – and then she would head over to the house. After Mass, I came back to the house and helped Mom clean up. We decided that she probably wouldn’t be getting up out of the bed so I just raised it up to make her comfortable and accessible.
The game started at 5:30. People slowly started arriving around noon. Coming into the house, everyone immediately went to Mom’s bedside and spent some time with her…talking…laughing…sharing. Every visit ending with a hug and “I love you!”
Once the game started the house was full and everyone was laughing, eating, watching the game, making a commotion…and Mom was loving it. I would go into her room every so often and find someone sitting with her… no one seemed to want her to be by herself. The hospice agency had sent the first-shift nurse so she was in the room getting to know Mom and talk shop with Jennifer – she would later comment on how full of love the room was.
At halftime of the game, I asked my Mom if she wanted anything to eat or drink. “I’m not hungry…” she said tiredly. “…You know what sounds good?!” “What?” I replied. “A nice cold beer.” she said. As much as I knew my Mom liked to drink beer, it still took me by surprise. Should we be giving a dying woman alcohol at a time like this? Turning to Jennifer (the RN!), I asked “Is it OK if we give Her a BEER?!” Without missing a beat Jennifer exclaimed, “She’s over 21, she can have WHATEVER SHE WANTS!”
So…I went and got her a Miller Lite, opened it for her, gave it to her, and watched as she took a good long draw from the can. “Yeah!” she said. “That tastes gooood!” She took a few more drinks and then burped REALLY loud. Even the people in the living room heard it and the whole house seemed to shake with laughter. “That’s about all of that!” Mom said. My sister asked her if there was anything else she wanted. She thought for a moment and said “How about an ice cream float?!” My brother went racing to the store to get vanilla ice cream and A&W root beer. We made small glass floats for Mom and she kept asking for another. She had three floats and the rest of the house had root beer floats all around the rest of the night.
Often I hear stories of prisoners on death row and their last meals. The story usually relates a full menu with many courses or extravagant dishes. The menu includes items that maybe they haven’t had before or at least haven’t had in a long time. It seems as though the person is trying to enjoy their last moments or make it as “lived” as they can…trying to perhaps make up for the time they’ve lost.
When I think of what would turn out to be Mom’s last dinner, I don’t think of a desperate woman. She was at Peace with her fate, her life, and her God. She wasn’t trying to make time, or the angels, wait. She was good to go, thank you. A Miller Lite and three root beer floats.
Wednesday February 9th, 2011
The Angels couldn’t wait…they didn’t even let her get cold…she’s still warm!Mom’s Hospice Nurse