By Susan Tweit
My Mom, Joan Cannon Tweit, the California girl who grew up hiking and camping with her father, who had such perfect pitch that her high school choir director used her voice instead of a tuning fork to start concerts, who met my Dad in college at Berkeley and was married to him for almost 59 years, who earned a master’s degree in library science and worked as a school librarian despite being legally blind, who fought all forms of injustice, who prized birdsong, wildflowers and mountains almost as much as chocolate, and who passed her passions to my brother and me, died at dawn on a recent Thursday.
My brother had flown in for a visit a few days before, and Richard and I zipped over the mountains to join him. Bill flew home on Monday; we intended to leave Tuesday before the next storm blew in.
Only… Tuesday morning Mom was weaker, and she didn’t want us to leave. Tuesday afternoon, her hospice nurse switched her to liquid pain medications, meaning a dose in Mom’s mouth every hour during the day.
I took over as medicine dispenser. And hand-holder. And coordinator of care. Which gave me something useful to do as my mom went hurtling into her final days.
Richard pitched in wherever he could; Dad told stories about their early years. Mom’s hospice caregivers came and went.
Time blurred, marked by the mundane milestones of end-of-life care: Tuesday evening, Mom stopped eating; Wednesday morning, she stopped drinking even a few sips of water; that afternoon, she quit speaking, but she was still present, listening and responding.
She smiled at Richard, wiggled her nose the way she used to when I was a child, lifted her eyebrows at something silly my dad said, smiled when she heard him humming in the kitchen…
Mom fell asleep at eight that night, and when I checked on my folks at nine-thirty, all was quiet. Same in the middle of the night.
At dawn, my dad called and told Richard: “I think she’s gone.”
I pulled a pair of jeans over my pajamas and raced down the hall.
Mom was still, her face peaceful, her skin warm and pink. I felt for a pulse. Nothing.
I called her hospice nurse. I hugged Dad, and we talked quietly about how she’d let him get a good night’s sleep before she died. I sent Dad and Richard to get breakfast.
Then I sat with Mom, holding her hand as her skin gradually cooled and lost color. The sun rose, and then vanished behind a gray line of cloud. Snow began to trickle from the sky.
That night, my dad went to bed alone for the first time in more than 58 years. And Richard and I walked hand-in-hand to the guest apartment down the hall, grateful that we had each other.
And that we’d witnessed a very difficult miracle: a graceful death at home, helped along by love and kindness and caring.
We should all be so lucky. Thanks, Mom.
Award-winning writer Susan J. Tweit is the author of 12 books, and can be contacted through her website, susanjtweit.com or her blog, susanjtweit.typepad.com