It has been a year since Mom died. Her beautiful soul passed peacefully and pain free in our home, under Hospice care, after losing her battle to brain cancer. The memories are happy, and we have no regrets, but the scar is still fresh. Every holiday and birthday without her has held its own form of mourning, but the one-year mark reopens the wound a bit.
In cleaning her room recently, and sorting the last of her things, I uncovered this reflection I wrote the day before she died. I had no idea it would be the day before, but that’s how it turned out. She had just transitioned from responsive to unresponsive, and we did not know how much longer she would live. Yet, even as we cared for her, we also had to care for ourselves and our home. This reflection came from that:
Nov. 10, 2018
It’s just cleaning day, right?
It’s another Saturday, like so many before it. The sun is shining, it’s warm outside, and we are home together as a family with no other school, band or work commitments. But this one is different because Mom has slipped into a new phase of Hospice care. She is at the end stage of her cancer journey, and can no longer get out of bed, swallow food, or even open her eyes. Her already dwindling world in our house reduced almost overnight from kitchen, bathroom, den and lanai to only her bed, with only the immediate needs that keep her pain-free and comfortable. We check on her often, tell her stories, keep her posted of the goings on, and tell her about texts and phone calls from loved ones and friends. And though we know she is aware of our presence and words, she can no longer engage or participate.
We divide chores today, and I get the kitchen. I polish the table, and change out the place mats, as always, but today I also return the heavy wooden chair to Mom’s place. It was there in the beginning, for years, when she moved in with us after her stroke, but several months ago it was replaced by the light plastic chair with cushions she could more easily get into and out of. Then, three weeks ago, that chair moved aside to make an opening for her wheelchair. I clean the lightweight plastic cups she used every day for iced water, iced coffee and iced juice, and I launder and put away the green linen dishtowels she preferred as napkin and bib, to cover the slightly expanded wheelchair distance between her plate and her mouth. I store the meds she no longer needs and put away the silverware that stood ready for her return.
I finish the rest of the kitchen and move to clean the downstairs bathroom – the one next to the bedroom Mom has used since she moved in with us three and a half years ago. She also used it throughout the 21 years we have lived in this house – when she and her pug, Buda, would come to visit for holidays, long weekends, special occasions or just for fun. Mom was actively involved when we built the house, she was one of the first people in the house after we closed on it, and she would even come stay at times to care for our daughter and our dog when Scott and I had to go out of town. She knew the place almost as well as we did. So that made it more comfortable to her, and to us, when it became her full time home after the stroke.
We had the bath remodeled when she moved in, replacing the tub/shower my daughter had used since she was a baby to a stand-up shower with grab bars, grip tape and a plastic shower chair. We changed the door to swing outward in case of emergencies, and put down “sharkskin” tile for better traction. Mom used this bathroom independently, triumphantly, as she had from the very beginning, until about two months ago — when she’d become too weak to walk there herself or to use the facilities alone. The toilet chair shifted to a bedside commode and toiletries reduced to the barest essentials.
As I clean the bathroom sink, I store her face cream, toothbrush and mouthwash. She cannot swallow anymore, so her oral care is limited to disposable foam “brushes” and medical rinse. Those remain in her room, on the portable plastic bedside tray holding her medicines and blood pressure cuff, and next to her tank of oxygen.
When I finish cleaning the bathroom, the sink is clear save the hairbrush, comb and teeth cleaning essentials my teenage daughter requires. The shower chair is gone and the two shelves in there hold only the razor, shampoo, soap and conditioner needed by a high school girl.
It’s just cleaning day. Right? If I do this while Mom is sleeping in the other room, then I’m simply tidying up and putting away the things she no longer needs. I choose to do this rather than to wait until she’s gone, when these exact same actions would be cleaning out her personal effects. No, it’s just a Saturday like any other, when the family is home and Mom is resting in her room.
NOTE: Mom died the next day in her bed, about 24 hours after these cleaning day thoughts took place. She passed peacefully and comfortably, after a phone call from my brother and his family, and with my family, and our dog, by her side.