Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What to do when someone dies

This was supposed to be one of the last photos I took with my Mom. She was in a nursing home, I was flying back the next day to California, and I didn't think I would see her again. So what did we do? We took silly pictures of our genetic similarity, the ability to bend our fingers upward into ski jump shapes. My Mom's fingers at 93 years old were not gnarled with arthritis or pain, she even still had remnants of her last manicure. I got her ski jump fingers, but I didn't get her pretty nails.

We also talked while I caught audio of it. We sang the Wallpaper song together. I told her she was the Best Mom Ever. I cried a bit, but I don't think she could tell. I haven't been able to listen to that yet, but someday I will. Then I kissed her goodbye and told her I would see her next time we were together.

More weird hand photos.

This in fact is the last photo I took with my Mom. It's after I flew out again after my Mom went into hospice. It's pretty obvious I didn't think it would be the last photo, because I look really goofy. This was a Thursday, I hadn't slept since Tuesday night. Little did I know I wouldn't fall asleep again until Saturday morning, after my sweet Mom died. There was still a long, long haul ahead of us here, I didn't have a clue what was in store.

I used to think I knew what to do for people when there's a looming death in the family, or when a death has occurred. But I've learned a lot from being on the receiving end. None of the following suggestions were because of anything people did not do for us, rather, because of the outpouring of love towards my Mom and my family, I've been inspired to brainstorm ideas. Ideas to tuck away for the future when someone needs more from me than the words, "I'm so sorry, what can I do?"

First and foremost, show up.
You cannot mess that up.
Just visit, or call, or text, or email.
Communicate in any way. Silent hugs work too.

Flowers are nice.
But so are gift baskets, food baskets, plants, and cards.
Each and every card means so much. 

On the subject of food. In the depths of either a long hospital stay or a hospice experience, food becomes a wonderfully practical way to show love and care. "Shovel ready" foods are especially great, something that goes down fast and easy and is a few button pushes on the microwave from being ready to eat. Two of the favorites of my family were some homemade pot stickers and lasagna. I appreciated the big salads, because who can even think of making a salad during a time like that? Not me, but I needed some good healthy food that didn't take one bit of brain power.

Others brought over some breakfast things. Arriving with a favorite coffee drink would be terrific too. Think easy to eat, throw away containers, clearly marked cookware, freezable, comfort food, nothing involving knives or cooking or calculations of any kind. My family also received some wonderful fruit baskets, and from California our friend Marilyn sent a huge tray of dried fruits and nuts, we attacked that like starving squirrels. 

Many of my family's friends visited up until almost the end. It could not have been easy for them to see my Mom deteriorating so quickly. We often use the reasoning that we would rather just remember people in their better days, and sometimes that's what the person or the family wants. But those visits, those dear friends standing in my Mom's room turned into a hospice room, looking serious and devastated, made me feel comforted. It was so sad, but they were not afraid to show up and be there with us. 

A friend offered to put together a beautiful program for my Mom's service. My sister-in-law Chris went through a lifetime of photos to find some for the program, and then created three lovely photo boards for the dinner after the service. Another friend dug through their photo albums and found a picture of my Mom at her baptism, we had never even seen it. We put it in her program. A funeral is such work, when you're at your lowest, so getting a perfect photo from a friend is a wonderful gift.

A pretty orchid from our friend Joan.
In the back, a plant sent from Doug and Colette.

One of the photo boards my sister-in-law Chris made.

When my husband and I got home, we arrived to food left by our dog sitter, fresh flowers from friends, cards, lunch dates, invites to a cabin trip, hugs and tears and lots of love. 

It was a month today since my Mom died. My brain fog is finally going away. My husband has a theory that when someone we love dies, someone we have loved all our life, our brain undergoes a physical transformation. All our synapses related to that person start getting rewired, and it's not pleasant. I can't say my brain actually hurt, but it came close. I felt fuzzy headed for weeks. This is above and beyond the grief, this was a mental journey I had no choice but to make. I'm not a daughter anymore, I don't have a Mom. Rough stuff, even when you know it's coming. But every time I needed a bit of encouragement, there it was in the form of a card, or a call or a hug. Thank you.