What we fail to seeAnn Shimkus, PA-C Oct 18, 2022
I never expected to be caring for my mother on home hospice during the course of the MSPC program. Although it was the most difficult thing I have ever done and be a part of, there was nowhere else I wanted to be than with her. Having left my spouse, two dogs and employment, I traveled 1,700 miles away and returned to my childhood home. The same small home nestled in Northeastern Pennsylvania which remarkably sheltered and bore witness to the raising of eight children. The home my 90-year-old father maintained and still turned off every light in the room after I walked out, only to return.
I exchanged my childhood for independence at age 18, when I ventured on my own. Returning to live at home not only involved caring for my mother, but it also included my own self-care. Part of my self-care was to take long walks. The time allotted my head to clear, cry, express self-doubt, talk to my spouse and be reassured.
I rediscovered walks on backroads which were once my escape on a 10-speed bicycle. The hills did not seem as steep and daunting as when I walked them on morning paper routes. I could still hear the jake brakes from trucks rumbling down the interstate in quiet of the night. The Pennsylvania Northeastern freight train rhythmically rolled on its tracks for destinations beyond.
As I shared a room with my mother, I was keenly aware of her silence, movements and nightmares. She would frequently question the locations of lives who have come and gone. In particular, she would ask each day where her father was. Each time my reply would be something to the effect of, “Mom, your dad died when I was an infant…your dad is in heaven, or your father is dead.”
This went on daily and each time I would let my mom know that her father was deceased, she would look at me with the expression of a little girl having lost their father. It was an expression of disbelief, shock, sadness, and a look which was almost accusatory, as if I were an accomplice in his death. I thought to myself, this is horrible that she relives this experience every day. This is horrible for me to bear witness.
One day while the home health aide was bathing my mother, she asked the same question, “Where is my father?” I replied, “Mom your dad is dead, and he is in heaven,” as if I was softening the blow. Her reply was, “Well he was just here yesterday.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks that my grandfather was appearing to her and alongside her on her journey. I never met my grandfather but it became apparent how much love the two of them shared and that he would take care of his little girl.
As my mom’s health was continuing to decline, their 60th anniversary was approaching. Our original plans of an elaborate dinner at a restaurant, formulated a year prior, was no longer realistic. My youngest brother declared that we would bring dinner to my parent’s home to celebrate their anniversary.
My brother also announced that we would use the Oneida dinnerware which belonged to my grandmother. In the corner hutch cabinet housed this dinnerware, which as children we were never allowed to touch let alone use. My first thought was, “we can’t use that, you will break it and mom is going to kill you.” Maybe it was the fatigue within me that the words weren’t spoken and only left as thoughts. I paused, smiled and said, “that sounds wonderful.” My mother loved the celebration, beamed with pride, and feasted on more than she had in days. During the time I was home, I saw a love between my parents which was often not seen through their bickering. I now see my mom wanted to share a final anniversary with my father. My mom transitioned days later in our home surrounded by love.