The day we dreaded came too soon. Sitting with the Hospice representative for a frank discussion we all reached the conclusion that Mom living alone was a dangerous scenario. She needed more care and to get that care meant giving up her treasured independence. Mom agreed to the change, and we made preparations to move her to the Hospice house. The Hospice representative told us she could send an ambulance to transport Mom, but Mom stated that she wanted to ride in the car.
I was stunned to learn that Mom, in her weakened condition, had baked a batch of my favorite sugar cookies from scratch. I ate two or three but the lump in my throat made those treats impossible to swallow.
Shawn washed and folded clothes. Mom would settle for no less than twenty-one tops and numerous pants. She had a mandatory collection of toiletries, and insisted on a generous supply of snacks in case the food was not good. It seemed for a moment as though Shawn were packing another child for camp.
As we ate lunch—sub sandwiches for Shawn and me; mashed potatoes and gravy for Mom—I realized this would likely be our last meal together at the house. It’s funny how hunger flees when one’s emotions accelerate into the crush zone. I pushed my sandwich away and opted to load the car.
Mom held my arm as we navigated the steps and eased toward the car. Her head seemed to be on a swivel as she took note of what was blooming in the garden and expressed concern over who would water her flowers. (Note – God took care of that need and sent frequent rain storms to benefit that garden throughout the summer.)
My mother hesitated at the door of my car as though she had stepped in something unpleasant. She commented with as much disdain as she could muster, “This car is filthy!”
Shawn and I stared at one another unsure of how to answer that one. We had been commuting from North Carolina and practically living in the car for weeks. Through winter storms, spring rains, construction zones, now summer thunder showers—I had washed the car numerous times but the grass from walking across Mom’s lawn littered the passenger side mat.
I planned to drive Mom the long way from Saint Albans at one end of the county to the Hospice house at the other end. Along the way we would pass many familiar sites. I thought she would enjoy that. Perhaps we might even take a few side trips.
I throttled the AC back.
“This air is blowing in my face.”
I stretched to adjust the vents.
Another climate adjustment.
“Don’t let that air blow in my face. I can’t stand air blowing in my face. Don’t you know that?”
Was that a Shawn-smile in my rearview mirror?
“I need my pill.”
Shawn scrambled to find the correct pill in Mom’s collection of meds then passed it forward.
“I don’t have any water.”
I was prepared with two fresh bottles in the console. Popping the lid on one, I passed the bottle to Mom. She stared as though a bug breast-stroked across the surface of the water.
“Where’s the straw?”
While rummaging for a Wendy’s straw in the glovebox I broadsided a few potholes.
“I need a tissue.”
I will confess that in the moment I wondered if the ambulance might have been a better choice. That thought was bumped aside by the remembrance of how many childhood car trips I had converted to chaos with my extreme motion sickness and hair-trigger stomach.
Mom was hurting and the changes were coming too fast for any of us to process. Her doctors classified the cancer as aggressive. As it accelerated and final symptoms appeared the unthinkable became reality. Mom was told she had maybe a month of life remaining. She would pass that mark by four days.
Those sugar cookies remained on the kitchen counter for weeks.
I could not bring myself to eat another.