Goodbye, Mom: Family sends mother on final journey with hospice

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Dan Lassiter
Sunday, May 12, 2013

DOWNERS GROVE, ILL.—Mom didn't want to die in a nursing home.

So in early February, Dad talked softly with her about their options. They decided to stop dialysis and seek help from hospice.

“Do you understand what we're talking about, Lorraine?” Dad asked her.

“Yes, I'm dying,” she replied.

This is my first Mother's Day without my mom, and I miss her terribly.

Lorraine Violet Lassiter died surrounded by family members Feb. 8, the same date her mother, Violet Stuiber, died 17 years earlier.

Mom fought diabetes for many of her 83 years. She struggled with most of the associated ailments, such as heart disease and kidney failure. She had emphysema and used oxygen continuously for almost 10 years.

After her second kidney failed six years ago, she required dialysis three times a week. Each visit lasted four to five hours and always left her depleted.

Her short-term memory began to fail in the past few years, and she would ask me the same questions repeatedly in a 20-minute conversation. I answered each time as if it were the first.

We all loved my mother, but the family could see her slipping away. We faced difficult choices.

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Mom was living her last hours in the living room, and Dad was washing dishes in the kitchen when I asked him about their courtship.

They met Aug. 19, 1949. It was a blind date—a dinner arranged by his landlord and her friend, who had an only daughter.

After only a few dates, Mom boldly asked him, “So, are we going to get married?”

“Marry you, I don't even love you, Lorraine,” Dad had told her.

He spoke softly as he scrubbed a plate, “I guess sometime over the past 62 years it must have happened.”

They married one year to the day after their first date. It was a romantic gesture that Dad attributes to Mom.

They soon began building a family. Tom was first in 1951. I was born in 1955, Mary in 1956 and Jeanne in 1960.

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During Christmas 2012, Jeanne and I talked about Mom's declining health and quality of life. We realized it probably would be our last holiday season with Mom.

In January, Jeanne told me Mom was in the hospital with the flu. Only a few weeks after she was released, she was back in the hospital with symptoms of pneumonia and low blood pressure.

Between hospital stays she had gotten so weak that it was difficult getting her in and out of the house and to her dialysis treatments.

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Mom had reached a crossroads. She was tired. The dialysis treatments sapped her energy.

Sleep had become nearly impossible. Dementia made her fearful at night. She had difficulty catching her breath, which made her anxious and kept her awake. She spent most nights chanting out loud, asking God to please help her. Sleeping pills didn't help.

She was tired of fighting.

Our family gathered in the hospital, talking to Mom and talking to a hospice representative about what would happen. We were told the process of discontinuing dialysis is humane. Rising toxins in the blood create a natural pain relief.

Mom's only concern was who would take care of her. We told her not to worry. We would all be there with nurses from hospice.

She also worried about who would take care of Dad.

Mom's final journey lasted six days and began Super Bowl Sunday.

She had her final dialysis treatment Saturday, Feb. 2. In her final days, Mom no longer took a potpourri of pills. No more dietary restrictions.

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At the end, she was home, where she wanted to be. Her hospital bed was in the center of the living room, a space big enough for all of us to be with her. Hospice took care of the medications and kept her comfortable.

On the third day, my sister Mary, who lives in Florida, arrived. She and Jeanne kept Mom medicated and comforted her with songs.

On the fourth day, she slept on and off in her favorite recliner. Dad fed her mixed fruit. Pastors Ron Greene and Myung Ji Cho arrived, and we circled Mom holding hands in prayer. We shared in her final Communion.

Mom enjoyed her last meal, a few bites of cheese and sausage pizza and a salad. She hadn't tasted pizza in many years because of her dietary restrictions.

Mom slept through her final two days. An oxygen mask covered her nose and mouth. Nurses were on call and spent a lot of the time with Mom on her final night. They made sure she didn't choke or gasp for air.

A snowstorm delayed a planned visit by a music therapist on Mom's final night. It was rescheduled for the next day.

The folks from hospice were great. They monitored Mom's breathing and heart rate. They were there near the end, seeing to it that Mom didn't suffer, but they worked almost invisibly.

As we cried on her last day, a hospice intern stepped in, collected used tissues and threw them into a wastebasket.

Lindsey Sellers, the music therapist, arrived with her guitar slung over her shoulder. She asked what we would like her to play. We suggested church hymns, especially “In The Garden” and “The Old Rugged Cross,” which was Mom's favorite.

We gathered around Mom, talking softly to her, telling her that we loved her. She had an amazing life, and she was leaving it on her terms.

“The Old Rugged Cross” echoed through the living room as Mom's journey ended at 12:45 p.m.

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I will cling to my memories of Mom.

Grandma always told about Mom being born two months premature. When Grandma brought her home from the hospital, she was so tiny and weak the doctor said to call him in the morning if she survived. Grandma said she kept Mom in a padded cigar box while she ran the cash register at her Chicago candy store.

That story was difficult to believe because Mom was a big figure in my life. She held our brood together and protected us. She did what it took to make her family comfortable on a modest budget.

Minutes before her death, Mom lay unresponsive from a coma. Dad said, “If you can hear me Lorraine, squeeze my hand.”

She didn't respond.

Dad said, “I wish I could give you one more kiss.”

Incredibly, Mom made a final gesture of her love for Dad.

Under the oxygen mask, Mom's lips formed a distinctive pucker. We gasped, and Dad slipped off the mask to oblige her with a kiss on the lips.

Mom saved the best story for the end.

Last updated: 10:37 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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