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Reliving My Beloved Mother's Very Last Days

My daily odyssey to please her picky palate.

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illustration of mother and daughter on a spoon held by a hand
Susanna Gentili
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I’ll cut to the chase. My mother died recently after spending three grueling months in the ICU followed by hospice. I will spare you the daily details of monitoring vitals, dirty diapers and blood draws. But I will tell you what an unexpected treasure each day I spent with my mother became. I was not anticipating this. Oh sure, I was dog tired all the time, driving back and forth from the hospital and later the nursing center like a zombie. And I ate like a crow — scavenging whatever food was available. But the look on my mother’s face when I walked in the door was priceless. She literally lit up when she saw me.

Having the mother/daughter relationship flipped on its side was not without its lessons. My mother leaned on me like I had selfishly leaned on her my entire life. And trust me, I was not an easy kid. I talked incessantly and she listened to my constant babbling and actually remembered the key points, asking me about them later. Now it was my turn to listen. And I learned to be her advocate, closely watching the doctors and nurses and pointing out any discrepancies in her care. I also absorbed new details about my family history I did not know before.

One morning when I arrived, she was lying in bed unresponsive. The doctor determined her oxygen level had fallen precipitously low and she had COVID-19. A team of paramedics rushed her back to the emergency room where my brother met me. She remained unconscious in isolation for the next four days until unexpectedly my brother looked through her window and she was awake.

Angels became a vivid part of our life. A day after that episode, I was bundled up like a marshmallow in a yellow Tyvek suit and mask when she said my father, who died 21 years before, had woken her from her coma by laying "across" her chest and not letting her sleep. A tingle ran down my spine at the profound nature of this encounter as together they made "a cross."

She often asked why my oldest daughter Kristen was sitting behind her bed when it was only us. When I understood that she was referring to her twin sister Casey who died as an infant, goosebumps dimpled my arms. She also relived her birth story when her mother died, hallucinating her geriatric roommate had died the night before giving birth.

Despite all this, my mother retained her mental faculties. She often questioned what was going on around her. She had a keen sense of humor and often made me laugh. Her cardiologist told her not to kick any buckets. So, it became a standing joke. I would say, “Don’t kick …” and she would yell, “buckets!” And when the nurses were trying to get her to eat, she announced, “This food tastes like crap. If someone brings me real food, then I’ll eat.” Thus began our daily odyssey to please her palate.

Oh, trust me, we tried to entice her with her favorite foods. Some efforts were successful while others were not. We brought in risotto (well received), homemade enchiladas (picked at) and chicken salad, all with varying degrees of enthusiasm. She loved apple pie and creamsicles. I brought her a chocolate malt and she slurped it up with the enthusiasm of a 5 year old. Usually, I fed her with a spoon like she fed me when I was a baby. When she could not talk, I started to say "boop" each time the spoon filled with chicken broth arrived at her lips. She responded by saying "boop" back with a big smile. That began a game of exchanging boops, smiles and chicken soup. The memory still makes me laugh.

She hardly ever complained. She had a stoic attitude that she could handle whatever was thrown at her and she did, inspiring me with her strength. She often said she loved us. My oldest daughter and I were with her when she died. The day before, I had marveled at how clear her hazel eyes looked as they gazed at me, remembering that eyes are the light of the soul. Were they always this amazing and I just had not noticed? She looked at me intensely and said, “You have been a good daughter.” I answered, “Well, you have been a good mother." We both smiled — that cat-that-ate-the-canary smile, both pleased and content with how things had turned out.

Were any of you able to spend time with your parents during their final days? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships