My mother was in in-home hospice at the end of a long journey with lung cancer. (I hate cigarettes. I mean, I really hate cigarettes. Not smokers, mind you, cigarettes. Foul, smelly, addictive, lethal beasts.) I was the one person on the planet who benefitted from coronapocalypse, in that I could work-from-home and shelter-in-place at my parents’ home in Ft. Myers, Florida for a month while helping my father care for my mother.
Mom, a force of nature so great I’m fairly certain the weather patterns will shift in her absence, was herself until the end. Unable to walk or stand for any length of time without her knees giving out, she insisted she could. Too prideful to be held or guided, support had to be disguised as hugs or my own personal clumsiness. Or sometimes just “Too bad, Woman, I’m not letting you go down.”
She did not like sponge baths, but we wanted her to be clean. Like most people, she wanted a shower when she felt dirty. Unlike most people, simply getting undressed and strolling under a stream of steamy water wasn’t an option. It was an ordeal involving shower chairs, decidedly uncomfortable wrestling matches, and a great deal of very real danger.
This was, remember, during coronapocalypse, so it was a weird, lonely time. We had no visitors. Hospice services were somewhat limited, and no volunteers could come out and give us any relief. Not that we could go anywhere if there was relief to be had. It was, until the very end, just me and Dad and my Mom, with my kids and husband 600 miles away, calling me every hour and a half to ask questions like, “Where is the baking soda?”
Enter Colleen and Violet. They were Hospice Aides. I’m not sure if you are supposed to capitalize their title grammatically, but I’m going to capitalize it, because Colleen and Violet deserve anything that gives them extra respect. I can’t imagine doing their job. They came in and helped me bathe and clean Mom in very intimate ways. They did it cheerfully and respectfully, with skill and pride. Probably, I would assume, for not nearly enough pay. They made my life infinitely easier, and my mother’s exponentially more comfortable. They were kind and sympathetic and made my mother smile.
One time when they came, they brought an armload of goodies. Most of it was pillows of various shapes and sizes to prop up my mother’s arms and legs and head in the hospital bed she now couldn’t get out of. These pillows were made in colorful patterns by volunteers. Then they handed me a small, twin-sized quilt, also made by a volunteer. “This is for you,” Colleen said. “A keepsake.”
The quilt broke me. I had held strong for weeks, cleaning up buckets of bodily fluids, being alternately yelled at and praised for things beyond my control, watching the most powerful woman I had ever met become weak and frail. But the quilt broke me. The generosity of the hands that made it, the unasked-for gift from a person I would never know and who would never know me, broke the dam and fat, hot tears streamed down my cheeks.
I cried for three hours.
I wore that quilt around like a cape, draped it over my shoulders as I sat vigil by my mother’s bedside, wrapped in the selfless kindness of a stranger. My mother was generous like that, always making things and giving them away: when she was persuaded to sell them, her prices were ridiculously low.
I was blessed to be sitting next to her when her breath slowed quietly to a stop at 3:30 in the morning on a Sunday. Her spirit left her body and is now among the Angels in the World to Come with God.
I still have work to do here. I will have to be content remaining with the Angels I come across – Colleen and Violet and the makers of my quilt.
Colleen and Violet were not the only Angels at Hope Hospice who cared for my mother, Helen Brudner. I would be remiss without mentioning her nurse, Valerie, and the host of other wonderful people who helped her make her transition peacefully. If you wish to make a donation in her honor, you may do so by clicking here.
If you enjoyed this and want to read more like it, visit Lori at her website, www.loriduffwrites.com, on Twitter, or on Facebook. Her new book, “If You Did What I Asked In The First Place” is currently available by clicking here.