Sunday, April 06, 2008

Get Me to the Church on Time

Mom woke at 3:30 am. "Help me! "

"What's wrong, Mom?" I asked, jumping up from the futon. "It's me, Anne."

"Anne, I can't stand myself."

"What? Do you have pain? Where?"

"Everywhere," she answered. "I want to get out."

I gave her a tiny squirt of morphine into her cheek and called a caregiver to check her Depend and help me turn her to face the other direction. I went back to sleep.

At 7 am she woke again. "Mother, I want you!"

"I'm right here," I answered.

"What day is it?" she asked.

"Sunday," I answered. "But you don't have to go to church unless you want to."

"I always go to church," she answered.

I thought about that possibility: actually take her to church, even though she's weak, a few days before her death?

I hadn't brought anything to wear to church; for the night I'd just worn soft jogging pants with a stripe down the side and a turtleneck long-sleeved shirt, very pajama-type clothes but not actual pjs. If she actually tolerates getting dressed, I could stop at home on the way to church and change clothes, I decided.

When Elisa came to Mom's room at 8 am, we managed to get Mom dressed in a soft tan cashmere pullover sweater and velour soft pink pants. I put a pink and tan sweater vest over the sweater. We gave her two eye dropperfuls of water and squirted some morphine into her mouth.

"Would you rather stay here and rest in your recliner or go to church?" I asked.

"Go to church," she said every time I asked her.

I wondered if I could actually take her and get her back without her dying en route. Being alone with her if that happened would be really difficult. She seemed clear about wanting to go, however, so I decided to risk it. At 9:30 Elisa and I lifted her into her wheelchair and I wheeled off toward the elevators and the car.

The other caregivers gaped at me as I wheeled her off. Most of the residents in the "Reminiscence Neighborhood" never leave from day to day, though they are able to walk and in relatively good health, but here she was on hospice, a few days from death, being wheeled off to go to church.

I grinned sheepishly as we left. "Well, the worst it can do is kill her," I said.

There wasn't time for me to go home and change clothes, much less take a shower, so I walked in wearing the clothes I had slept in: navy jogging pants with a red stripe down the side, a white turtleneck shirt, as well as a red hoodie jacket of Mom's.

We arrived at 9:55 am while the pastor was doing the children's message, just before the main sermon. I hoped our arrival would not startle him; after all, my sister Emily had been emailing him on Saturday about possible dates for the memorial service, but now (two Sundays after Easter) I was wheeling the resurrected, ghost-like Evelyn into church.

He seemed to take our arrival okay, but suddenly I saw the tables of bread and wine on four sides of the congregation.

"Oh shit, it's Communion Sunday," I said to myself.

That's not my usual response to this sacrament, but I knew that Mom was not up to receiving Communion today. It would be difficult, perhaps dramatic.

After the sermon, when the time came, the pastors did an especially elaborate version of the bread and grape juice because some of the children were celebrating their first Communion.

The congregation was asked to get up and walk to one of the four tables to get the bread, walk back to their pews and sit down, then take the bread in unison. Because I was boxed into the pew by the wheelchair on the end near the outside aisle, this was a tricky maneuver, but I managed to get out, take a bit of bread, and get back into my seat.

At the proper time I pressed a tiny morsel of it to Mom's lips, but of course she clenched her jaw, refusing all food.

Then we had to get up and out again to collect our little cups of grape juice. I brought back three, one for me, one for the man next to me, and one for Mom. I thought I'd just touch it to her lips as a gesture, but when I did, she spit a bit of yellow phlegm into the cup. Alas--an unholy moment. Catholics and some Protestants make a point of offering eucharist to persons who are dying, but this is not how it's supposed to happen.

Except for this part of the service, Mom got through it without too much noise or fuss. Her eyes were closed and she may have been drifting in and out of sleep, but she had to hear the praise band shouting, "I'm free! I'm free to live! I'm free to praise!"

Afterward I wheeled her out into the line of people shaking hands with the pastors at the door of the church.

"How's she doing?" asked the Reverend Lisa Bove innocently.

"Well, she's had a couple of near-death experiences in the last day or two," I admitted. I didn't say, "She shouldn't be here. My sister will say I'm crazy when I tell her we came to church."

"Let's pray for her," offered the Reverend Charles Svensen, who had been receiving Emily's emails about dates for the memorial service.

"Dear Lord, we pray that you will keep our sister Evelyn safe as she walks this final part of her journey and bring her safely into the glory of your Kingdom," he said, kneeling at her side with Lisa.

"Amen," we all said.

"The pastor prayed for you," I said to Mom then and asked, "Do you know that?" Her eyes had been closed almost the whole time. She nodded yes.

When I reported the scene to Emily later in the day, she commented, "Oh, that's good. You reported her near-death experiences, and he prayed for her to have a full-death experience."

After I lifted her into the car and drove off, I asked, "Would you like any ice cream?" We often stop at Baskin-Robbins after church or after a doctor's appointment.

"Yes," she nodded but didn't take even a tiny spoonful of it when I put it to her lips.

I took her to my house, but she was unable to grab onto the car to help get herself in and out. I had to lift her from her wheelchair and then from the car back to the chair.

Later in my kitchen, she wanted to go back to her residence almost as soon as she arrived.

I took her back at 12:30 pm, grateful that no medical emergencies had occurred, thinking to myself, "She'll probably never get out of her room again."

We had a peaceful afternoon. I read Psalm 23 to her, and when I recited the Lord's Prayer, she tried to join in with me in a faint voice.

At 3:30 pm we gave her a tiny dose of morphine. Her blood pressure was normal today, 128 over 79. At 4 pm a relief caregiver arrived, giving me a break until 8 pm.

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