‘I’ll be back in two hours. Wait for me.’ I squeeze you one last time, kiss your cheek, tell you I love you, and leave. I hate myself for going. I was supposed to BE THERE.’: Woman shares heartbreaking last days of mother with terminal illness

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“Saturday, August 1st:

Dad calls me in the morning and tells me you’ve had a rough night. He doesn’t explain much but I pick up a worried tone, something I haven’t heard before. I already had plans on coming out to spend the weekend with you, but now I’m quickly gathering my stuff faster than I normally would. Driving to Plano, I talk myself down and try to convince myself it was just another typical rough night, I’m just overthinking it, and everything is going to be okay. We’re hungry, we pick up Chick-fil-A, and head to your house.

You’re not in the living room or at the kitchen table when we get there. I think to myself it’s weird, but not out of the ordinary. I sit and begin to eat. Dad walks in and looks tired…tired and scared. ‘I didn’t want to tell you over the phone,’ he begins. My ears perk up immediately. ‘Your mom couldn’t breathe last night.’ Couldn’t breathe? What does that mean? ‘Gasping for air,’ is what he says in response. I drop my food and ask where you are. You’re asleep, in bed, at 10:00 a.m. You never sleep this late. I make my way to your room, and from the hallway I can hear your breathing. Loud breaths. Labored. Abnormal. I come in and look at youyou don’t know I’m there. You usually do. You don’t know I’m watching and listening to your breaths. I know those breaths. I’ve heard those breaths echoing from dying patient’s rooms. The tears well up in my eyes and I have to blink them away so I can find my way to your bedside.

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I lay down with you and let out a loud cry, maybe even a scream. I know what’s happening. You’re starting to die. I can’t stop crying. I rub your arms to gain your attention and you finally flicker open your eyes. You’re burning up. You have a fever. I tell dad to find Tylenol and rip the covers off of your tiny body. Your muscles which used to carry your body have completely wasted away. I can’t stop crying. You’re mumbling but I can’t truly make out what you’re saying. Then I hear it, ‘Pain.’ I tell dad to get the morphine and the Ativan. I give it to you. I tell dad I have a bad feeling because I can’t bear to tell him what I truly think is happening.

I don’t know how long goes by, but you start to become more alert. Your fever is starting to break. A flicker of hope runs through me when you ask to move into the living room. Michelle and I try to get you comfy in your chair but end up moving you to the couch. You’re comfier there. You’re talking a little bit more, more coherent. But the pain returns. So I give you morphine and you rest. Michelle starts to play your favorite music from your iPad. You gently sing along to your favorites. I talk to dad and tell him we need to tell Cheri. He debates, thinking you’ll make it out of this. I guess you’re doing a little better, maybe I was wrong…maybe death isn’t on our doorstep.

Dad reminds me we have a meeting with the funeral home today. How ironic. Cheri is here now. She looks worried. We all look worried. We all sit on your bed while dad talks to the man from the funeral home. I stare up into your canopy and think, ‘This can’t be happening,’ but it is happening. I think about how all these years have led up to this moment and, ultimately, this weekend. We all knew it was coming but it doesn’t make losing you any easier. Chad and I decide to go sit outside by the pool for a while. Days after you’re gone, I’ll question myself on why I let an hour or two slip away. Why did I do it? I don’t know. Maybe to process what’s going on? Maybe to escape the reality of it all? I don’t know. I don’t think I will ever know. You’re uncomfortable again. I give you morphine and then we reposition you so you’re lying on your back with your favorite pillows surrounding you. We keep the music going for you and swap turns being by your side. Your fever is back. As I’m drawing up your Tylenol, I start praying for different things.

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‘God, please don’t take her… not yet.’

‘God, if this is it, please don’t let her suffer long.’

I don’t know if He’s listening to me but I have to try. I have a hard question to ask you and I’m scared of the answer. ‘Should I tell Peyton to come home?’ I ask. You reply, ‘No…vacation.’ I’m holding your hand and thinking about how selfless and strong you are. Is it possible you don’t think this is the end? This gives me another glimpse of hope. But even then, in my heart, I know what’s going to happen. I tell dad I’m worried again. I can tell he is, too. Your oxygen levels are starting to get low. I’m scared because I know what this means. We need an oxygen machine, and we need it fast. We call hospice and they tell us they’re sending someone out to deliver a machine. You’re in pain again, more morphine. You want to be moved back to bed, so we carefully lift you from the couch into your chair. Every touch hurts you and I can see it’s killing dad to see you in so much pain. It takes three of us to get you in bed and you fall asleep quickly…maybe from the morphine, or maybe it’s because your body is starting to shut down. I plan on sleeping with you tonight, little do I know it will be the last time.

Clunk, hiss. Beep, beep, beep. The d*mn oxygen machine keeps beeping every twenty minutes, saying there is an error. I get up, restart it, and then get in bed. Twenty minutes later the beeping starts again, but it’s time for your medicine, anyway. Morphine, Ativan, hyoscyamine, and a gentle turn to your left so you don’t get a bedsore. You’re not giggling like you normally do when I move youyou barely even open your eyes. I notice your hands have curled into fists and your nails are leaving marks on your hands. I grab washcloths and roll them up and place them in your hands so you won’t hurt your delicate skin. Your body is slowly turning rigid before my eyes. Your breaths are labored and sharp. I wipe away some tears and get back in bed with you. I hold you like you used to hold me when I was a little girl. I rub your hand and tell you I love you. BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. I yell any expletive I can think of and get up and start the process all over again. Fix oxygen machine, cry, give medications, cry, turn your limp body, cry, and repeat the process until the morning. I pray tomorrow will be better.

Sunday, August 2nd:

Spoiler alert: you don’t get better today. You stay in bed late again. I lie to myself and think today is the day you get better. You’re going to get up and want to put on your makeup, mess with Chad and eat ice cream. This, of course, doesn’t happen. We do finally get you to say you want to be moved to the living room…and so we put you on your side of the couch, in a nest of comfy pillows. We play music for you. You’re not as responsive today…you give us some nods, and a yes or no, but not much else. No smiles or laughter, I think that’s what hurts the most. You’re tired of fighting and I can see it.

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Your fever is back. I give you your medications and tell dad I think it’s time to give them around the clock. I need him to call our hospice nurse, Wendy. We call her and she tells us to just keep you comfortable and she’ll be out tomorrow morning. It’s interesting what happens during the last days before someone with a terminal illness dies. The hours are long but extremely short. Reality feels like a dream. People come and go, the real friends stay. The worry and anticipation are unbearable. All you can do is watch your loved one start to drift away, and there’s no imaginary tether to reel them back in. If I could, I would selfishly reel you back in, momma. Just for one more day with you.

I snap back into reality when Cheri calls me in the room. With a worried look on her face, she asks me to redo your blood pressure. I slip the band around your tiny arm and press start. 60/40. I don’t mean to, but I burst into tears and leave the room for a second, because it’s happening…dying has officially started. Death has graciously given us two days with you, but now God has decided to bring you home to Him. I come back in the room and tell everyone to lay you on your back, with your feet up. You’re not really responsive, except the winces when we move you. I know I have to ask the question again, ‘Do I need to tell Peyton to come home?’ Your eyes flicker and you mouth the word, ‘Yes’. My eyes well up…I knew you were dying, but now you know it, too.

‘Peyton, you need to come home,’ I say. I don’t have the right answers for her questions and can’t articulate what I want to say…but, in hindsight, I think that’s because I don’t want to say it. My sister is confused and I have to hand the phone to Chad to explain. How do I tell her you’re actively dying? What words of comfort are there for someone who is across the country and helpless? I sit in the formal living room and look around the roomeverything is you. The paintings, the blue and white vases, the rugs, the pillows…everything. I hear Chad talking to Peyton and then dad. I watch their somber faces and how slowly they’re moving. Everyone knows now. My sister and her family book the next flight out of Boston.

Cheri is making chicken parmesan in the kitchen. I think she knows the next couple of days are going to be long. Dad is slowly starting to update your closest friends and family. I think I hear some are planning on coming down from Oklahoma to see you (say goodbye). Lisa and Jim are here now. They’re shaken after seeing how much you have declined. I look at you, you look uncomfortable. It’s time for your medications. I give them to you and ask if you want to get in your bed and you nod. I start to cry, because something is telling me you won’t be leaving your bed once we get you there.

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We move you and make you comfortable. Dad and I notice your Foley catheter bag is empty. We look at each other with tears in our eyeswe both know your kidneys are shutting down. I stay with you. My head is in your lap and I play every Beatles song I can find. In this moment, I wish you could just stroke my hair or hold my hand like you used to. I want you to comfort me, I need you to comfort me. But you can’t and never will again. It makes me angry, but soon anger turns to sadness. How many times can a heart shatter in a matter of two days? It’s a silly question to ask myself, since my heart has been breaking since I was twenty-three.

Cheri has Kristen on the phone, she holds her up to your ear and Kristen tells you how she loves you, wishes she could be here, and reminisces on funny memories. Chad has his parents on the phone, he holds them up to your ear and they tell you how lucky they are to have met you and become a part of our family, and they love you. I have Peyton on the phone, I hold her up to your ear and she tells you how much she loves you and is coming home. You can’t talk but I know you can hear all of them, I know it’s comforting to you. Jill is here now, a gut feeling has made her come home early from the lake. That feeling was God.

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We’re sitting around the table and I’m debating with my family on whether or not I should go to my new treatment tomorrow morning. ‘Your mom would’ve wanted you to go.’ ‘You’ve been waiting for months to get into this treatment.’ But how in the world can I leave your side right now? I’ve been with you from the beginning, and can’t bear to think about not being there in the end. I think back to how happy you were when I signed up for this new treatment…all the questions you asked and hope it brought you. You were proud of me. That is the one and only reason I choose to go.

Monday, August 3rd:

Early in the morning, I come downstairs and get in bed with you. Your breathing is worse. Labored, agonal breaths. I’m scared. I know today could be the day. I squeeze your hand and snuggle in next to you. I know this might be the last time I get to talk to you. So, as tears stream down my face, I tell you how much you mean to me, how great of a mother you were to us, how you are my best friend, how I’ll never laugh the same with anyone else. You have touched so many lives, and things are never going to be the same without you. The last thing I tell you is I’ll be back in two hours, and to wait for me. You flutter your eyes and try to squeeze my hand. You hear me. I squeeze you one last time, kiss your cheek, tell you I love you, and leave.

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I cry on the way to my appointment. I cry talking to the doctor. I check in with dad during the treatment and he tells me things are still the same. It’s a relief. Chad picks me uphe has no new news. Five minutes later, I see dad’s phone number pop up on Chad’s dashboard. My heart sinks. Chad looks at me and before he can say anything I click to accept the call. ‘She’s breathing once per minute, try to hurry.’ No, no, no. This isn’t how it was supposed to go. I am supposed to be there. You are supposed to wait for me. I’m not supposed to be twenty minutes away from you. I kick and scream and sob. I know I’m not going to make it in time. This is my worst nightmare. I hate myself for going to this appointment. I’m supposed to be there. I sob and yell the whole way to Plano.

As we pull onto our street, I jump out of the still-moving car and start running to the front door. Cheri opens it. Her face is white and somber. I know I haven’t made it in time. I keep running, through the hallway and the living room to your room. You are gone. I jump on the bed and cradle your head in my arms and sob something terrible. My tears are pouring over your face. I ask you to come back. I tell you how sorry I am for not being there. I tell you I love you. I can tell there are other people in the room now but I don’t care, I continue to sob and rock back and forth with you in my arms. Then I can hear a priest starting to pray over you and all I want is for him to stop. This is making it too real.

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I don’t know how long I hold onto you for, but it must be a while, because our hospice nurse kindly asks if she can bathe you. I let you go and your head tilts to the side with your mouth agapeyour skin has a yellow tint to it. This was the part I was most scared of…seeing you like this. You really are gone. I step out of your room and sob some more. This must be a dream. The next couple of hours are a blur. People coming and going. Text messages and phone calls. People making plans to bring food. Sometime during the chaos, Becca has done your hair and makeupshe knows you would’ve wanted that. I walk into your room and I can’t even begin to explain how beautiful you look. Your face is smooth and glowing. The makeup is subtle, yet elegant. Your body is relaxed and at peace. You are, in every sense of the word, an angel.

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As I look at you, I find myself yearning to feel some sort of relief. I want to be happy you’re no longer suffering. But I’m not happy. I want you here with me. I want one last joke. I want one last laugh. I want one last hug. I want one last ‘I love you.’ I want you back. It’s not fair. I’m mad. I hate this. I hate everything about it. You’re not coming back to me. There isn’t going to be one last joke. There isn’t going to be one last laugh. There isn’t going to be one last hug. There isn’t going to be one last ‘I love you.’ I cry and scream into my pillow after they take you away in that horrible, black body bag. You’re not supposed to be gone.

I think back to our conversation in Maine. The time when you asked me to promise you I’d be okay. I promised, but I lied. I don’t think I’m ever going to be okay without you.”

Courtesy of Chandler

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Chandler of Texas. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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