These past few weeks have brought us a pretty large dose of both. Beginnings are cheerful, let’s start there.
David had his aortic valve in his heart replaced yesterday, in a remarkable process where they literally thread the new valve, safely tucked away in a catheter, up through the femoral artery from his groin to his heart, then “pop” that baby into place, pushing out the old malfunctioning valve, and poof — renewed heart.
We take this stuff so “for-granted” these days, but when you think about it, it’s pretty amazing. This particular form of valve replacement has been done in Europe for quite a while, here in the states for some 5 or 6 years [edit–for about 2 years, only 1 year at the University hospital here], and slightly oddly is still considered to be the “less optimal” option by Medicare, notwithstanding less risk, HUGELY less recovery time for the patient, and a whole host of other attractive features. Go figure.
David didn’t initially “qualify” and we thought we were in for open-heart surgery. The first surgeon who reported this to us was so matter-of-fact about it that we both just nodded and went “okay.”
It took a week or two of our various research and reading and basically “processing” the realities of open-heart surgery for us both to come up — independently and pretty simultaneously — with the decision we needed to re-open this conversation and convince them that he needed this less-invasive procedure.
We succeeded and have been anticipating this procedure ever since. He was originally “scheduled” (using the term loosely) for the *first* of May, and it was only shortly before that when they broke the news to us that the necessary anesthesiologist wasn’t available then, so it would have to be pushed to the 29th. (There are multiple anesthesiologists involved in this complex procedure, but one that is particularly unique and, as it turned, out, unavailable. Such is life.)
Part of the complication here is that most “catheter” procedures like angiograms and the like are done in a specially prepared “cath lab” but for for this more elaborate procedure, they actually have to convert an operating room into both O.R. *and* cath lab — “just in case” you know. If things go wrong, they need to be able to crack you open. And they only do this elaborate conversion twice a month.
So, finally his date came but when we went for pre-op tests the day before surgery, there were some potential problems. A plan was put in place to do all we could to still *potentially* go through with the surgery, but then would you believe it, the magical “live x-ray” machine that lets them see inside your body from the outside BROKE.
Yep, broke. Nothing but static. Luckily it broke BEFORE they’d actually embarked on any surgery, so it was an inconvenience, not a tragedy.
For the initial potential problem we’d been told he’d be in line for just the following week, but now with the broken machine, the other procedure they would have done that day got “his” slot and he was pushed back for three more weeks.
Can you say “frustrating”? To his credit, he took it well. And, as life sometimes has a way of doing, things worked out because in the intervening weeks, we were faced with endings.
A week before his scheduled date of the 29th, we’d enrolled Mom in hospice. At the time it wasn’t so much that we really thought her end was that nearly upon us, but rather that she finally “qualified” and there are some wonderful services that go along with hospice (including the most amazing harpist — yes! — who comes to your house and plays the harp.) Although our initial intake nurse had her own beliefs that Mom wouldn’t be with us long, we were still hopeful and, in fact, in a couple of days after antibiotics for some lung gunk, she really did seem to be a good bit better.
That turned out to be a final and somewhat false “rally” and right after that she was clearly in a decline that one had to think was probably her final one. It seemed clear that her body was getting ready to release her, that her time in physical form was coming to an end.
Ironically, a full week before the actual final event, I woke in the early morning hours to realize I hadn’t heard a single peep out of her through the monitor. The next couple of hours passed, and as I dozed in the pre-dawn I came to grips with the “fact” that she had passed on during the night. It all fit, and I felt ready to deal with it. (No, I didn’t leap up out of bed at 4:45 am to check. If she really was gone she would still be gone at 7 am.)
But wait, around 6:45 when I was getting ready to get up, I heard her cough. Okay. Not quite gone yet.
But for me that couple of hours of “processing” proved to be key to the next week. I had faced it. Now when it finally did come, I’d be ready.
She never got out of bed after that, and was luckily pretty doze-y and didn’t seem to be suffering. The wondrous granddaughter Avila came in once and waved her magic butterfly-princess wand over her to help her tummy feel better, and in fact that part of her DID feel much better over the next day, so we’re all for butterfly-princess-power. Of course, the larger picture was likely somewhat beyond the power of those wings or wand. It’s a tough one, with one so young who in the long-term won’t remember this, but in the short term is clearly keenly aware of her GaGa — how (and even *what*) do you explain. We’re still working on that one.
Hospice was wonderful and we benefited, I know, by our acceptance over the past months that “Mom” was basically already gone. It definitely made it easier to let go of her physical body.
And so, in the early morning of Sunday, 2 June, her body did, indeed, finally release her from this physical form. I am comforted to know that her spirit — which has been so confused in these past months as she lost any knowing of who we were, or even finally who she was — has reunited with Daddy, with my baby brother David, her sister Dinny, her own parents, and certainly many others waiting to greet her on the other side.
I’ve often said over the past year or two that I was “half-prepared” on any given morning to go in to get her up and find that she’d slipped away during the night. I did discover that there’s a lot to that “other half” — lt was still gut-wrenching in some ways. And I know for my brother, too, where distance can keep alive the feeling that things will “continue on” for a while longer. Sometimes almost harder, I think, for those loved ones further away. At least here, when you’re right in the thick of it, the course of nature seems more, well, natural.
But so it goes, right? The circle of life continues, and my mom’s life had become a very small circle indeed. I have to believe that her essential essence, her spirit, is far happier to be released from the prison of the damage to her brain, and be back with others who have gone before.
There are some weird “side-effects” of all this. Although there were clearly expenses associated with our taking care of Mom, some didn’t “disappear” with her passing — the house we’d rented in order to accommodate all of us, for instance, is still here. So I’ve got some scrambling to do to replace a net loss of household income. But, we’ve always managed before; I’m absolutely certain we’ll manage now. (Hey, if you know someone who needs a writer/website designer/blogger — speak up!!)
As we know… life goes on. In our case, a particularly poignant reminder with both a renewed life and a departing one. It reminds us to always keep our loved ones in our hearts, say “I love you” often, live each day as though it might be your last…. we send to you all our loving wishes for your great happiness, in whatever circumstances life gives you.