How To Potty Train A 1 1/2 Year Old Boy Caring For a Dying Parent – Do the Right Thing

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Caring For a Dying Parent – Do the Right Thing

A week after Christmas 2009, I got a call from one of my mom’s friends that mom had a stroke. This was a problem because my mom lived in northern Arkansas and I live in Houston. My son and I left the next morning, on the road at 11 o’clock. When we got there and visited her in the hospital, I felt something was wrong. The nurses didn’t give us any information and told us to come back to the hospital at 6am to talk to the doctor.

I was very sad to see my once robust and brave mother turn into a weak woman with the obvious physical effects of a stroke. Luckily, the stroke was only minor and didn’t affect her mentally, but it was a game changer. If she hadn’t had a stroke, I wouldn’t have seen her for months since I just visited her that summer. We spoke on the phone once a week, but she was not open about her health.

My mother and I were not that close, in fact she had spent less than two weeks with me in the more than 30 years since I graduated college, with the exception of six months living with me at my house in 2000 when she was going through a traumatic divorce at age 70. But this was the time to put the past aside, forget history and focus on the present, today.

The next morning, my son and I walked down the hall to my mother’s hospital room to meet with the doctor. Although my son was 23 years old, I wanted to prepare him. I remember saying, “whatever the news is, we’ll handle it.” Her doctor appeared and before entering her room, he told us bluntly, “Your mother has cancer. She has cancer of the liver and brain.” I was shocked, but I immediately asked, “How much time is there?” He replied, “I wouldn’t estimate more than 60 days.” That diagnosis hit me like a ton of bricks.

My son looked at me and I said, “Well she’s coming back to Texas with us.” We all took a deep breath and went to my mother’s room. She asked the doctor and he told her the news. She replied, “I’m glad you told me the truth. I can handle it.” The doctor advised her to spend time with us and she obeyed him. This was unusual because my mother was very independent and made it clear to me that she wanted to be alone. I am an only child, my mother was divorced and her only brother died a few years ago. She had friends, but this was a family situation and that’s me.

The doctor met us again in the lobby and thanked me for taking her home. I thought that was very strange, but he said that many people don’t want to deal with death and put their parents in nursing homes. It wasn’t a problem, she was my mom and it was one of those moments where you just step up and do the right thing.

Over the next 48 hours, my son and I prepared to take mom home. Thanks to her many friends, we were able to find someone to take care of her home, find new owners for her six beloved cats, pack essentials and fond memories into our SUV, and take her 14-year-old labrador with us. In Houston, my husband handled the logistics of setting up a hospice. My son and I spent New Year’s Eve at a late dinner, grateful for the opportunity to be with Mom when she needed us most.

The next morning I went to Walmart and bought my mother’s first adult diapers so I could travel comfortably. I remember thinking that this was no way to start the New Year.

Early Friday morning, we wrapped Mom up warmly, took her on one last visit to her home, said goodbye to friends and neighbors as we headed back to Texas. The drive back was even longer, especially since we had to stop several times for meals, gas refills and bio-breaks.

For the first few nights, Mom slept comfortably as she wished in the recliner, but soon our master bedroom sitting area became her room. The hospice provided all the necessities: a hospital bed, a potty and an oxygen machine. We were lucky to be able to have mom with us, just a few steps away when she needed help. The hospice team included medical staff, a psychologist, caregivers and a minister. They took care of all the paperwork so we could focus on spending time with my mom. They brought supplies and ordered equipment.

I had no experience working with a dying parent. Nor am I very skilled in medical procedures, but the hospice staff took the time to teach me how to handle medications and be aware of the stages of death and dying. It was very emotional and within a few weeks my mother went from a mobile phone to a bed. I developed a great respect for people who work with the chronically ill or the dying. It is very tiring and emotionally draining. Luckily, my son would come a few times a week and my husband and I could take a much needed 1-2 hour break.

I made her plates with a few bites of yogurt, fresh fruit, oatmeal, fruit and vegetables. I had plates that had little sayings on them, so I encouraged her to finish the small meals to read the plate. It was a fun little game that she enjoyed. I cut her hair and she was happy with her new hairstyle. And she loved the new clothes I bought her, warm shirts and Pjs and soft slippers.

My daughter flew in to see her and we spend last weekend together. I was so proud of my daughter’s gentle nature. Although we couldn’t get my mom to recall the family history, it was time well spent. It was transformative for my daughter to see her impending death as just another phase of life.

I was also grateful to the caregiver at the hospital who came twice a week to shower her, make her bed, brush her teeth and wash her hair. She was gentle, friendly and patient with my mother. It also gave me a few hours of “free time” to sit back and relax at home.

Perhaps the biggest problem was my mother’s moaning at night. This started during her last two weeks while she was still alert and communicating with us. The terrible throat sound was very disturbing to me and my husband. The hospice nurse told us that she was most likely in emotional pain. My mother rejected religion most of her life, but she decorated her house with pictures of Christ and Mary. She asked us to bring her favorite pictures with us to decorate her room.

My mom declined time to speak with the hospice minister, but seemed to enjoy herself as he sang her some praises. But when the nocturnal wailing continued, I decided to contact a Catholic friend. She arranged for a priest to come and pray with her. My mother responded with a smile, thanked him and looked calm as he left. That night the moaning stopped, I believe her emotional pain was healed.

The next day my friend came and recited the rosary to my mom. My mom was much weaker, but she smiled again and shook her hand in thanks. I believe my mother has finally found religion and her time on earth is over. The next day my mom went into transition. Since I work from home, I took our phones and set them up as a baby monitor to listen to her breathing while I was in my office, just a few steps away. I would go in and talk to her and tell her she was loved, but it was okay to let her go. Her body was leaking, her hands had a funny smell which the nurse explained was a sign. Late Friday night, January 30, 2009, she simply stopped breathing. My husband felt the change.

We called the hospital and they sent a nurse to confirm her death. According to their instructions, we arranged for the funeral home to come and collect her body. Everyone treated her with respect. After they loaded her into the hearse, my husband and I went back to her room. A rose was left in her bed.

We sat down and cried. The experience brought us closer. We have started the process of returning to normal life. The hospice has not forgotten us. After the paperwork was completed, they called us and offered to come to our house if needed. A medical company came by and picked up all the equipment. Our house has been restored to a place for living, not dying.

A year later, what have I learned from the experience?

– Do the right thing. Being with a parent is a real thing. This can be hard if you haven’t had a perfect relationship, but it’s the right thing to do.

– Hospice can teach you to be a good caregiver. Just be instructive.

– Don’t expect the dying experience to be perfect. Nothing in life is perfect so why be different this time?

– Keep a journal and appreciate the moment.

I am at peace with my decision. I am proud of how my son, daughter and husband worked together to make my mom’s final days peaceful and loving. I am proud that we took care of my mother at home, with the help of hospice.

Life takes on a new meaning when you face death. And in the end, all is well.

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