Mom's plan seemed to be working. Her illness brought out the best in her family. Every get-together was an event. Every occasion seemed to evolve into a full-blown celebration. The summer BBQ's were more zestful, the Block Parties were galas. Thanksgiving that year was a joint effort, with Mom in the lead. But she was tiring. She was falling victim to the evil disease that was trying to sap her life from her.
She and I spent many an evening together, just she and I. Without trying to sound like I'm blowing my own horn, I had become her best friend outside of her own family. We'd talk about everything. I was always able, no matter what, to turn her moods around, time after time. She'd always gotten my silliness. I'd always listen attentively, play devil's advocate where needed, and just be a good set of ears for her to talk to. Then I'd say something Stupid, and get her laughing before she went to sleep. I'd always get a big hug when it was time for me to go.
Christmas 1994 was the first real sign to me that the prognosis was apparently accurate. Christmas was when Mom was at her best. She decorated like no one else I knew. She'd always put 100% into every single gift, every card, every cookie she baked. Her energy was waning, but the kids, and in particular B., were maintaining their optimism. It didn't occur to any one of them that this would be their last Christmas with Mom. It was killing me to know what I knew, every time one of them said that Mom looked good, or seemed better.
Strangely enough, just after New Year's Day 1995, Mom was given a regimen of Prednisone to help her breathe. I don't know the exact timing of events, but about the middle of January, she looked hale, hearty and healthy. One weekend evening, she and I were prepping one of our Seafood Dinner specialties, with music playing in the background. One by one, the kids came to the house. At one point, some lively music came on and Mom danced with everyone. True to form, she and I did some comic version of a waltz, with me grabbing at the shrimp and scallops whenever the turns allowed for it. She'd whack me one every time I did that.
Everyone remarked how well she looked. The Prednisone had bulked her up a little, and she'd gotten color in her cheeks again. The night was wonderful, the meal was delicious, and everyone went home happy. I remember that night in particular, because B. had made all kinds of plans with her Mom, and was going on and on, in the car, about how her Mom seemed to have this disease licked. It took every ounce of my self control not to tell her the truth. But when you loved Mom, knew her the way the way I did, you respected her wishes.
I didn't have quite the grasp on how big a price that oath would come with in terms of my marriage.
Mom's respite didn't last long. Within days of our little party, Mom needed to be hospitalized. She needed to be carried from the house. The initial report was pneumonia; soon after that though, her condition worsened. I could see her visits with her children as her own goodbyes to them. She was making peace with them.
The last day of Mom's life, I was at work. Shortly before noon, B. called me at the office. She told me that her Mom was really sick, that the Doctor on call there had told her that Mom's time was very limited now, down to days, or even hours now.
B asked me if I would come to the hospital, as she, her Dad, brother and sister could no longer see their Mom that way, but they didn't want to risk leaving her alone. I left the job immediately to head to the hospital.
I got there shortly, and went right to Mom's room. B and the others kissed Mom, who was unconscious now. They said they would be back later in the day or early evening. I sat in Mom's room quietly.
She seemed to be very uncomfortable. She was not lying still, despite being apparently comatose. The doctor who spoke to me told me that this state was brought about by blood levels of calcium or something like that. What he did make clear was that Mom was literally in the last hours of her life. The nurses came in, freshened Mom up, made her bed and tucked her in. It seemed to make her comfortable, and she lied still after that.
Around 5 that evening, the nurses came in, said that they needed to take Mom downstairs for a CAT scan. They suggested I go too. They wheeled Mom to the elevator with me following. They left the two of us in a quiet hallway to wait for the scan. I stood looking down at her lying there. I held her hand. My amateur medical knowledge said that she could probably hear me so I just spoke occasionally to her and held on to her hand.
She opened her eyes and looked at me a moment. She took a deep breath, then gasped. She looked right at me, then closed her eyes. She took a couple of shallow breaths, then stopped breathing. I watched her a moment or two, before I realized what had happened. I called for some help, but I knew what happened. When the CAT scan tech came out I told him that apparently Mom had died. He got some people involved, and then a doctor came to Mom's side, checked her, and noted the time. Mom was gone.
Her life was over, but I didn't know that something else was beginning to reach the end of its life starting at that moment as well. The worst was over, but the worst was yet to come as well.