Wednesday, June 08, 2005


I finally completed a project on my To-Do list yesterday: I met with the assisted care facility General Manager to express our thanks for all that she did for JoMama. Two months after the fact, I was finally ready to discuss mom's death with one of the two people who were with her at the time.

I'm so thankful that I did. The conversation went something like this:

Jill: We truly thought mom was going to get better before she got worse. Your telephone call to tell us that she was dying was a complete shock.

GM: Jill, every person here was stunned that afternoon. Usually, we know in advance when someone is passing away. It can take days or weeks. I can honestly tell you that in all the years that I have done this job - and being the nature of what I do, I see a lot of people pass away - this was the fastest and most peaceful passing that I have ever seen.

Jill: I'm so grateful for that. I just wish I knew what happened. What caused her death? Just the week before one doctor predicted mom would live for at least 3 months while yet a different doctor projected 3 to 8 years.

GM: I talked to the discharge planner when your mom was hospitalized that very last time. They didn't expect her to live long enough to be discharged.

Jill: No one told me that.

GM: Your mom had esophageal varices, which is bleeding in the throat.

Jill: I know. She had surgery for that.

GM: We've had many liver patients with esophageal varices here in the hospice program. What typically happens is that they start hemorrhaging blood out of their mouth. It's like a murder scene, Jill. Blood sprays out everywhere and there's nothing that can be done to stop it. The patient eventually bleeds out and dies. It's a horrible thing. They know exactly what is happening.

Jill (sobbing): I didn't know.

GM: It's very traumatic for the patient, the family and the staff.

Jill: Mom told Denise that the liver disease would cause a "horrific death," but she didn't share the details and I couldn't find specifics on the Internet. We didn't realize...

GM: Your mom was ready to go, Jill. A lot of times we see patients struggle at the very end. Not your mom. She literally put a smile on her face, closed her eyes and died.

And in that moment, a transcontinental shift occurred. My heart recalibrated from abject grief to utter relief. I finally understood why mom was so distraught when she had nosebleeds or bleeding gums. It seemed irrational at the time, but she knew something that the rest of us didn't realize. Mom had a 70% chance of bleeding to death through her mouth.

Lucky Break.
A final gift from God.

My mother's death was all of that. And I am profoundly grateful.