65 of them married to her first love. Her only love. The man she’d spend her entire adult life with. The only man she ever looked at according to her daughter.
62 of those years spent taking care of her babies. Four of them, three boys and a girl. The children she doted over from the day each was born. Her mothering instinct would never leave her. Her oldest three were already retired, with great grandchildren of their own.
5 years spent grieving the death of her husband and best friend.
7 months living with pancreatic cancer. Dealing with constant pain that never could completely be controlled. Slowly but surely realizing that if she chose to remain in her home, she would have to allow her children to take care of her… Their roles would be reversed.
When we arrived at Rita’s home, it was just her and her adult children.
In hushed tones they explained the situation: She was very weak. She wasn’t able to keep food down anymore. She was in so much pain, yet she was refusing her pain meds. There were times where she wouldn’t be able to catch her breath, even with the nasal cannula and 50 feet of oxygen tubing. They were all in tears, at their wits end. They wanted to take care of her so badly, but she was refusing any comfort they offered her.
I knelt at her bedside, touching her right wrist. I could feel her heart beating away her pulse was a little tachy, her skin was cool. ”Ma’am, my name is Epi… I’m here to take you to Hospice.”
Her eyes slowly closed as she nodded.
“All right, Mrs Benson, I’m going to go get some of your belongings together, I’ll be right back with you.” I gently squeezed her hand.
“Young lady, call me Rita” she whispered.
“Yes, Ma’am. Rita it is. I’ll be right back.” I left her with her daughter and went about gathering some personal effects that might bring her any measure of comfort in an unfamiliar place. Pictures of grandchildren, great grandchildren, even great great grandchildren. A framed picture of her beloved. A quilt that she had made shortly after her wedding. Her house coat and slippers. Her pillow. Her three sons loaded them into a van along with a grocery bag filled with medications, her walker and her wheelchair.
When I returned, Rita was sitting up in her hospital bed with her daughter making a last plea, ”Mom, please take something for pain, the medics said that it can be an uncomfortable ride.”
She just shook her head and mouthed the word “No”. When her daughter asked her if she’d like a sip of water, she refused it. I made eye contact with her frazzled daughter and suggested that maybe she leave the room for a second to help her brothers (and to allow her emotions to settle). She nodded and left quietly.
“Ma’am… Rita… I know that you’ve been hurting, please reconsider. The ride over will be bumpy, the last thing I want is for you to be uncomfortable. Believe me, I’m back there all day, and it’s rough on me, even.”
She whispered, “Do you really think I need it?”
“Okay. If you say so.”
“Rita, My partner and I are going to get you moved over to our stretcher. We’ll cover you up with a blanket and get you comfortable. I’m going to ask your daughter to give you your pain meds, alright?”
Rita’s eyes slowly scanned the room, as if she was saying a silent goodbye to every framed picture, every knick-knack, every memory that she had made with her family there.
We gave her a moment to gather herself then we moved her gently to our stretcher.
The ride in the back of the squad was bumpier than I had anticipated. I think we hit every pothole and crack in the road between that farm house and the facility.
“Rita, how are you feeling? Are you warm enough?” I had shut down the a/c and her hands still felt cold, her nails beds dusky.
“I could use a blanket, Annie. Be a dear?” She was looking at me, but she wasn’t seeing me…. It took me a second to realize who Annie was. Annie was Rita’s daughter. Annie was not in the back of the truck, she was two cars behind us crying in her car.
I grabbed two blankets and covered Rita up. ”Rita, Annie’s not here, she’ll meet us over at–” I stopped speaking when she reached up with a shaky hand to brush my bangs out of my eyes. It was a simple movement on her part. A simple every day thing that a Mom does to her daughter. My Mom had done it to me countless times. She’s still does it today and I’m 34-years-old.
“Annie, how many times have I told you to keep your hair out of your eyes? Just like when you were a little girl.” Her voice cracked.
I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I did the only thing that came naturally. I just smiled. ”I guess I need to work on that still.” I adjusted the O2 running to her n/c, increasing it just a bit.
“Did you turn the lights off?” Rita asked.
“Yes,” I nodded.
“Did you lock the front door?”
I nodded again.
“Good girl.” She closed her eyes and lay her head back on the stretcher.
“You taught us well.” I whispered.