Goodbye Sweet Christine
I glance down at my watch 9:30 pm. A yawn creeps up the back of my throat, as my bottom jaw fights to keep it from escaping. The tears well as the I battle against the power of the yawn, it wins and my mouth cracks wider as my lower lip stretches into a wide ‘O’ insisting my upper lip join in.
I look across the bed, Joe stroking Moms arm gently ‘shhing’ her between her winces of pain and soft groans. Likewise, I repeat the gentle caress along the length of her very cool thumb. Behind me Christine’s breaths are raspy almost rattling, she’s been sleeping for days.
Me: Do you hear Christine?
Me: Christine, can you hear her breathing?
Joe: (hesitating to listen) … oh … yea …
Me: That doesn’t sound good …
Joe: (shaking his head lightly the corner of his mouth turning into a frown) it’s not …
Me: (swallowing hard) … is that what they refer to as the ‘death rattle’?
He doesn’t respond he lowers his head and looks at Mom. I look over my shoulder, craning my neck to try to watch her. I saw her Tuesday night when I stopped in to feed Mom her dinner. She was laying peacefully in her bed, she seemed to be drifting off to sleep, the tame flutter of her eyelashes the only motion coming from her bed. I had stopped by her bed to carefully gave her warm hand a light squeeze and quick hello. She barely responded. Now on this late Sunday night I watch an Aide stop by her bed to swab her mouth.
I return my attention to Mom, the morphine, or ‘magic juice’ as I’ve coin phrased it, seems to have taken her pain. Joe is watching her closely as a yawn creeps over his face.
Me: how ya doing ….
Joe: Ok … I think we can head out soon, she seems more comfortable now.
Me: when you’re ready.
We sit for a bit longer, as the exchange of ‘catchy’ yawns between becomes our que that it is time for our own rest.
Joe: I think she’s ok … let’s head out.
I nod and stand, I lean in and kiss her forehead.
Me: Hey Pea 1 … Pea 2 here don’t give Yolanda a hard time tonight … (I kiss her forehead) … I love you …
I step back and let Joe come around to my side of the bed. He adjusts her blanket, tucking her arms under the soft fabric. He leans in kissing her brow and whispering his love.
As Joe shuts down the light over Moms bed, I turn to head towards the door. I hesitate at Christine’s bed for a split second, her breathing still the same. I look down not liking the feeling that is creeping over me. Joe slides his hand in mine as we walk through the room’s door. The hallway is quiet something I rarely have heard in this unit, the sweet escape of slumber has taken hold of the residents, an escape I can’t wait to find myself… …
The sun is bright and warm on our backs as the doors slide open, we step through the arriving with the receptionist exchanging pleasantries with her. Joe picks up the pen and signs us into the guest book as we both look up at the clock … 8:15 am.
The hallways are filled with a bustle, quite the contrast of what we left behind less than 12 hours ago.
Behind the door of the Star Unit Kathy is standing the window looking out. Joe punches the code into the wall pad and the soft click allows us entry, he gently pushes the door open. He stops with it partially ajar.
Joe: Well …. Good Morning!
I squeeze in between the doors, and push the door closed while Kathy is looking intensely at me. Doris, I discover is the reason we can’t open the door more than 18 inches, her wheelchair is almost against the door.
Me: Good Morning Ladies … we’re up early!
Doris: dat wought, (pointing to the door) gow outaaa!
Me: Not now Doris, breakfast is coming soon (look up, Joe is already gone around the corner and in Moms room)
Doris: Noooo, gow outtttt … (pointing at the door with her eyebrows knit tight)
I recognize her frustration and decide to defuse is quickly … a soft touch always works well with Doris. Kathy stands over us staring down at us.
Me: Hey beautiful I love your head band today it’s so sparkly! (I brush my hand along Doris’ cheek)
Doris: (Her eyes pop wide open and a smile crosses her face as she strokes her head) da boda …
Me: Doris, I need to see Mom, I’ll catch up with you soon
Doris: da boda doonnnn …
Me: Yes soon …
I don’t have the patience or the strength to try to understand her right now … I lightly squeeze her hand and walk to Mom’s room. I pass the Aide leaving as I enter.
Joe is already at her bedside talking to Mom softly, I pass Christine’s bed and notice the silence. I place my bag on the dresser and turn to look at Christine, I watch intensely for a moment and start to step towards her bed.
Me: Is Christine breathing?
I take a step closer; I’m scared ... I look towards Joe. His face has fallen. I gather some strength and find myself at her side, I can’t touch her …. So, I place my hand near her mouth.
Me: Honey I don’t feel any … any air moving …
I step back as Joe moves to the bedside; he places his hand on her neck, two fingers doing what he does, looking for a pulse. As he pulls his hand away the Aide steps into the room. Joe looks up at her and shakes his head.
Joe: (nodding toward the door he addresses the aide) She’s still warm but she’s gone.
I feel as wave come over me that I can’t identify. My eyes burn … I look down at my feet and turn quickly to go to Moms side.
I sit for a moment and watch the Aide pull the curtain around Christine’s bed, as Joe takes up residency on the other side of the Mom’s bed. I hear whispering behind the curtain ... As I look down at Mom, a quiet sob escapes my throat, as I pull her hand to my lips holding it tight,
Joe and I return for our third visit of the day, it’s important to make sure Mom is comfortable, it is essential that I be the rock my Prince needs me to be. I look out the window as the rain falls, it’s turning out to be Mom’s favorite kind of day … I return my gaze to Mom, she seems comfortable that should bring me peace … Still, my heart hurts … Christine was a warm and special soul, she lit up when I called her name. Despite all her challenges, smile filled her eyes when she looked at me.
A gift I will never forget, during a journey that has been so challenging
So on this day when most of the world is celebrating the end of Summer ... I celebrate the end of a beautiful life .... Rest in Peace our angelic Christine …
I learn later that day that Christine has fought a long fight, battles of cancer, strokes and falls dating back to 1994. Her husband Tony at her side the entire time.