Chapter 1::Part II
I can’t remember exactly what time it was when the phone rang that night, but I was the only one in the house still awake. “Mrs. Hunter,” the nurse said, “your father has been taken by ambulance to the emergency room….we could not wake him and his blood pressure is very low.”
Over the next 2 days, I rarely left the hospital. My brother’s wife, my nephew and I took turns staying by daddy’s side while the doctors treated him for sepsis, an infection that had spread throughout his body – most likely from the cut he had received on his arm earlier in the week. We prayed, we sang, we adjusted his pillows, and wiped his feverish brow. We told him often how much we loved him – but he never woke up.
My nephew’s little girls were in the waiting room with the rest of the family when we came to tell them that Pops, as he was affectionately called, had gone to be with the Lord. “Did you see the angels?” Kari asked. I could see the smiles on the faces of strangers across the room. “Angels for my daddy at Christmas.” I treasured the thought.
As a family we left to tell mother. Not sure daddy would make it through that first night, we had taken her to the hospital to see him, but it had been very difficult on her physically. She did not ask us to take her back, and we didn’t offer. When we told her that daddy was gone, we talked about his freedom from emphysema and Alzheimer’s – that he was no longer struggling to breathe or remember, and holding hands around her bed, we sang together….”When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing it will be….”
Louis and the boys returned home that evening, but Emily and I stayed. behind. The first thing mother asked when we went to see her the next morning was, “Have you seen your dad today?” I was stunned! I knew she was having short-term memory loss, but was shocked to realize that she would forget that daddy had died.
“Remember, mom…remember yesterday, when we rejoiced that daddy isn’t suffering any more because he is now in heaven?” But she didn’t remember….and every day we had to have the same conversation over again. Eventually I stopped telling her. It didn’t seem fair to make her grieve anew every time. When she asked about dad, I simply told her that I had not seen him.
We did take mother to daddy’s funeral. My sister in law and I helped the nurses get her dressed and I witnessed just how much she was continuing to decline. She could not remember how to brush her teeth or that she needed to spit out the rinse water. It amplified my grief over daddy’s death to realize that I was also losing my mother.
Emily and I continued to spend most of the next week in my parents’ apartment as I tended to legal affairs. We discussed mother’s condition with her physicians and rehab center/nursing home staff and the decisions regarding mother’s long-term care that needed to be made with my brother and nephew. Though they did not tell us at the time, the nursing home staff had already determined that mother was not going to improve and needed to move out of rehab and into the nursing home.
Emily and I went home for a few days, and the following weekend we all returned to see how mother was doing. My sister in law had been visiting mother often and helping her with her meals when she could, but just being away from my mother for a few days, it was obvious that she was not getting the food and water she needed. If mother didn’t ask for a drink of water, the nurses didn’t offer it, and her food tray had apparently being removed more than once without her eating a bite. Mother had become so dehydrated that her skin had started to slough, and in just a week, she had developed bed sores on both heels. She was not getting the care she needed.
“Your dad and I want to move your grandmother in with us,” I told the children that evening as we gathered for prayer back home. They had wanted Pops and Grandmother to move in with us months before, but this was different. We would need to make major adjustments in our home to be able to care for mother now. We were not surprised when one of them bravely asked, “Could she die here?”
Three days before Christmas, a medical transport van delivered my mother to our home. Mother’s room needed to have easy access to a bathroom, and be large enough to accommodate a hospital bed and other necessary equipment, so Louis and I moved out of the master bedroom to sleep in Emily’s room and Emily slept on the living room couch. It was almost a year before we could enclose the front porch so Emily could move off the couch and into a bed.
The adjustments we made in our living and sleeping arrangements were just the beginning, as our lifestyle was altered drastically by my mother’s 24/7 needs. It took two to three hours every morning to medicate, bathe, dress, and feed her breakfast. We used a Hoyer Lift to move her from her bed into a Geri Chair, a kind of lounge chair on wheels, and then back into bed for an afternoon nap, a diaper change, or just to take the pressure off of her back and bottom for a while. For several weeks, she also required physical therapy, catheter care and treatment for her bedsores.
As a family and with help from others, we took meticulous care of my mother. Her bed sores healed, we kept her and her clothes and bedding soft and clean, we offered her food and liquids at frequent and regular intervals, and we loved on her constantly until she, too, joined my father in heaven a year and half later.
Washing the Feet of the Saints is not just our story, but the stories of many families who have chosen to bring loved ones into their homes at a time when a nursing home seemed to be the only option. They are love stories offering hope and encouragement seasoned with grace for those who continue to wash feet today and for those who will be called to do so tomorrow.