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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The end of mortal Sandra Graves and the beginning of her immortality

The greatest loss in my world occured at 3:15 today. As I type, my eyes burn from lack of sleep but I'm not tired. I don't want to go to sleep only to wake up and have to remember she is gone. I am not sure who I am without my mother. I am no longer a daughter, as my father has forgotten me many months ago. Now, I have to grow up and parent myself.  This isn't to suggest my mother hasn't prepared me to do this only my reluctance to face daily life without the person who first made that life possible and then gave me every opportunity to thrive.

Even though she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer nine months ago, I think it is impossible to prepare for such a shift in inner reality. As I said yesterday, she called me weak, nauseated, and vomiting. It was an ugly day full of pain. I could vent here about the hospice workers and all I feel they ought to have done differently but I don't think that would honor the memory of my mother. She was so gracious and loving or tried to be even when given legitimate complaints. She failed sometimes but then would display stunning acts of generosity and giving of herself. I don't think I will ever be able to do or be as much as she.

We moved her to the hospital last night to attempt to control her pain. My sisters, her best friend, my aunt, and I were there as the Hospice nurse predicted this might be the end. God provided my father's sister, who is a retired RN, to assist us through all of this. She drove six hours yesterday to visit with Mom. Instead, she got to be here to say good-bye and to support us through this time.

 Pancreatic cancer is notorious for causing painful and prolonged deaths.God protected her from this. Her blood pressure registered 64 at that time but she was still alert. My always cold mother complained of feeling hot although her skin felt very cool almost as if cooled by a fan. Her breath began to come in pants. At the hospital, after having the oxygen placed on her nose, she remarked through her pain that she felt like she was in a soap opera. I agreed that she was the star.

My 5'9" sister joked, "okay mom, if this is the soap opera, now is the time you tell us that deep, dark family secret, like how I came to be so tall."

Mom immediately remarked, "a tall German," since my sister's birthplace is Germany. Mom's eyes barely opened as she threw out this joke. I tell my kids the definition of politeness is that you are always concerned about the comfort of the other person. That is what mom did as long as she was conscious. While adjusting her covers at one point, I said, "Mom, I love you so much."

She said, "I love you too." The after a beat she added, "I'm tired of you too," which is the punch line to a joke about an elderly couple and a missing hearing aid. They controlled her pain to the point she could sleep by 3:30 a.m. My sisters, her best friend, my aunt, and I found different spots to wait. We didn't know whether she would rally as she had before or if she would continue to decline. She stopped producing urine and continued to sleep. As the hours passed, the nurses continued to feel hopeful but suggested we let family and friends know this could be the end. Several people begin to arrive after receiving phone calls. My mom and I talked several times in the past about creating a call list but this never occured. So we were calling out of memory, none of us having more than a couple of hours of sleep.

Around 1:30, Jeff came to the hospital and since friends were present, we went to lunch to discuss what to do about dad if Mom didn't make it. We decided it would be best to not tell him. Best case scenario he would remember her, grieve horribly and then forget. Worst case, he would be confused and agitated. After lunch was eaten and we returned to the floor, it wasn't long before it became clear Mom was not going to make it. We gathered around her, her best friend making it in time to lay hands on her too and tell her we loved her. Mom's breaths coming slower and slower, her chest rising less and less until movement stopped.  Then her sweet spirt left us and the world felt lonelier. We all hugged and cried but no amount of tears can take away the ache that keeps reminding me she will never answer my phone call again. As my sister said, I will miss her every day of my life. Sandra Dew Graves exemplified Christian love in all her relationships. I know God is glad to have her home but I sure miss her here.


  1. I don't have the words Nancy...
    Just know that you are so loved and your friends are all thinking about you.

  2. Well said Nancy. Well said. :''(