When my Mom died ten days ago, the nursing home called immediately to notify me and to ask if I wanted to come up and sit with her and say good-bye before they called the funeral home. I told them I would be right there.
Naturally, five seconds later Squeaker's school called to say he was ill, needed to come home, and they couldn't reach his parents, so could I come? I had just brought hubby home from having his stitches out not ten minutes earlier and he was in no condition to wrangle a toddler into a car seat, so I told them I had a bit of a family emergency going on but that of course I'd be there and hung up the phone. And cried.
Fortunately The Squeak's parents went on break at work and got the messages that they were needed, and called me to let me know they were on their way to get the little man. So after calling my brothers to let them know, I left for the nursing home.
I've been around a lot of death. I've seen the results of struggle - I watched my Dad doing it. But I can say with a certain degree of confidence that Mom let go gently. I sat in her room with her, I don't know how long.....long enough for the first storm to pass and the peace to settle over me.
As I was leaving, the staff asked if I wanted to take her things with me?
I was doing pretty well, but I couldn't, just couldn't! go back into that room and collect what little was in there. Not with her still there.
I asked if I could come back later, and they said that of course I could: They have a storage room for just this reason, and I could come back any time.
Today was the day. I drove over and asked, and then spent the next half hour watching with some bemusement as they struggled to locate my Mom's things. They do, indeed, have a room, but they recently moved it to a new location. Her stuff was neither in the new nor the old storage area. So the very kind gentleman from housekeeping hiked up to her floor with me and the search continued. It was finally determined that her things had been placed in the social worker's office for safekeeping, and this needed a high-security key to be opened. By the end of an hour we had it all located and loaded in my car. (I can't get the money out of her 'bank account' there because the 'bank' is only open about 4 hours a day on weekdays. I'm still working on that.)
It came down to so very little. A couple of knitted afghans. The pretty handmade pillowcases that Hospice gave her. The new TV I bought for her room there. The picture of Citygirl, Mom and me from the wedding last summer. Her phone and her handbag. She didn't even have her own favorite nightgowns and robes because the hip fracture made them impractical.
When I was a little girl, I was never allowed to touch my Mom's purse. It was private, her own, almost sacred; and we were never, ever allowed to open it. But over the past five years I've been in and out of her purse and wallet, paring down the contents for her safety (taking away credit cards and checkbook) and ease (adding appropriate toiletries as needed). By the time she got to the nursing home her wallet held only her pacemaker and heart valve information cards, some loose change, a picture of her youngest grandchild, some Sweet-n-Low and a pen. I pulled them all out today to put away, and found, tucked inside, her nametag from her last job.
Every single item made me weep. Representations of her survival, her family, her struggles, her joys, and her very identity in a pile that fit easily in the palm of my hand. When I was a child I thought the secrets of the Universe must be in a mother's purse.
I may have been right.