As I wrote about earlier this month, my mom's sister Janet has been in the hospital this month (she's pictured above, holding my nephew Daniel, in 2004). She died this morning after suffering a serious stroke Monday morning. She went into the hospital earlier this month for a routine bypass surgery on her leg, and she contracted pneumonia. Although it was difficult to see on the x-ray, they detected a mass in her lungs. She elected not to seek further treatment, and made it clear to her family that she didn't want any heroic measures. She briefly went into a rehab facility, but then had a massive stroke and was moved back into the hospital.
Yesterday morning my mom, Nadine, and I went to visit her, as prepared as we could be. My maternal grandmother had a stroke when I was 9 or 10, and she refused all treatment because she was a Christian Scientist. Amazingly, she made a full recovery within a month, before succumbing to a second stroke. I will never forget seeing her slack mouth and body after having the stroke. Still, although I tried to prepare myself, the moment I walked in and saw my Aunt Janet like that, after she was alert just before Christmas, I broke down in tears and couldn't keep it in.
We were so glad to have Nadine with us, because she could ask all the right questions of the doctors and nurses. It is so wonderful to have a doctor in the family at times like this (akin to when Chris was in the NICU). Aunt Janet had taken a turn for the worse overnight and was requiring massive doses of oxygen, yet she was only saturating at 92%. Not good. Even later, when she was oxygenating better, she was really struggling to breathe and her chest was contracting deeply with each breath. She looked very uncomfortable. The CT scan looked awful, as it looked like she had large masses and lots of fluid around her lungs. The doctor told us that they had decided to give her a couple of days of antibiotics to see if she would rally, but after that they would be moving to "comfort care." Aunt Janet had told her sons that if she ever had a stroke, she didn't want any nutrition or any ventilation, etc. She was on saline and antibiotics only, and on great doses of oxygen.
Fortunately, she knew we were there. She was able to murmur noises and once said "no." The speech therapist got her to try to say Mom's name--she asked her if she knew who was there with her, and what was her sister's name. When asked if she was awake, she said yes. At one point, she opened her eyes for several minutes, and Nadine showed her photos of her kids and mine. In the afternoon her sons were there as well, and my dad came in after we called him to let him know it was not looking good. I had not seen my cousins for years, and I always had a special fondness for my cousin Mike (with whom I share a birthday), so it was good to see them and reminisce about Aunt Janet. They seemed to have accepted that Aunt Janet's life was nearing the end.
We were greatly relieved to hear that on Christmas, my cousin's daughter took Aunt Janet to see her daughter, Jan, who is at home on hospice care. This was one of the most distressing things to my family--that mother and daughter were both dying but could not be together, over the holidays. So we are grateful that they could connect one last time.
And as hard as it is on all of us--especially my mom--I feel that this was the way Aunt Janet would have wanted to go. Instead of lingering on, suffering from cancer, feeling that she was a "burden" to her family...she was responsive and aware on her last day, even if she could not communicate much, and she knew she was loved. When I told her I loved her as I kissed her goodbye, I could swear she tried to say "I love you" back to me.
I love serendipity. This quote below was the random "quote of the day" I selected from my blog to post on Facebook. Also, when I started writing this blog post, the perfect song I have posted on my blog playlist began playing (click on "Say Goodbye" on the right-side of my blog, #15, to hear it). We weren't ready to say goodbye, but Aunt Janet was ready to rest.
"But listen to me: for one moment, quit being sad.
Hear blessings dropping their blossoms around you."