A few days after my mom passed away, I got a call from Dr. K, the palliative care doctor we had met with just a few weeks back. As my mother was getting sicker, I had left her a message a bit desperately, confused and grasping for information.
I had left the message on a Thursday, one week after we initially met. My mother passed two days later, and Dr. K called two days after that. After offering her condolences, Dr. K apologized for not getting in touch with me sooner.
Dr. K works part-time, generally Tuesdays to Thursdays. After our initial family meeting, she expected to meet with us a few more times, once it became clear that our mother’s end was imminent. We did not even have her direct contact information yet.
Dr. K could not explain why the facility failed to contact her as my mother rapidly declined. It should have. We then would have had a forum to ask our sensitive questions and should have understood the process better. Maybe I would have gotten there before my mother became unresponsive. Instead, we inadvertently put each nurse we would talk to on the spot and did not understand just how serious things had gotten. And, of course, there was guilt.
Dr. K’s best guess was that someone looked at my mother’s chart and saw that we had just met with the palliative care doctor. The staff member wrongly assumed that the meeting was scheduled to assist the family in making end-of-life decisions, as it is normally done. Had they looked a little further, they would have realized how important it was to involve Dr. K during my mother’s final decline.
Dr. K apologized profusely and said she was going to work on educating the staff better. While none of that would help our family, by this point, we had successfully donated my mother’s brain, made plans for her final resting place, and generally felt at peace. We were okay.
I did share with Dr. K my sadness over the fact that we had not been with my mother in the end, that she passed alone.
Dr. K had an interesting perspective on that. While there is no way to know exactly what it was like for my mother, it seems that she exited her life like she lived it: on her own terms. The timing was crazy. We met with the doctor to discuss where my mother was at and the progression the doctor expected. Nine days later, my mother passed.
Without being woowoo and all, maybe, somehow, my mother decided it was time. It is nice to think of it that way. She waited until she determined we were ready to let her go. Until after my brother figured out the brain donation piece in January. Until after our meeting with Dr. K, who really understood, sadly from her own life experiences, and gave us permission to finally let go of our mother with dignity and love. My mother even held on a little bit longer, giving my brother and me one final, special day with her, our chance to say goodbye.
Dr. K reminded me that we had shared just how independent my mother had always been. She did things unconventionally, her own way. Maybe she decided to leave on her own terms, protecting us one last time, her final act of love.