Sunday, February 18, 2018

Family Time

Family is visiting. Yesterday, my mother had a number of visitors during the day. My sister from Maine, two of her sons, and a grandson showed up around 2 p.m. My brother from Los Angeles came to visit with my sister, her husband, and their daughter. Mostly, my mother slept comfortable and soundly. Occasionally, she would awaken, and would fall back asleep mere seconds later. The morphine is keeping her comfortable.

We spoke to her, rubbed her hair, sang a few songs, and we ate a few freshly baked cookies I brought them. The nursing staff is incredibly compassionate to her and they offer us much consolation. They know the time is near, and they are concerned for our good health and self care.

After visiting her for a while, we decided to go to Worcester to have a cup of hot chocolate. My niece loves hot chocolate so we went to the Birchtree Bread Bakery in Kelly Square. It was a good atmosphere, very festive, and we had good laughs. My niece didn't want hot chocolate after all. Since it was only 4 p.m., I just ordered a cup of coffee for it was too early for my evening meal. Everyone else ordered a hot drink as well, but as we were leaving, everyone grumbled, "We are so hungry. Next time we'll have to eat here." Argh! "Well, if you were hungry, why didn't you order something to eat?" I felt so bad.

My sister and her entourage headed back to Maine, while I took the others out to a new Ramen take-out restaurant in Worcester, called Stix. They opened on Monday and the owner was urging us to try certain dishes. I ordered the Vegetarian Itame, while we also bought Soba noodles, Mongolian Beef, and two Ramen Dishes. Actually, the owner threw in an extra ramen, which was so wise because all the food was consumed quickly.

On Sunday, I went back to see my mother. She was even more restful than the day before. She received a new batch of medication only twenty minutes before we arrived. She did not open her eyes once during our visit, but her eyelids would move slightly as if they were trying to speak to us. 

After eating a few more cookies, we set off to visit the Worcester Art Museum. I wanted to bring them to the Tower Hill Botanic Gardens, but they get sold out in the afternoon. After the Museum visit, we had a coffee at the Bean Counter on Highland Avenue. I am giving my siblings a culinary tour of Worcester like they've never had before.

We drove back to the nursing home and I did not go in to see my mother because I needed to get home and do a few tasks before retiring for the night. It has been an incredible week for deaths and tragedies. One friend's older brother died this week. As he was waiting for his younger brother to join him to go to their brother's wake, we received the news that his younger brother suddenly died.

A colleague's brother died after a battle with a lengthy illness; a friend's father died and was buried on Saturday; that poor young boy died earlier in the week. His wake was so sad. It was amazing to listen to the Vietnamese chanting during the wake. They do take care of each other well. And, of course, seventeen of our children died horrifically in a Florida school. Lent has begun. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Beautiful Soul

My mother was restful today largely because of the morphine she is being administered. While she has always been cold and needed to be covered by many blankets, todays she was covered only by a thin bed linen. The nurses covered her and she threw the blanket off of her. The medication is largely having a positive effect.

We talked for a while and she held my hand. She uttered many words but they often were inaudible and were incoherent. I just soothed her, held her hands, and ran my hands through her hair. She becomes a bit agitated if she takes off the oxygen tube from her nose. As soon as it is placed back on, she begins to calm down. The nurses and the hospice staff are doing a terrific job to make her feel comfortable.  They are very tender to her.

We prayed the Lord's Prayer together and added in a few Hail Mary's and Glory Be's. I sang to her "You are my sunshine" because she sang it to me as a boy and she sang it to my sister for her death in 1999. My sister hung a poster on her bedroom wall that reads the title of the song. We just hummed it together as a lullaby.

It is striking how she seems like a newborn. She rests and sleeps and needs to be fed. She drank a bottle of Ensure from a straw. She was very thirsty and had some difficulty with the straw, but she found a way to drink 7/8's of the bottle. I think she could have taken more. After she drank it, she said, "I have to burp." "OK. You do that." I was afraid to rub her back because any touch on her body gives her pain, but I felt proud that she had most of her meal, just the way a parent is satisfied when a baby eats the entire jar of pureed carrots. It is satisfying to know that you meet the needs of the one who is vulnerable. 

Just like a newborn, we are attentive to every movement she makes. We try to take care of her needs and we ask if she has pain. Fortunately, it was time for her to receive another dose of medication. After she received it, she was much more relaxed. She grasped my hand and nodded off. 

Like an infant, she rests and sleeps. When she awakes, we are there to smile and to catch her eye. If she makes any movement, we are there to respond to her. Suddenly, my mother ceased to be my parent, but she became a beautiful soul on her ascent to God. She became a person on the last stage of her journey - a beautiful soul moving along the trajectory of life, and human life is a miracle. 

Adults around newborns will make promises for the future life ahead of them. They realize how much they are gifts from God to a world in need of love, compassion, and kindness. At this stage of life, the same feelings of promise welled up within me, but it was not for the life that she lived, it was for the beauty and gratitude for her life and her life's strivings, and yet the promise was for the wonderful new life that is to come for her. 

Just as parents of newborns soak the child with love that cannot be returned, this is a time to return the same type of love they once gave us. Parents of newborns gaze upon their child with wonder and admiration, just the way God gazes upon us in astonishment. It is like God is saying, "Look at you. You don't have to do anything or be anyone but yourself. Let me just gaze upon you and see your beautiful face. You have the most beautiful face and all I want to do all day long is to gaze upon you. You are a beautiful soul and you are mine." I wish many of us realized how much we are beloved by God.

Soon, Connie Costantini Predmore will return to the God who loves her deeply. God will take the beautiful soul that God gazes upon each day and will welcome her into his arms and will cherish her deeply. God will surely sing a lullaby and will say, "Welcome home, my daughter. I'm glad you are with me again."

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Quickening

Today was a difficult day. A junior at the high school tragically died. A colleague and friend announced her father died. A colleague and friend shared some difficult news. My brother texted me to let me know we would be flying into Boston to visit my mother in her last days and weeks. And my schedule was full and needed to be readjusted.

We had a conference call update on my mother's situation with hospice. He is finally off all unnecessary and legacy medication. They are increasing the dosage of pain medication carefully as she had reactions to some common pain medicine a few years ago. 

Hospice makes a visit each day and provides music therapy, socialization, and consolation. Today, a religious sister was playing the guitar and singing with her. They will also do some Reiki energy programs with her. They joke around with her and she is mostly pleasant.

To us, she often jokes around or talks in Italian, even though she never learned Italian. She gets the cadence right and sings some phrases. It is very cute. 

Her body is in great pain. As she weighs 66 pounds, even the slightest touch to her legs or any part of her body causes great pain. We are instructed simply to hold her hands or massage her forehead. We are waiting for an increase of pain medication, but hospice and the doctors are on top of it. 

In many ways, my mother looks like a newborn infant. We watch her sleep and when she twitches, we ask what she needs. She mostly sleeps but at times opens her eyes. We make a big deal of it just as parents of newborn do so with their children. She is cute. It is amazing to think of one's mother, the one who conceived and carried us children to birth, is now in her own birthing process. The events of her life feels like a quickening -- the quickening that happens to a woman right before birth. My mother's birth, however, will be into eternal life. I realize the Lord is there to receive her on the other end and he is there to make the passing very gentle. Soon, she will slip from this earth's womb into another sphere of life.

I mentioned to her that tomorrow is her sister, Betty's birthday. She was agasp as she did not get her a present or a card. I also said it was Valentine's Day, a day of love. She relaxed and smiled.

Then we sang some songs to her. She liked "You are my sunshine," and several other tracks from the Jersey Boys, Barry Manilow, and some Christmas selections. My brother spent time with her and my sister and her husband arrived.

The family has been arriving and paying respects. My sister has done much work in keeping my mother's care at the best levels, and my older brother holds down the fort for the night watch. My mother has received the loving attention any parent would want to receive.

We decided that we would pray the Prayer of the Church for the Sick. After we concluded that, we also prayed the Prayer for the Commendation of the Dying. Through it all, my mother was restful and relaxed. We used the Oil of the Sick, but I also picked up some fragrant nard from Jerusalem, the type of nard that was used by the woman in Luke 7 who washed the feet of Jesus before his death. My sister recognized the fragrance. Everyone liked how a tiny drop of the fragrance filled the whole room. 

We are getting to the point when I may be able to post updates, but I will be unable to acknowledge them or respond to them. I will not be able to return texts, make comments, or answer phone calls. I appreciate the good sentiments, but we are entering a new phase. My grief work will soon begin too, and I'll need time and space, and the best way for that to happen is for me to manage the information I let into my world. It coincides with lent. 

With death all around us, choose to live well and fully. There's no time to waste. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Lessen that pain!

After saying the Spanish mass this morning, the one thing I wanted to do was to go home to take a nap and then go to the Seraphim concert this afternoon, but I knew that would not happen. First, I wanted to go visit Fr. O'Neil, a 96-year old Jesuit, and Fr. Bennett, who is only 90, at Campion Center.

I enjoyed my Campion Center visit. The Center is a retreat center, housing for Jesuits, and a retirement center and infirmary. I spent about half an hour with Fr. O'Neil and then some time with Fr. Bennett before I went to lunch with the other brethren. It is really good to visit these great men.

I headed out to see my mother as this rainy dreary, but warm, day. I know the inside of my car too well.

My mother was peaceful again. I sat down gently on the bed and she screamed. I sat near her hand, which made me realize she was in a contorted state. She was leaning to her left again, but my sister told me she was positioned on her right side for a spell so she does not develop bed sores.

My mother's lower back was hurting her and she asked me to massage it a bit. It felt better, but it still caused her pain. My sister and I were talking about her pain levels and we decided to notify the staff and ask them to increase the pain medication.

Hospice is changing her medication slowly but we do not always know the plan so we have to ask them to communicate with us more. My mother has some allergies to pain medication and selecting the right one is important and complicated, but they still need to reduce the pain soon. I'm sure we will get there, but seeing someone in pain, even if it is modest pain, makes us impatient.

With all things, we have to be vigilant. My mother is mostly comfortable, but we want her to feel no pain at all. Otherwise, she is hydrating well and looking peaceful as she sleeps.

We have to keep calm and carry on.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Some family visits

My mother's health is declining steadily, but she remains in good spirits. Last night, I visited her after bringing my niece on a college visit, and I was pleasantly surprised to see two nephews from Maine visiting her. They brought good news about their family, and they came to wish their grandmother a peaceful goodbye.

She was comfortable enough but there was a lot of activity around her. Some of her sentences were inaudible and incoherent, but you could tell that she was pleased to be surrounded by so many people. My nephews showed Facetime conversations with their children, and my mother loved speaking to the young kids.

My mother was picking away at some piece of her blanket, which is a sign of her deterioration. She might fixate on a routine that she repeats. She is trying to make sense of her loss of control and she is working out her preparations.

She nibbles on food and drinks sufficient Ensure. As long as she stays hydrated, she can carry on for weeks.

She is in discomfort. She complains that her legs and butt give her pain and she tends to move into a fetal position on her left side. The staff will adjust her and she reverts immediately to her left coil. If they shift her over to the right side so she does not get bed sores, she finds a way to get more comfortable going immediately back to her left side.

She brings her legs up to chest level and the mere touch of her legs sends her howling. You don't have to move them. Just a gentle touch and she will howl. The nursing staff does monitor her pain levels and they adjust as needed.

On my way to see her today, I stopped for half an hour at Tower Hill Botanical and took some photos. I needed a bright spot to the day. Gloriously, the sun emerged for fifteen minutes, but it was sustaining. The floral arrangements at Tower Hill were inspiring. I'll post them on my blog.

When I parked my car, I saw my sister from Maine. She and her boyfriend were visiting from Pennsylvania en route to Maine. She shared with me her amazingly good news. I was so happy to hear of two personal successes she had. I'm sure my mother is so relieved and happy for this news.

When I visited her today, she was very peaceful. She smiled a lot and we had a nice conversation. Early on, I say, "I love you." She smiled and nodded. Then I said, "I'm sorry," and she smiled and nodded. Then I said "Thank you," and she smiled and nodded and fell asleep with the smile on her face. She looked angelic.

I asked if she wanted communion and she was very enthusiastic. I gave her a small piece of the host and she chanted the Our Father. We prayed it together, and they she said it twice separately. Then I prayed Psalm 27 with her to give her comforting words, and she nodded.

My youngest sister arrived and we talked with our Mom for a bit. We also talked about my sister's daughter's college visits yesterday and the intricacies of financial aid applications.

We took photos of my mom as she was wearing a flower in her hair. I suppose my sister put it in her hair. Someone also painted my mother's fingernails.

My mother talked so softly that we could not hear her. She talked nonsensical things too, but we simply agreed with her, and she was content. She kept nodded off and waking up and nodding off. She just held our hands and kept adjusting the blankets over her. She was warmer than she had been. Part of these last days is alterations in body temperatures and some agitated movements. Everyone wants to help, but the best thing is simply being with her and giving her the space she needs to do her internal work.

Many in the family are coming to say goodbye. This is the time to do so. Everyone will say goodbye in her or his own way. Mostly, prayer from any distance is what is needed. God will take her soon, and she is doing so well in getting ready for that day. She is at peace and is fairly happy.

Winter Floral Arrangements

To see photos of floral arrangements at Tower Hill near Worcester, click on the link below:


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Rounding the Corner

It is clear my mother is entering her very last stage of life. My visit to her today was accompanied by my sister and her husband, Luis. The staff told us my mother was active throughout the day, but they just laid her in bed at 4 p.m. so she could rest. She was awake enough to greet us, but she kept darting in and out of sleep.

Hospice tells us that she is withdrawing from the world and that she is beginning her separation. She is closing down to everything outside of herself and going to a place inside where she is sorting things out and evaluating her life. This inner place has room only for one.

The processing of one's final moments are done with closed eyes and increased sleep. Hospice tells us that it is not just sleep, but there is a lot of work going on inside that we "outsiders" cannot know. This is a time in which my mother needs to communicate with us less. Words are a connection with the physical life that she is leaving behind. Words lose their importance, but touch and quietness takes on more meaning.

Over the past two months, my mother has picked at some of her clothing and seemed to be grooming her clothing. Sometimes her actions seemed aimless. Her focus is shifting from this world to the next. She is leaving her connection to this earth.

She was hungry when we saw her. Very hungry. We offered her a variety of foods and she liked some and dismissed others, but ice cream remained a constant positive choice. She enjoyed a vanilla ice cream cup by Hood.

We chatted about her Ma and Pa and I showed her a picture of her mother. She said, "Awww. She looks so beautiful," to which we replied, "And you look just like her. You are beautiful too." She smiled.

We showed her pictures and talked about family. Since she was still hungry, my sister went to make her some saltines with peanut butter.

During the time away, I sang to her a few songs: Yesterday, and she hummed along and said it was beautiful, My Eyes Adored You, by Frankie Valli, and a few other songs. She sang along half in this world and half in the other.

I massaged her head and said, "You know. It is OK to go now. It is OK with us. We love you and we miss you." She nodded her head.

I continued, "Ma said she wants to see you soon." Her eyes opened and she said, "Was she here?" "Yes, with Pa. " "They both were?" "Where were they?" "They were just here and they are coming back," "To here?" "Yes, to see you."

"And Dawn Mari too. And Betty. They are looking forward to seeing you again. They miss you and it has been so long since they saw you. Does that seem like a happy place?" "Yes."

"I want you to know we love you, we will miss you, we thank you for being our mother, we forgive you and ask you to forgive us. And all your sins are forgiven, and Jesus will be there to take you to your family."

I felt sad, and I stroked her hair.

My sister returned with the peanut butter and crackers, but my mother had lost her appetite. We talked with her a bit longer and made sure she was comfortable. She looked so restful in her new airbed. We spent some time saying goodbye and letting her know we loved her. We whispered it back. "You are going to stay here?" "We will always be with you."

Be at peace. May God bless you and keep you.

Death reminds us that life is to be lived well.

Here are some photos of my mom when she woke up, and of my sister, Sharon, and her husband, Luis.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Prayers Requested

I request the prayers for my mother, Connie, as she transitions to a hospice service. Two immediate benefits is that she now has an air mattress bed to keep her comfortable and to prevent bedsores and she also has a comfortable wheelchair for her slender body.

She is weighed at the beginning of each month. On January 2nd, she weighed 76 pounds, which is near critical. Today, (on her mother's birthday), she weighted in at 69 pounds. Her medications are being adjusted and she may become more alert during visits. Her body is at a tender point. May God be gentle with her.