Oliver: Mom’s final scene comes peacefully, but far too soon

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

Life is precious, and often far too short. Is 86 years long enough for a lifetime?

In my mother’s case, it will have to be.

In a twist no one saw coming, the very day I wrote that I was not ready for my mother to die, she fell in our kitchen, broke her leg and sealed her fate.

The step she missed is one she wasn’t used to taking because she almost never went into that part of the house. It’s also less than 3 inches deep. However, dementia is a cruel master, and she was following something only she could see.

As falls go, it wasn’t much of one. More like a stumble into a seated position. But it was enough to break her thigh bone, a catastrophic injury for an elderly person with osteoporosis and end-stage dementia.

I could feel my heart breaking as the paramedics told me they thought something was broken. We had tried so hard to keep her safe. I’d told her over and over to use her walker, to no avail.

Now another ride in an ambulance. Another trip to the hospital. The last thing any of us wanted.

She had been in the hospice program for six days. I am so thankful that we had gotten her into the program when we did. A hospice nurse came to the emergency room and gently guided us through the steps we would need to take. We had a choice: She could go off hospice and be evaluated for a surgery to repair the leg, or she could stay in hospice and go to a hospice facility to have her pain stabilized.

For us, it wasn’t much of a choice. Most likely she would not survive the surgery, and she certainly was in no mental shape to try to complete a long rehabilitation stint. Nor would she want that.

So we moved her to the JourneyCare facility in Woodstock, to a quiet, homey room to be made comfortable until we could figure out a next step. The staff could not have been more loving to her and to us. She was where she needed to be.

What I had said I wasn’t ready for – my mother’s death – was right before me. It wasn’t a distant possibility, it now was a matter of days. At most weeks.

In the ER, she had been conscious and talking and talking and talking. She was clearly in pain, and many things were said, a lot of them the “wild talk” associated with dementia. However, amid all that, she said her final “I love you” to me. Little did she realize it also was her goodbye.

In Woodstock, she was kept comfortable, but she never regained consciousness. Each day I sat with her, I played her favorite music, and I talked to her, knowing that she could hear me.

I thanked her for all that she had done for me, for all the things that she had helped me learn, especially in these years of dementia. Those lessons will no doubt come in handy during the second leg of this dementia journey with my husband.

In the end, it wasn’t weeks, but five short days. She went softly and peacefully and without pain. She was listening to Mozart and hugging her teddy bear. Her struggle with her limitations is over. Her fight with her past and her “invisible” adversaries is over. Her pain is over.

Mine, however, likely will be around for a while.

• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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