My girlfriend’s mother, JoAnne, died at 8:45 a.m. on Dec 9, 2011; receiving her ultimate healing. She received the Anointing of the Sick, Viaticum, and the Apostolic Blessing (which includes a plenary indulgence which I never knew). She was given the straight path to Heaven, praise God! Another win for God, another soul saved! Praise God!
Yesterday, JoAnne was moved from the secular hospital she was being treated at, and placed in hospice care at our area Catholic hospital, St. Francis. This is where she died. Praise God! The blessings around this woman’s life are amazing. This was another blessing for her and her daughter, to be able to die where her roots really are, and have always belonged. Also for her daughter to have received the strong, Catholic spiritual guidance that she needed from a priest. This is not given in a secular hospital, unless you call in your own priest.
We, as God’s soldiers on earth, march forward one by one in helping to save souls. What a blessing for me to be part of this ministry, thank you Lord! In some ways when I know for sure a soul has been saved I feel such a strong connection with Padre Pio….it’s hard to describe, I feel his presence very strongly, and I almost feel as though we are giving each other a high five on another soul saved for God. Then quickly comes the feeling of so many souls to be saved, so many souls…….I wonder sometimes if I feel the feelings that Padre Pio felt “so much work to do, so many souls to save”. Yet, I by no means have the discipline that Padre Pio had in his working so hard to save souls.
I met JoAnne almost 11 years ago when her daughter’s family moved into the neighborhood. JoAnne lived two hours away from our homes so I did not see her often; yet, when she was staying at her daughters we did get to talk, laugh, express our opinions, and I enjoyed our conversations. Of course, the conversations would turn into talks about God, and spirituality. JoAnne had a hard life, from birth through death.
I admire JoAnne for how she knew she wanted better for her daughter. In the best way possible, she removed herself and her daughter from the insanity of her own childhood. She did not cut off contact with any of them. She made the correct choice in moving far enough away that her daughter would not be involved in the day to day insanity of the “other world” that JoAnne grew up in; still, at the same time she kept in contact with the family for the holidays, special days, etc., and when the mood was shifting towards the negative during these ”family” get together’s, she knew it was time to protect her child and return to the safe haven she worked hard at creating for her only daughter.
Life as an adult for JoAnne was still very difficult. She lived with much emotional damage from her childhood, made some poor choices (as we all do), and even though these haunting memories stayed with her throughout her life, she worked hard at accepting responsibility for her mistakes, and truly did her best in providing her daughter a home that was as stable as she was able to make for both of them. She did the best she could, with the knowledge she had, and from the help she received.
Her daughter has told me many different stories of the eclectic life they had together. Some are down right hilarious, others are sad, and through each story her daughter was always able to see that her mom was doing the best for her, she has happy memories of her childhood. Her daughter didn’t always understand certain things that happened in her childhood until later in life. When she did begin to understand, she also realized the precious gift her mother, JoAnne, gave her of “never letting on” that something was wrong in their lives. Instead her mother was able to give her child a plausible reason for what happened or was happening, and due to her way of handling these difficult situations, she was able to make her daughter feel safe, and that everything was fine. In other words, she did not make her child fret over adult issues. I am in awe of JoAnne, as this is one of the many beautiful gifts that she bestowed upon her child………….protecting her from the sometimes harsh realities of adult life. JoAnne was so proud of her daughter, she would often say, “I truly do not know where you came from, because it wasn’t me”. Her daughter would always turn it right back around and say “I came from you! You are the one who protected me, you are the one who kept me safe, you are the one who did the best you could in raising me! You, all you, you are the one I came from.” My friend has always known, the person she was….was because of the mother God had blessed her with in his awesome wisdom.
JoAnne so very much wanted her daughter to grow up emotionally healthy, have that “normal” family life as an adult and not succumb to the insanity that she grew up in. When her daughter entered her teen years, and was experiencing outward symptoms of teen distress………JoAnne, again, did what was best for her child. JoAnne searched until she found the correct help her daughter needed. Often, my girlfriend, has said about her mother…………..”she saved my life by getting me the help she did”. Often times she has said, “if my mother had not gotten me the help I needed, I wouldn’t have this life right now”. Again, my admiration for JoAnne runs deep, she put her suffering child first, and did whatever she could to help her. God is wonderful…..
Wednesday, Dec 7th was the last day I spent with JoAnne. It was a very wet, windy, harsh rainy day as I drove that hour to the hospital. The ride was even more difficult because the driver’s side windshield wiper needs to be replaced, and I have not been able to complete that chore. Biggest reason, I forget it needs to be done, until I need to use the wipers, and by then it is too late to replace them.
I arrived at the hospital in time for the “palliative care meeting” aka “hospice”. I became involved with this end of the care for JoAnne due to the fact that her daughter felt as though she was getting the runaround from the doctors. She could physically see her mother was not improving, yet she was being told that her “lungs” were improving. When asked how the rest of the “health issues” were being managed, she again and again was told “her lungs are improving”. Yet, JoAnne was not “just her lungs”, she had a multitude of other health issues that needed to be cared for by the health professionals, and her daughter did not feel her mother was receiving that care, or that they were hearing or even listening to her pleads of understanding and help for her mother to be treated as a whole person vs. just her “lungs”.
I had been keeping up to date with her mom’s status via texting. It was difficult for my friend to speak on the phone regarding the agony she was going through, knowing her mother was given a miracle by the breathing tube being removed from her lungs, and at the same time knowing her mother’s time on earth was limited. She knew in her heart the doctors were not looking at her mother as a whole person, and she was torn to pieces by this approach. With her mom now being an hour away, I was able to drive to the hospital to visit, and attempt to help my friend in anyway I could. In the meantime, my friend asked her mother if she wanted “Michele to visit?”, and her mother would always shake her head ”yes”. I found that very sweet. I dearly wanted to pray at her bedside.
Last Friday, Dec 2nd, was the first day I would be able to drive to the hospital, and help my friend find out her mother’s true status. When we arrived at the hospital, the resident was attempting to insert a “tube” down her nose to “feed her”. He was unsuccessful. As he was coming out of the room, we were walking in. My friend looked at the resident and stated, “this is my friend, I give you permission to tell her everything about my mother and what is going on”. In the meantime, when she entered the room to see her mother, her mother was hysterical, sure that they were trying to kill her. Her daughter stayed and calmed her, while I spoke with the doctor.
The doctor was perturbed with my questioning of her health status further then just ”the lungs”. As I was collecting data, and asking question after question, it was obvious to me, JoAnne, may have a week left before all the “lung” complications would begin to kick in again, then she would need to be “intubated” (breathing tube into the lungs), and placed back on the ventilator (breathing machine). Only this time she would never again come off the machine until death. Which would mean much suffering until that time occurred, in the meantime, she would need to have a “trach” (hole in neck area to be attached to breathing machine) placed, along with a “feeding tube placed in her stomach”, because she would never eat again.
JoAnne did not want this, and neither did her daughter. I asked the doctor what was left in treating her, and he stated “palliative care”. I stated “we’ll take it, right now! No more NGT (tube goes down the nose into the stomach for feedings), no intubation, no chest compressions, make her comfortable!”.
I called her daughter out of the room and explained in lay-mans terms what was going on with her mother, and that as of that moment she was being placed in palliative care. Her daughter had never heard of this option before, and she was quite upset that she was not informed prior when asking questions regarding her mother’s health. She immediately said “yes, I have told all of you again and again, I do not want my mother to suffer! I knew this was a miracle for my mother and me to be able to speak together one last time, and we are. She does not want long term invasive procedures to keep her alive needlessly, and she has suffered enough since October. She doesn’t want this! Why won’t anyone listen?”. The doctor looked at us and said, “well you can do that, but her lungs are improving”. When I stated the obvious regarding her lab results and other testing, again we were met with “well, I will have palliative care meet with you; though her lungs are improving”. I stated “they can’t be, because if they were, she wouldn’t be having the rhonchi (coarse breath sounds in the lung) that is now starting. Also with the poor swallowing effect, she will only have her secretions enter into her lungs which will cause another pneumonia, which will decrease her ability to breath, which will lead to an infection, which will lead to placing her on a ventilator, which leads the family back to square one ————- her daughter watching her mother suffer needlessly on a ventilator until death. The resident doctor wrote for the “palliative care committee” to meet with us on Monday. My friend and I, both under the impression everyone can breathe a little easier we enter her mom’s room.
As soon as JoAnne saw me, she began whispering something that began with an “s” sound. I couldn’t make it out, JoAnne became frustrated, she looked at her daughter, then we realized that she wanted me to give her the sacraments of our faith or at least make sure she received the sacraments of our faith before she died. I was extremely touched by this request. I was able to tell JoAnne that while she was in the other hospital, I instructed her daughter on getting a priest in to her room and giving her the “anointing of the sick”, along with absolution, Viaticum, and a plenary indulgence.
When my friend had reached the first hospital back in October, the priest stated he had already performed these sacraments for her mother. It felt wonderful to be able to tell her mother this was covered, and just because I like follow up, we’ll get it again for her! She was happy and said “good!”.
I have to say, I truly was very humbled by her request and at the same time in stitches, because it was the last thing I ever expected to hear out of JoAnne’s mouth, much less anyone’s mouth. I have never been entrusted before, by anyone, to make sure they received their last sacraments before death. What a honor to have been given, and at the same time my friend and I were able to see the humor of the situation, because she didn’t expect her mother to say that to me, anymore then I did. I reassured her again, it had been done once, and it would be done again. That night I blessed her with the oils I had, along with the different Holy Waters I had with me. I also did some prayers.
It was now late, and I needed to return home. On our drive back, the two of us spoke about her mom’s true prognosis, what she needed to finish with her mom, what she needed to find out from her mom, and most of all how much she had to tell her mom how much she loved her, forgave her, and how thankful she was for having her in her life.
Saturday Dec 3rd, I wake out of my very deep slumber to the phone ringing. It was my girlfriend, stating that the doctors wanted to speak with her today regarding palliative care, and to be at the hospital as soon as possible.
By the time we got life taken care of with kids, schedules, figuring out how long she thought she was going to be staying at the hospital, and what she would need, etc…..It took us from the 10:30 a.m. phone call till 3 p.m. to arrive at the hospital. Needless to say, neither one of us are “morning” people.
We then spent two hours in a meeting with one resident doctor, to be joined in the second hour by the top resident doctor for that weekend explaining why I was the advocate for the daughter, and that palliative care is what is wanted by both the patient and her daughter. I was there to make sure it happened for both of them. What a round and round conversation that was……….I was speaking regarding the patients entire health issues, and once again, I was dealing with doctors who only wanted to deal with her “improving lungs”. In the end, they agreed to having “palliative care” contact us. YAY!
Monday morning, my girlfriend received a phone call from the “palliative care” doctor, who stated, “I believe we are on the same page. Your mother is a candidate for palliative care, how soon can we have a meeting? The sooner the better”.
Due to life and schedules, that meeting arrived on Dec 7th, that very wet, windy, harsh rainy day, and I made it in “just in time”. It wasn’t an overly long meeting, because we were all on the same page. It was just the details of where she was being moved to that needed to be tidied up. The final decision was the hospice center at St. Francis hospital, we already had the transportation arranged, that would not be an issue. Getting a bed, and getting her there was what needed to be done next. St. Francis hospital had a bed open, and were able to accept JoAnne as a patient, Alleluia! Now it was time for all the paperwork, and then the consideration of the weather I’m sure was a big factor. JoAnne did not get moved that day.
Even though JoAnne did not get moved that day, I was given the chance to spend time alone with her. I had the opportunity of being able to thank her for having entered into my life, and to be given the awe inspiring gift of watching JoAnne’s body relax, her breathing turning into a rhythmic sound of whooshing to my ears as I prayed at her bedside.
It was such a blessing for me to be able to pray, read prayers from the Pieta Prayer Book, especially the “Three Dying Prayers”, and the “Consecration of her last 2 hours of life to Our Lady”, pray chaplets, and read from the Bible when she would ask me. I am always amazed at the effect of prayer upon a person, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It is a beautiful sight, and gift to be in union with God. It is in these moments where you truly see the hand of God at work, again and again. When I left JoAnne’s bedside that day, I figured it may be my last time in her presence, and I prayed I advocated well on her part, for the desires of how she wished her life to finish here on earth, and begin in Heaven with Our Lord.
JoAnne, you will never be forgotten in my heart, mind or prayers. I will continue to pray for your Holy Soul, and I in turn will ask you to intercede for me, and my family.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her. Amen.