The Final Journey

I still remember my uncle’s early morning call to my office saying, “Gwynn, your mom’s had a major stroke. She’s down here in the Grays Harbor Emergency Hospital.”

“I’m on my way!”

Mom had been recovering from triple by-pass surgery from the week before, so my dad’s sister and her husband were there at mom’s house caring for her, as dad had passed away the year before.  Mom awakened early one morning to get up to go to the bathroom only to discover that she was paralyzed. She screamed for help.  My aunt jumped out of bed too quickly only to pass out hitting her head on the door frame, so she lay there unconscious and bleeding as my uncle called 911.

Later, after a two-hour drive, I arrived at the Grays Harbor Hospital to find my aunt in a bed on one side of the emergency room, my mom in a bed on the other side of the emergency room, and my uncle trying to finagle for a two for one deal. This was the beginning of the most horrific five years of my life.

Mom, born Shirley Waymire, was an only child. I don’t believe there could have been a more independent, strong-willed, stubborn child on the face of this earth!  By the age of nine, my mom‘s best friend was a book so her imagination ran wild.  However, mom was also highly creative and played the concertina, a harmonica, a ukulele, and the piano by ear.

Since my mom’s aunt was a Bohemian who lived down in Monterey, California, mom and her parents frequently made the long drive from Seattle on down the coast. Auntie Jaco could be found in the midst of artists, writers, and other eccentrics like her.  Mom wanted to be just like Auntie Jaco!  On the date of Mom’s ninth birthday her stunned parents were rudely informed that mom no longer would answer to the name of Shirley! Mom would be known as Jaco!

However, mom’s parents did throw a slight wrinkle into mom’s plan as they chose to use the French feminine spelling versus the German masculine spelling of the name.  So mom legally became Jacquot, her own unique version of Jaco.  Needless to say, mom was always determined to do things her way, so in spite of her stroke her thinking didn’t change.

After I arrived in Grays Harbor and conversed with mom’s doctor, he indicated that he didn’t know whether mom could be rehabilitated from her stroke.  The doctor also informed me that mom had asked him to euthanize her.  Mom had a Living Will, and did not want emergency precautions used to save her life.  However, at that time, Washington State had not yet passed a law allowing doctors to help terminally ill patients, with six months or less left to live, end their lives with dignity rather than endure agony.  If the law had been in place, the doctors still could not have helped mom, since with stroke victims there is no clear time line.

Eventually, after several weeks of physical therapy, the doctors determined that mom could neither go home nor drive.  I was going to have to sell her beloved home and take away her independence – her car.  I had to find assisted living, where she could receive physical therapy to help her walk, talk, swallow, feed herself, and do all the normal functions we take for granted. I lucked out and found Clearbrook, four miles from my house.

At first, mom lost a dangerous amount of weight. So Clearbrook suggested I call in Hospice. I was horrified. Doesn’t this mean mom has six months or less left to live? Mom and I met with a Hospice social worker, but that day, mom’s health miraculously improved. Hospice did not accept her. I think the ordeal scared mom into making an attempt to live.

Mom’s determination was admirable.  She always was tough and independent. Mom learned to walk with the help of a walker, but due to the stroke it had damaged her peripheral vision so each time she tried to go through a doorway she would walk into the door frame. It was almost like watching one of those comedy routines where a person would become distracted, turn around, and smash into a wall.

Despite mom’s difficulties she was determined to attempt to walk without her walker.  One day I arrived at mom’s room to find her partially collapsed on the floor, next to her bed.  Her head and arms were positioned down with her bottom extended high into the air. She looked similar to an ostrich with its’ head in the sand. She was trapped and laughing. Mom had attempted to standup without using her walker for support.  Since she did not have the strength to stand on her own, she had collapsed in a pile laughing hysterically as now she couldn’t get up nor ring for help.  It’s a good thing I came along when I did!

Over the years, I would take mom out to lunch at various restaurants, but mom’s favorite lunch was a Costco Polish hotdog. Because of mom’s difficulty in chewing and swallowing it usually took mom and hour to eat that simple hotdog.  But she loved sitting there and watching the people around her.

Since her room was next to the beauty shop, mom often would stop and chat with the beautician on her way to lunch or an activity. Mom became friends with the beautician. Since my mom’s hair was quite thin and naturally curly, at one point in her life she had purchased a wig, but she rarely wore it.  One day on my way to visit mom I had stopped at the reception desk to chat.  I was just headed down the hall toward mom’s room as mom rounded the corner with her walker and was headed my way.

“Mom you have your wig on,” I said in a stunned voice.

Mom reached up to her wig and with her index finger and thumb she grabbed a few strands of hair and yanked her wig off.  My mouth dropped open, as there stood my 81 year old, NOW completely bald mother.

Mom’s response to me was “is my hair cut ok with you?”

It turns out that the beautician at Clearbrook had cancer and due to her treatments she was losing her hair.  My mom had her head shaved in moral support of her friend, the beautician.  The word that “Jacquot had shaved her head to support an employee spread like wild fire.”  Mom even shaved her head two more times before she let her hair grow back.  Even now, years after mom has passed away, if I run into an employee of Clearbrook they will say, “Oh, your mom was the one who cared enough to shave her head for our beautician.”

Mom’s favorite excursion was a trip to the mall, as mom loved a store that sold the stuffed animals and dolls that danced and sang. Over the years we bought mom dancing chickens, singing bears, dolls that did the rhumba, a motion detecting witch with glowing eyes that cackled as it walked toward you, and many other animals.  By the time she died, stuffed animals cluttered all of her living room and bedroom furniture, but mom while bed-bound had plenty of entertainment as the aids would come in and play with the animals with mom.

Over five years, mom would suffer stroke after periodic stroke. Plus, she would have nearly daily Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs).  Typically a TIA only lasts for a few seconds or minutes, but mom’s lasted for hours. At one point, the head nurse told me that mom had suffered 17 TIAs in 22 days. In fact, for some reason each time the nurses helped mom onto the toilet, mom would have a TIA.  Eventually the aids were so afraid to help mom go to the toilet that they would flip a coin to see who was stuck helping.

Dealing with mom’s strokes was like watching the world’s craziest roller coaster.  Mom would get well, have another stroke, fall, break limbs, rehabilitate, inch by inch losing more of her capabilities.  Mom did things no one thought imaginable AND lived. Mom went from walking with the help of a walker, to using a wheelchair, to ultimately being bed-ridden. She could no longer run errands with me nor eat her Costco hotdog.  Observing mom was like being wary of ground water dripping down a cliff, slowly eroding it, until you knew eventually, the cliff would crumble.

I received calls any hour of the night or day informing me that mom had been rushed to the emergency hospital. Would I please go attend her?  Eventually Hospice was brought in — twice.  Hospice discharged mom the first time after six months. A year later, Hospice was called in the final time.  I would prepare myself for mom’s death, and then she would recover – repeatedly.

One weekend after another of mom’s strokes, the Hospice nurse called to prepare me for mom’s death.  I was to call the undertaker, and start making arrangements.  The weekend came and went.  Inexplicably, mom lived.  However, by now, she could no longer walk or stand.  Mom would attempt to talk to me, and not be able to complete her sentence, even though she knew what she wanted to say.  I could see mom’s frustration in her eyes, and then she would burst into tears.  She couldn’t feed herself, or even operate the remote for her TV.  Mom was an intelligent adult trapped inside the body equivalent of a newborn baby.

My mother suffered pain, embarrassment, the loss of her independence, and the loss of dignity with her strokes. I repeatedly told my friends that my husband and I did not want to die in the same manner as my mother.

Six months nearly to the day after I received the phone call from Hospice about mom’s last stroke, I received a different call “Gwynn, your mom has passed away.”  I couldn’t believe that the cliff had finally collapsed.

About Gwynn Rogers

After 20 years of sales and marketing experience in the fields of real estate, high tech, and corporate travel, Gwynn has moved on to the career of “Grandma.” When not teaching her granddaughters an extensive vocabulary of “alley-oop-boop, ups-a-daisy, cowabunga or bummer”, Gwynn can be found hunting for mentors for the Kitsap Youth Mentoring Consortium, or chasing her fantasies on her treadmill. Gwynn currently freelances for magazines.
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15 Responses to The Final Journey

  1. Susan Scott says:

    Gwynn, this was a lovely post thank you. Somehow among the tragedy of it all you injected humour into it. Extraordinary how in spite of it all, your Mom hung on and your story of her shaving her head in support of cancer patients is poignant.
    What a grim illness – all those TIA’s … and for you to be witness to all this. As witness (harder than most people realise) Gwynn, you showed considerable courage and understanding which is extremely admirable.
    Thank you again.

    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      Susan, I so appreciate your comments. Thanks. I don’t think people realize how very hard it is to witness a family member, loved one, or friend experience so many strokes. Trust me. By the time mom died, I was a shattered piece of glass. For quite a while Clearbrook called me everytime mom had a TIA or stroke as we didn’t know whether it would be the end for her or not. After a while we decided it was best for me not to come EVERY time.

      Plus, what I didn’t know how to fit in there is that years ago mom had transcribed books into braille for blind students. Mom definitely was unique. Again, thanks for your support. I do so appreciate you!

  2. Val Rainey says:

    Hi Gwynn
    I remember reading this for you a while back. I’d forgotten that your mom was always such and independent pussy cat. I hope that I am half as brave and sassy as she was as I age.


    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      Yup, this is part of what you read, but not the whole story as the other story included John’s parents’ suicide… as they DIDN’T want to end up this way. I would NOT want to go like mom!!

  3. patgarcia says:

    Hello My Dear Friend,

    This is a powerful story. When I read this, it comes across that your mother although independent and determined to do her own thing, that you and she had a wonderful relationship.

    I also feel your pain in not wanting to suffer as she did. I believe it hurt you more than it hurt her. You were the mediator in the family and therefore I see the responsibility that you carried upon your shoulders.

    Up until the day she passed away, you were the mother, the adult, looking after her and with that your mother was happy. I don’t know whether she told you this before she died but I personally believe she was proud of you.

    Sadly, some people never learn how to express their feelings.


    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      Oh Pat, you are such a dear person. Neither mom nor dad said anything about being proud of either my brother or me. Mom would say “I love you” but to this day I still don’t believe it.

      Yes, mom and I did exchange roles… I became mom. Maybe I always was “mom” since I was the one who protected my brother the entire time. Actually, when I think about it, since the dynamics in our family were so strained in all directions… maybe I was more of a mom than I realized.

      Mom’s ending was really tough. I didn’t want mom to die alone, but with the roller coaster ride mom was on with her strokes, we could not tell whether she was at the end of her journey or not. I truly was in shock when mom died. I didn’t believe them. I thought they had made a mistake so I had to go find out. No, I would NOT wish mom’s journey on anyone.

      Thanks for your comments and support.

  4. Gwynn,

    Ditto Susan and Pat here. This was a hard story for you to write, I know. Emotions of the experience remain raw for a long time. I am glad you wrote and published this story. Others need to know, for there are others who share your experience and feel as alone and at loose ends as you did. So, thank you.

    Also, I foresee another story here — that of cleaning out your mom’s house, all her personal belongings and selling her long-time home. I have not arrived at going through my mother’s things yet, sorting through them, that is, and determining how or where to allocate them.

    I suppose my main source of support here is knowing that you and our Roo friends have been through this, and remembering watching my mother and aunt (presently living in a nursing facility at 99) do these things for the generation that preceded them.


    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      Thanks Samantha for your support and comments. Cleaning out mom’s and dad’s home was a unique experience as they had only been there about ten years or so. Mom and dad, due to the depression era kept SO MUCH stuff that it was ridiculous. One weekend, John and I and my kids went down to Ocean Shores, where their home was. My kids brought a U-haul, and they took loads and loads of junk to Goodwill and the homeless shelter. Then, they took whatever they wanted. My son needed some furniture so he took what he wanted. My daughter took a few things, but basically we gave the rest away. Plus, we had a commercial dumpster out front to dump the loads of freezer burned food that we pulled from the freezer. All the canned food was years past the expiration date, so it went too. Then we had the real estate person hire a handiman to clean out the rest of the house and to have it cleaned. For me there was no emotional attachment to the house or my parent’s possessions. I could not clean that place out fast enough.

      It is very different if you have fond memories of a place and family. I didn’t. In the years past, families benefitted from receiving parents’ possessions, it is not so much that way anymore… it is a disposable society.

      • The disposable part is so very sad, Gwynn. My family has had nice things, and many of them, have gone the way of I don’t know where. A couple pieces of furniture my grandparents had, like the marble top coffee table my grandfather gave to my grandmother for their first Christmas after the were wed is not only a collector’s piece but has special sentimental value to me. I think my aunt presented it to the man holding her power of att’y, as a gift.

        I am so glad my aunt gave me all the family photos when she moved into the nursing facility, because otherwise my friend Robert would be buying them at a yard sale and selling them at a flea market and on Etsy. Many of these photos I saw in my grandparents’ and aunt and uncle’s homes when I was a child, and many I have never seen — photos of my great-grandparents and of my grandmother in her bathing costume as a young girl on the beach with friends.

        All I can say is that whoever cleans out my stuff is going to have to allocate some time, and I hope they value the family items as keepsakes to hand on to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

        • Gwynn Rogers says:

          Let me explain. I grew up with my grandparents’ antique furniture. When we moved to California mom had to sell or give it all away as we moved from a 3500 sq. ft. house to a 1400-1600 sq. ft. house. Also, dad sold furniture so they bought all new furniture.

          So after three other moves over the years, the furniture wasn’t worth saving. The items that were worth saving the kids too. I didn’t know anyone in the family pictures and they mostly were of mom and dad’s friends. I don’t know what happened to my grandparents’ pictures, if they had any.

          I still have my grandparents’ silver service set, but that is it. I don’t even think I have much my kids would even want, except the silver service.

  5. What a beautiful and moving story. What a woman your mother was. Really how many woman would shave their hair to support a friend? She showed a depth of love not very often seen and passed it on to you. It’s in your writing and I thank you for sharing.

    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      Elizabeth, Thank you for your comment. My mom was a unique person. She had heard my cousin mention that her friend had shaved her head in support of another lady with cancer. There were times when my mom looked like and acted like Cruela Devile, so shaving her head definitely was a unique twist. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  6. Marsha Lackey says:

    Gwynn, I love your entire blog. What an incredible writer you are!! The story of you mom’s long illness and eventual stroke had me in tears and a few times I laughed. My mother also passed from a stroke. She only lived 4 weeks and sharing like you have done gives me such peace of mind. Eva willed herself to pass and although I miss her and wanted her to remain with me forever, she was ready to meet those who had left this planet before her. I love her so much.

    I have not finished because I have to run, but the painted desert, close to one of the places I lived and being a aloe practitioner, brought me very vivid memory pictures. Talk to you later! I am so glad to be back among you cherished ladies.

    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      Marsha, it’s so great to hear from you. I have many crazy stories from different times in my life. Writing these stories have helped me find peace. It is only too bad mom and I could not have talked about all of this before she died. She had NO CLUE about children and no patience, but NOW I know it wasn’t my fault.

      Thanks for being my friend!

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