It was the end: September 21.
I came home from school to a houseful of anxiety. My mother, in her usual chair. My father, sitting nearby. I could tell something was wrong even before I heard her short, shallow gasps. She had choked on a cream cheese danish--she often had trouble swallowing food--and had gone into respiratory distress. Her lungs finally lost the fight, but her body just didn't know it yet.
I think mom knew she was going to die that day. She insisted that we call my sister, so that she could talk to her one last time with that wasted, wrecked voice. She bore all of our ministrations with her usual stoicism--or perhaps just trying to breathe took so much concentration that she couldn't complain. I remember, far into the night, discussing whether to give her more of the morphine that the hospice worker said might help. "I don't want to kill you," I said. She just looked at me.
At some point in the night she grew too weak to cough, so we took turns pounding her back. It must have hurt. In the morning, she told my dad "Happy birthday." I don't know but I think those were her last words.
Later in the day. Everyone else had left. I was sitting by her bed, holding her hand when the realization slowly penetrated her breathing had changed, transformed from the tortured rasps of a runner to something almost mechanical. It took me even longer to realize that she was no longer conscious. I knew she wasn't ever going to wake up. Just looking at her body heaving with every deep, slow, gurgling breath...I was intimately familiar with it. I'd been keeping her alive for six months. I'd known it was coming. It was almost a relief to see the end...almost.
Still later. My dad and the hospice lady had returned. I went to the bathroom. Perhaps mom had been waiting for me to leave the room, because when I came back her breathing had changed again. Quiet breaths, with long pauses in between, pauses growing longer and longer. I remember the sunlight streaming sideways into the room, touching on her beautiful white hair. I remember crying as quietly as I could. I remember my dad saying to her, "Shh. It's okay, you can go now. It's okay." Eventually there were no more breaths.
And that was the end.