By the grace of God, just as that period was beginning, and just as things were clearly getting very complex for Mother, one of my favorite Hospice nurses, Wanda, showed up to check on the situation. She took stock of what was happening, made multiple phone calls, including an urgent request for a suction machine, and said, "I'm staying until your night nurse gets here."
Wanda and I are about the same age, and I had liked her immediately when I met her the day after Mother came home under Hospice care. Mature, kind, knowledgable and wise: about as good as it gets.
Between the two of us, some medication was given, and we worked diligently to keep these increasing, and increasingly nasty, secretions from choking mother. Then Wanda got a call that she was needed elsewhere, so she arranged for a social worker to at least stay with us in the interim until our night nurse showed up. That left me as the chief secretion reliever person. I, with my weak stomach, was charged with removing as much as i could of this constant flow of something of out of mother's mouth with only a little sponge stick for a tool.
As Wanda left the house, I "girded my loins" so to speak, and told myself that I could do this. Just a moment later, Wanda raced back in with the suction machine she had ordered. The truck had driven up just as she was driving off, so she turned back. She quickly set up the machine, gave me a crash course on using it, and then took off again.
So, with the social worker on the other side of the bed for moral support, I became the suctioning queen, knowing this was far more effective than what I had been doing earlier to relieve my mother's discomfort. The two of us talked about the whole death process and how she came into this work as I periodically pulled that nasty stuff from my mother's mouth and throat.
About an hour later, Suerae, night nurse and essentially the new member of the family, came in and I happily turned over to her my responsibilities and headed to the patio. I needed a few minutes to recoup with a glass of wine with the dark, nighttime quiet around me.
I'm a mother. I spent my hours, weak stomach and all, dealing with the yucky part of rearing children. I did it out of love for them. I did what I did this evening out of love for my mother. Someone will have to do this for me some day. This is the part of living and dying we don't often talk about. Parts of this are just messy.
I often say that as a pastor, I also see the messy parts of people's lives. I get invited into those festering wounds of heart and soul that threaten to take over if they are not carefully cleaned and healed.
I also know God is no stranger to the messy, smelly, uncomfortable parts of my life. Everyone has them. It's part of our human experience. I trust God does not shrink from the need to wade into those parts and offer suction when needed, as God accompanies me on my own journey through life.
Wanda said that Mother is very, very near the end. I'm not sure why she has not yet given up, but she hasn't. Perhaps because there was yet one more thing she needed to teach me. I'm glad I had the opportunity to learn it.