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A Mother's Love

Does not end with death

By Barb DukemanPublished 3 months ago 6 min read
Shopping on a Saturday

I had just flown in that morning from Washington.


My mother’s recovery at the nursing home was slow, but it was still progressing and her health was improving. I felt that the trip I’d planned almost a year ago to see a friend would be ok. Mom was ok with it; my brother and aunt would be able to visit each day. I was at a northeastern tribal art exhibit in Vancouver with my friend John when I got the call.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Is this Barb Dukeman?” a man’s voice asked.


“I understand your mother has a DNR on file. Since you have power of attorney, I need you to execute the DNR.” This was the beginning of the end.

I didn’t even know she had been taken back to the ER. To be legal, the doctor must have me on record saying it out loud: do not resuscitate my mother. It was her wish not to be kept alive like this. I had to repeat it, there in front of the fur pelts and Inuit pottery, this time so the doctor could record it over the phone. I felt so out of place; I was among different ancestors.

“Yes. She did not want to be resuscitated.”

After that call I just broke down sobbing. I’m sure the other patrons of the museum were uncomfortable and wondered what was going on. I just gave the OK for my mom to die. John hugged me, and we both cried. “It’s gonna be ok. It’s gonna be ok,” he kept telling me. My mom always liked him.

I packed quickly and caught the next redeye flight across the US and arrived around 7 in the morning. My son drove me home so I could take a quick shower; we headed back to the hospital, the third trip in less than two months. Not that it mattered to her. She had a contagious infection, C-Diff, along with low blood pressure, which brought her to this final hospital. Her body was too weak to fight the infection. I was mad that someone at that nursing home didn’t follow universal precautions; she shouldn’t have been exposed to that bacteria. Anger, sadness, despair, confusion – all flipping through my mind like a garden windmill.

“Are you OK?” my son asked.

I didn’t know how to respond. In my mind I said no, I’m not OK. My mother is about to die. The one who gave me life as I did for you. “I’m ok,” was what I said. You might have to do this one day.

The machines kept humming along, and a nurse’s aide came in to adjust the IVs and medicines as needed. The nurse practitioner asked me about her religion. I smiled and started in with the story of how the Catholic church rejected her because she married a non-Catholic in the 50s. She instead turned to ancient rituals familiar to her growing up in an Italian family. As I was blathering on, my niece bluntly told me, “I think she means for last rites, Aunt Barbara.”


I lifted my head up. This thought had not crossed my mind. The DNR was surely just a precautionary measure. My mom would come back from this – she would still be sitting at her table Saturday mornings in no time, going through the mail, clipping coupons, and cutting articles and comics for my brother and me. Those comics were her love language for us. I’d replace the water filter in her fridge or change a light bulb that had gone out. She’d ask me to feed the cranes, the crows, and refill the hummingbird feeder. Taking care of her animals was very important to her, providing comfort and company. They knew her well and met her when she wheeled her walker out.

At the medical center, she vacillated between vague lucidity and sleep. She would panic and call my name out over and over, even though I was right there holding her hand and trying to reassure her of my presence. When I mentioned another family member’s name, she started repeating that. In another panic, she called out for my dad once, calling him by his nickname, Yoyo. When she called for her mother, I knew things were getting worse. She didn’t get along well with her mother for some ancient reason, but she was a dutiful daughter and took care of her each week just I did for my mother. My grandmother died 19 years earlier. Was she seeing them, or was her memory pulling up the past?

I tried to find something in the room to comfort her. She was in an isolation ward designed for contagious hospice patients, and we had to gown up and wear gloves every time we came in. No feeding tube, no ice chips, nothing I could do. Helpless to ease her physical discomfort, I took my phone and pulled up a playlist called Classical Mexican Mariachi.

I put my phone inside a disposable glove and set it on the bed beside her head. I pressed Play. Her lips moved as she tried to sing along. Familiar with the words, she wanted to sing along with some of her favorite singers, especially Jorge Negrete. Lost in the music, she calmed down.

“Si muero lejos de ti

que digan que estoy dormido

y que me traigan aquí

Que digan que estoy dormido

y que me traigan aquí”

This translates to:

“If I die far from you

say they are asleep

and bring me here

Let them say that I am asleep

and bring me here.”

She smiled.

It was then I was asked about the IV meds and all the other care-should it continue? Because I had already enacted the DNR, I knew it was time. “I’d like her to have the pain medicine and oxygen. I don’t think...” The attending nurse nodded and lowered the lights in the room, remaining by the door, a silent witness who had seen this happen many times before. My husband and oldest son were in background, my nieces across the other side of the bed, allowing me to do what we knew would come next.

Her hand in mine.

The last embrace

The six of us continued looking at the machine with the numbers, watching, waiting. Top number was the heart rate; below that were other numbers: blood pressure, oxygen saturation, and respiration. The glowing numbers in the darkened room changed every moment as the tendrils of tubes measured the last bits of her life. An hour earlier, I had jokingly bet which number would reach zero first – respiration. I would be right.

A few hours into the night I started a long two-hour narrative about our trips to the grocery store, recalling her routine in that store I would help her repeat every Saturday. It was one of the things she enjoyed doing – a huntress in the savannah of Publix. My voice, quiet as I recalled the details, matched the cold atmosphere of the room. I described her insistence that we go to the Dollar Store so she could buy her bird food; bread she cut up in little croutons to feed the cranes. Last stop was always the Natural Market. She enjoyed looking at the orchids outside. She complained about the prices of the vegetables, but she looked for whatever was in the clearance bin. A loaf of Cuban bread usually made it home with us; Cuban bread, sliced in half, smothered in Fleischmann’s margarine and eaten with black Maxwell house coffee. Our Saturdays, so familiar to her, to us, now being described for the last time. Tears cascaded down my nieces’ faces as my voice continued.

As the bright numbers on the vital signs monitor became lower, I stopped speaking, feeling the crushing weight of love being transferred. In a soft voice, I told her, “Mom, it’s OK to go. You’ll be OK. It’ll be all right.” My nieces continued crying as my eyes became blurry. A flat line. I was holding the hand of a dead woman, a soul no longer there, the woman who gave me life.


An unwelcome feeling washed over me, one that translated in my mind as dual finality. No one else in the room that night seemed to notice. Looking down at my hand holding hers, my tears started, unbidden, and an unearthly sound came from my throat. This cry enveloped me and squeezed my chest; I couldn’t catch my breath. I backed away from the bed.

My husband hugged me. “It’ll be ok. You were here. She’s at peace now.”

I couldn’t tell him; he wouldn’t understand. I am now beginning to walk in my mother’s shoes; my only grandson was born six months ago, and I’m painfully aware the love I have for my mother is now focused on this tiny new life. I’m seeing things through her eyes now. This life bond, this immeasurable love – will continue until that distant moment I know will come as it does for everyone.

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About the Creator

Barb Dukeman

After 32 years of teaching high school English, I've started writing again and loving every minute of it. I enjoy bringing ideas to life and the concept of leaving behind a legacy.

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  • Rachel Deeming3 months ago

    Thank you for shsring your experience here. I was very moved.

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