My Father and Stepmother

As of February 16, I have been in Augusta, Maine for a month to help my father with my terminally ill stepmother, Bea. Bea was diagnosed with terminal kidney disease in March of 2010. After a brief hospital and rehabilitation stay, she came home under the care of my father. She did well until this past December, when she landed in the hospital with pneumonia. She was in the hospital for 3 weeks and a nursing home for 2 weeks. Dad decided that he was going to bring her home and asked me to come to help him.

I was scheduled to fly to Maine on Thursday, January 13 but due to a nor’easter, I delayed my trip to Saturday, January 15. I arrived at dad’s in Augusta, which is about 1 1/2 hours from my home in Cape Elizabeth, on Sunday, the 16th.
Dad had support of Healthreach Hospice. A CNA came in three times a week to clean Bea and change the bed. A nurse came in two times a week to help with her medical condition. My dad did an amazing job taking care of her. Since Bea was bedridden, dad changed her on the days the CNA didn’t come. When she would eat, he fed her. Initially, I was mostly keeping my dad company but as time went on, I began to help with Bea’s care. She loved to have her hair brushed and her arms creamed. So, I would do that as frequently as she wanted.
I had a private conversation with the nurse and she said that Bea’s vitals were stable and even though she wasn’t eating, she was sustaining herself by drinking Ensure. She thought that she might survive beyond June if she continued in this way. So, I was hunkering down for a long stay. I had even made reservations to fly to Wisconsin to visit my brother for a week on Feb 16.
This past Monday, February 14 – Valentine’s Day – at 6:00 AM, my dad called me to help him with Bea…very unusual for the normal routine of the day. I went flying down over the stairs, from my bedroom, thinking that he needed some sort of help with Bea but not overly concerned. I certainly was not prepared for what I was presented with….Bea was vomiting an ungodly amount of blood all over her pillow and bed. Oh my gosh…may I never, ever have to experience someone hemorrhaging like that ever again. 9-1-1 was called as was hospice. The paramedics arrived and she was taken to the Maine General in Augusta.
My father, my brother, Mike and I spent three days at the hospital by her side. The wonderful news was that she never was in pain, which we were all so grateful for. On Wednesday, Feb 16, she started failing and was put on a morphine pump for comfort. She was incoherent when we arrived at 7:30 but I know she knew we were there. We all knew that the end was near but according to the hospice nurse, it was possible that she could continue in this condition for a day or two. It was a long, long day on Wednesday. Dad and I left the hospital around 4:00 to go home and have a break and a snack. My brother, Mike, stayed with Bea.

When my grandmother was under hospice care, I had read a brochure that said that sometimes it helps loved ones pass if we give them permission to leave us. I asked the hospice nurse about this and she confirmed it. Then, I asked dad permission to talk to Bea. He agreed and so, I told Bea that it was OK to go. That she was dearly loved and would be greatly missed but that we didn’t want hold her back. I told her that if she saw her parents, other loved ones and all of her pets, that she could go with them. I have had this conversation a couple of other times, it is always difficult but it also brings me comfort. I believe that we all go to a better place and that our loved ones, who have passed before us, are up there waiting for us and when we finally get there, there is a huge celebration.
Her breathing throughout the day had gone through many phases. In the morning, she was breathing about 6 gasp, every minute. She wasn’t struggling to breath. It sounded more like she was snoring. When we left at 4:00, she was breathing normally but it was shallow. When we arrived back, she was breathing less. Mike stepped out of the room for a minute and when he returned, she took another breath and was gone. It was almost like she had been waiting for all of us to be in the room with her. The emotions that you experience at that moment are very mixed…..sadness, relief, joy for our loved one.
Thursday morning, we were at the funeral home making the burial arrangements. My stepmother, was a very private person. She requested no visiting hours. Her burial will be a private family service, in July, at the Veteran’s Cemetery in Augusta. David and I will be able to attend. My sister-in-law, who was much closer to Bea, than I was wrote a lovely obituary for her. I will include it at the end of this blog.
My dad is doing very well. Every so often, he will say that he misses her or shares a memory, which is the norm. My brother, Mike, is struggling with his grief. He and his mother were extremely close. One thing that I will always remember is right before we left the hospital room for the final time, I hugged Mike and he broke down saying how much he appreciated me being there and not letting him go through the whole ordeal alone. I have always told my family that regardless of where I am in the world, I am a phone call and flight away. Now, I think the understand that I really meant it.

I am just so grateful that my life is such that I can drop whatever I am doing and help my family in whatever they need. I am grateful that I have a loving and supportive husband. I am grateful that I have a month of better memories of my stepmother that I am trying to hang onto and let go of the “crap” from the past 40 years that she gave me. I am grateful for the one-on-one time that I have spent with my dad.

Two years ago, my dad had a stint put in one of his arteries. At that time, the doctor said that he would eventually need another one. Over the past month, he has experienced a shortness of breath, pain in his left arm and fatigue. He made an appointment with his cardiologist to be examined. I have been on pins and needles just praying that nothing would happen before this appointment. Wouldn’t you know that it was scheduled for Monday, the 14th, the day that we took Bea to the hospital? Of course, we canceled it but were fortunate to get another one for yesterday, Friday, Feb 16.
I experienced a huge relief as we walked into the office. God answered prayers by keeping dad healthy enough to get him to his appointment. After the initial exam, the doctor said that he didn’t see anything to indicate that dad will need the other stint at this time…..more relief!!!!
Dad has a stress test schedule for March 11th.
As for me, I am planning on taking my trip to Wisconsin to visit with Perry around the first of March. Then, I will be here for dad’s stress test. If that goes well, I will start making plans to return to the Dominican Republic. I am ready to get back to the beach, the soothing, comforting sounds of the ocean and the warm embrace of my amazing and wonderful husband.
Bea’s obituary:
Bea Morrison of 4 Hancock Street, Augusta passed away Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at Maine General Hospital surrounded by her loved ones. She was born in Augusta on July 8, 1932 the daughter of Samuel and Irene (Stevens) McCall.

Bea was a loving wife, mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother who always thought of others before herself. She was a dog lover with Airedale terriers being her utmost favorite. She was a kind hearted, private individual. As a young girl, she attended many basketball games with her father Sam McCall, who was a referee. In high school, during the summer time, she worked as a Life Guard at a camp on Cobbosee Lake. She graduated from Cony High School in 1951. She was a volunteer at the Augusta General Hospital for several years. She worked for the State of Maine in the Financial Department for 17 years then transferred to Medical Records where she worked for 6 more years before retiring.

The family would like to express their deepest gratitude to the loving support they received from the staff at Health Reach Hospice, the staff of the third floor at the Maine General Hospital and Dr. John Smith.

Bea is survived by her husband Raymond Morrison, son Michael Morrison, his wife Kelsie French, stepdaughter Sherry Andrews, her husband David Andrews, and two grandchildren Jesse and Dylan Morrison. She was loved and will be missed very much.

Burial will be at the Veteran’s Cemetery in Augusta in a private, family service in early July.

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