"It won't be long now. There are angels in the room."
Eleven years ago, a kind, compassionate nurse spoke those words to me as we stood by Mom's bedside, watching her life wane away. Ten minutes later, she breathed one final, labored breath, and then she didn't. The struggled rhythm of her breathing ceased, and she left us on December 15th, 2002, after a painful struggle with emphysema.
I will never know how she found the strength to fight for so long--almost a decade from initial diagnosis to last breath. Twice we thought we had lost her, and twice she fought her way back to us. But she knew that there would not be a third miracle. Always thinking of others, she did her best to prepare all of us for her passing. She gave us one glorious final Thanksgiving together at Kimberly's house. I spent all day with her and Dad on December 5th, meticulously copying photos from the family photo album while Dad prepared Irish stew using Mom's recipe, with Mom supervising and offering advice. After we ate, everyone agreed that it was good stew... it was Mom's stew.
The house was in order. Christmas presents were wrapped; clutter was put away out of sight, as if Mom knew there would be company in the house soon after.
She went back to the hospital on December 9th, and we all hoped that it would be a short visit and she would return home before Christmas. On December 13th, she showed remarkable improvement, sitting up, talking to us, and eating a regular meal for dinner. I brought my computer to her hospital room and showed her the videos I had prepared chronicling her and Dad's early lives; our family's years together; and the treasured Christmases past. She watched, rapt, and smiled often. "That was wonderful," she said. "Thank you."
The next morning, when I came into her hospital room, all vitality was spent. Every breath was a battle; she was unaware of my presence, and did not respond to any treatment. At that time, all of us somehow knew that this time was going to be different. Mom no longer had the strength to fight her way back to us another time; the emphysema had done too much damage.
It was a gift that we were all by her side, our hands laid gently on her hands and arms and shoulders, when she passed, Frank Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year," one of her favorite songs, played softly in the background in those final moments.
When life left her, she looked as if a painful burden had been lifted.
"There are angels in the room," that nurse said.
And then there was one more.