“What do I do now?” I asked.
The hospice nurse gently explained the next steps she would take: contacting her hospice company and the owner of the care home to inform them of the death, waking up the caregivers to let them know as well. “And then we will need to contact” – she consulted her notes – “the Neptune Society. If you want to make that call, it’s your right. But I am happy to call them for you, if you prefer.” Yes, please. You do it. Thank you.
I sat down on the other bed and listened as she made the phone calls, offered the few pieces of information she needed and didn’t already have at her fingertips. When she finished the last call, the nurse told me it would be 60 to 90 minutes before they would come to collect her.
She asked if I wanted to remove Mom’s wedding rings from her finger. We had tried to do it earlier because her hands were starting to swell and the nurse was afraid we wouldn’t be able to get them off later, but it had proved too difficult and I was afraid of causing her distress. We were beyond that now, so I nodded. Would you do it, please? Thank you.
She carefully worked the engagement ring from Mom’s finger and handed it to me. I slipped it onto my middle finger, next to my sterling silver owl ring. The wedding band was still getting stuck at the knuckle and I told her to leave it. “In 55 years, she never took those rings off except to clean them. Maybe she would want to keep it on.”
The nurse then left the room to give me some time alone, to say goodbye. “Take as much time as you need,” she told me. “Just come and get me when you’re ready.” I stood beside Mom’s bed and told her everything that was in my heart, and I cried until I felt done crying for the moment. I said a blessing over her, the one that begins “May the wind carry your spirit gently…”
I went out to the dark living room and sat with the hospice nurse for a few minutes, but it felt wrong to leave Mom alone — even though I knew Mom wasn’t THERE anymore — so I went back into her bedroom. I sat on the other bed and just looked at her, so still. Her jaw structure looked odd, and I realized it was because we had removed her dentures. I kept thinking that I saw the sheet move, as if she were breathing… and it was unnerving enough that I had to go over and put my ear to her chest to listen for any signs of breath or a heartbeat. Silence, of course. A fly had gotten in when we opened the sliding door earlier, and it kept landing on her. After shooing it away several times, I finally pulled the sheet over her head. I stayed with her.
It was 2:45 a.m. before the mortuary people (a man and a woman) arrived. The gentleman told me that because she was being cremated, they had to remove the wedding ring. I nodded and looked away. A few moments later, he put the delicate white gold band into my palm.
When they had her wrapped up and loaded on the stretcher, the hospice nurse held out her hand to me. Holding hands, we walked behind the stretcher out onto the patio, past the garden and around the side of the house. The moon hung in the sky, round and nearly full, reflecting brightly on the clouds. I caught my breath at the beauty of it. I wondered if Mom was seeing it too.