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Her Last Breath

Lilyandra Manumaleuna

As my mother lay on her deathbed I couldn't help, but giggle. Her doe-eyed childlike stare innocently asked me, "Did you change my diaper Mom?" The thought of me, her 32-year-old daughter delivering a 61-year-old baby was comical and ridiculous. Her chestnut brown eyes were so innocent and void of the vivacious soul that once inhabited her body pre-cancer. Her memory had faded, she would go back and forth thinking I was her mom, her sister, sometimes even a stranger. Her once shiny, long, jet black hair laid lifeless and limp on the tattered white pillowcase at the head of the bed. She reverted to being a little child that needed her mother to take care of her sick, frail body. It was hard for me to see her like this. My aunt sat in the corner on a chair quietly anticipating any movement from me. I sat up, wiped the tears from my eyes, leaned over and whispered in my mother's dainty ear, "I think I'm ready Mom. I love you".

Her hospice nurse had earlier in the day discussed with us how to help her through the process of death and one of the options was to take her oxygen off. It was a terrible decision to make, but I felt she had suffered enough. She was in pain through this whole 9-week process. The cancer ravaged her body and before we knew it she was placed on hospice only 7 weeks after her diagnosis. Everything happened so fast, that my brain couldn't process the weight of the situation and responsibility of each decision I would make for her life. I knew this was going to be hard because the nurse left the decision up to us along with the dirty work of removing the cannula.

I sat in the chair beside her, stroking my mother's black hair as I felt a lump in my throat and the tears swell in my eyes. My aunt stood beside me watching with the most painful look on her face. A slew of memories flashed through my thoughts of all the sweet times I kept locked in my mind of my mother. One particularly memorable moment was this time our family went fishing at the lake and she was complaining about the hike to the lake, the mosquitoes, and basically the whole fishing trip. Like a sign from God, we heard birds cawing as we all looked up the same time and could see a white fluid of bird poop, like a missile, landed right on my mom's head. The whole family roared with laughter as she was first enraged and then lightened up and joined in the laughter. My mom had a great sense of humor and was a good sport about things.

Through all the memories, so were the thoughts of the future. The future of my kids, her grandkids and how she has affected their young lives. She was what they looked forward to throughout the weeks. A visit to grandma's house was equivalent to a trip to Disneyland. She wasn't the typical grandma. She was eclectic in her fashion choices and was up to date on music. She was youthful and had a free spirit, some would call her wild. She would share all her joys and pains openly because she didn't want my kids to make the same mistakes as her. She was a wedding dress model, a dancer, a singer, a seamstress, a handy woman, mother, and student. It seemed like there was no limit on what she could do.

Now here she laid still, peaceful, and in pain. My aunt rubbed my back as I kissed my mother's forehead and continued to take the oxygen tube out of her nose and off her ears. I could see the struggle for breath start instantly as she gasped and started to breathe small, quick breaths. I sat back down and held her hand. My aunt got up and walked over to the loud rattling oxygen machine and turned it off as it beeped. We sat there in silence and watched her breathing. The tears flowed like a leaky faucet from my burning face. The ironic thing is she was struggling for oxygen and I couldn't catch my breath as well . The pain felt unbearable and seared like a burning knife through my heart. It was a helpless situation as if I were watching her drown and just sat there in shock. I closed my eyes agonizing over when this would all be over.

When I opened my eyes, it was as if the room was foggy. It felt like a filtered picture of my mother rather than an original mental picture. She looked angelic and heavenly like a haze around her whole body. Her breathing changed from quick small breaths to long short breaths, and gasps. Within 20 minutes of us taking her oxygen off her face, she took her last breath. It was a deep slow gasp and as she exhaled her last breath a single tear streamed down under her right eye. It was so poetic like in some sad movie and made me cry even harder. I grasped her shoulders and hugged her as I sobbed. I wailed as my body shook uncontrollably on her stomach sobbing and whispering only one word, "Mom".

Wherever she went at that moment, I wanted to go with her.

Rose M.

April 2, 1954 -January 26, 2015