Belmont, California is a quaint town just twenty miles south of San Francisco. On January 18th of the year 2005, started out as just another rainless day. The drought situation was on the minds of Ruth Hume’s neighbors, and the main topic of their conversations. She, however, was concerned about the massive amount of blood she saw during her early morning bathroom routine.
She called her husband Joe into the bathroom and he immediately rushed her to the emergency room of Sequoia Hospital. To her, and those that love her, this was the beginning of a long search for the source of the blood loss. It ends almost 9-months later with her death, and no medical explanation. This story is not about her health condition, although I refer to it for continuity; the primary focus is on how she spent her final months on this Earth.
The average woman has between 8 and 10 pints of blood in her body. Mysteriously, Ruth was losing an average of one to one and a half pints of blood in a three week period. The doctors tried putting a stint in her liver, as well as cauterizing some ulcers in her stomach. Nothing they tried made a difference – they were stumped! Could situations like this be the origin of the term “Medical Practice”?
From late-January through the middle of August, she would receive an infusion of blood every few weeks to keep her alive. When she would get very low on blood, she became what Joe described as “cranky and confused.” He would then take her to the hospital for a “fill-up.” At the hospital, toward the end of May, a doctor pulled Joe aside and said, “We cannot find the source of the hemorrhaging. You could just not bring her in at a certain point in the future, and she would essentially pass away humanely with very minimal pain. Otherwise, blood infusion is her path for the remainder of her life.” She was 78 at the time.
Joe was stunned at the doctor’s callous statement, and quoted something to him he had seen on a T-shirt; “When you are dead, you don’t know that you are dead. The pain is felt by others. The same is true when you are stupid.”
To tell “the love of his life” what that doctor had stupidly expressed, took great courage for Joe. They held each other for a long time before she spoke. The silence was broken with these words, “I’m tired, Joe. I want to take some time to be able to get my house in order, and then I will call my kids. I want to see them at least one time before I make the decision as to when or if I stop receiving blood.” He cried and told her he did not want to lose her. She held his face in her strong, loving hands and said, “Don’t’ fight me on this Joe. Today I am here; let’s enjoy today.”
After a few days had passed, Joe secretly called each of us, her five children, to explain the details of her situation. He asked that when she called, we allow her the dignity of expressing her wishes, whatever they were; without judgment or giving personal opinions.
She didn’t make us wait long and we each agreed to fly to California for what we knew might be our final farewells. Her two oldest sons, Leroy and Jim went together in June; they may have needed to make that trip as a team for emotional support. Next was her oldest daughter, Mary arriving in July, her youngest daughter, Dona in early-August, and I scheduled a visit in late August. I took my present husband, Randy and mine’s 10-year-old son, Duncan with me so that he could say goodbye to his grandmother. We probably unconsciously spaced the time out over several months so we could selfishly have her here with us that much longer.
On our visits, she gave us personal items she wanted each specifically to have and asked if there were other things we would like. She was divesting their home of her belongings.
Two days after Duncan’s and my departure, she announced to all of us that her next infusion was due sometime after her 79th birthday on September 1st. Whenever that one was over, she wanted to go back to Indiana. There she would have the option of continuing to receive infusions in Princeton at the hospital where she was born, or if she wanted to stop receiving blood, at least she would be able to die “Back Home in Indiana”. My sisters called and said they were going to help her get ready for the journey. Mary booked the airplane tickets.
On September 15th, when Mary and Dona walked into the house, they were told by Joe that Mom missed the infusion appointment. They could see Mom’s health was spiraling down quickly. Hospice was called in to help with her pain and get her stabilized for the flight. Within hours of their arrival and some consulting with the Hospice team, Mom’s mind had changed and she wanted to remain in California. When you bring Hospice in, it is for palliative care only. There would be no more infusions. This information was a game changer! Flights needed to be canceled; the infusion scheduled in Indiana needed to be scratched, and their new mission was just to be with Mom and Joe, through the uncertain days ahead.
As her body was weakening, she directed the girls to separate out everything of hers that Joe was not attached to and take these items to their local charity store. They cleaned out drawers, closets, and cabinets, even the garage. She wanted him to have a fresh start on life. Joe is 11-years younger than Mom, and she knew he would be lonely without her. She said, “If Joe wants to have a woman come over someday, she won’t have to feel my presence.” Who thinks like this? The answer is Ruth; the woman who loves Joe completely and makes his welfare her top priority. That’s our mama!
Mary and Dona’s vigil was going on seven days, when I received a call from Dona. She asked me to please come to California because she knew I would regret it if I weren’t there when Mom passed. They were sure it was going to be any day. I made the decision to go, not for my sake, but for theirs.
I had learned a lot about myself during the illness and death of my first husband, Wayne James. God has given me a gift of inner strength and peace where death is concerned, and I knew I could be a comforting, calming influence in California.
Duncan and I arrived the next day, and I settled into a routine of caregiving. While Joe and my sisters attended to her fading emotional needs, I rendered my service to her growing physical needs: bathing, grooming, and toilet duties. Her three daughters being there together was a good thing for all of us. Grandpa Joe and Duncan spent a much of their time exploring the wonderful parks and playgrounds that surround their neighborhood.
Missing her last infusion was putting her body in a lot of distress, she started talking less and sleeping more, but still had a powerful heartbeat and seemed unwilling to let go. On Saturday night, while everyone had gone out for a walk, I pulled her address book out of the nightstand. She had friends all over this country, and I began calling them, starting with the A’s. I only skipped one name throughout the whole process of getting to the Z’s; that was our father, John.
In calling these folks, I announced who I was and the reason for the call: would they like to say goodbye to our mother? Most were very grateful that I was giving them this opportunity, but some started crying or stammering, and stated that they couldn’t do it. I assured them that it was alright and thanked them for being a part of her life. For the majority, though, as I held the phone to her ear, I could hear the words they uttered. There was not a lot of emotion expressed on her end, but they proffered much love and appreciation for her friendship, all words which came from their hearts. It was very moving for me to hear.
When I had called the last of the Z’s, I returned to the J’s where our father’s number was listed. Mother had become weary, and I wondered if I should just stop now and maybe call him tomorrow. The book became hot in my hand, so much so that I dropped it on the floor. It landed with the page still open to the J’s. I sat there for a few minutes and pondered the experience, was this just my imagination? I was getting fatigued as well, and emotionally exhausted from the exchanges I was privileged to hear. I picked up the book, and it still felt unusually warm. I dialed our father’s number and on the second ring, he answered.
“Dad, this is your favorite child, is this a convenient time to talk?” He said, “Sure! How’s it going out there?” I answered, “Well, I have been calling the people in Mom’s address book to give them a chance to say goodbye to her, and your name is still in the book. She is very worn-out and is slipping in and out of consciousness, but I was curious to know if you would care to say your goodbyes?” There was a brief moment of silence on the line; then, in a quivering voice, he said he would.
I put the phone up to her ear, and I heard him say, “Ruth, I am so sorry I didn’t treat you better throughout the 27-years we were married. You deserved so much better, and I feel very disgraced that I have not told you this before now – I just didn’t know how. You may not believe that I say prayers, but I do, and I have so often thanked God for putting Joe Hume in your life. He treats you like I should have, and I am very grateful to him for that.” He stifled a sob and then whispered, “Ruth, I want you to know that I have always loved you.” What I witnessed next left me feeling dumbfounded.
I was watching our mother’s face as I heard our father pouring out his heart to her. She had been put on morphine a few days before to ease her failing body’s discomfort. Although she told us it helped, her face was becoming severely taut and lined from the pain. As she heard John’s words, her face relaxed to almost smooth, and a single tear gently rolled down her cheek as she whispered in response, “I love you too, John.” I cannot think of a greater honor than to be an eyewitness to the miracle power of love and forgiveness. She closed her eyes, and after a few seconds of silence, I returned the handset to the base of the phone. What else could be said?
She slipped into a coma that night, but her heartbeat was still strong. With this development and them having been away from their jobs for close to two weeks, Mary and Dona made a heart rendering decision to leave Sunday afternoon. For all human purposes, their mother was gone.
While I was bathing Mom on Monday morning, the resilient, devoted heart that held the love of so many gave one last beat at 9:15 am. Upon learning of her death so soon after their departure, my sisters were chastising themselves for not staying until the end. But the reality of it was that our mother could not let go of this life while her house was full of daughters. Their leaving allowed her to say goodbye.