A Final Day With Mom 10/26/16

I wrote the following during my mom's last few days, before I had to return home. When I had to say goodbye before I left to catch my plane, it was the worst, most beautiful moment of my life. Our exchange meant so much-instant reconciliation and sharing of love that we often fail to express when we have the chance. I may detail that as well at some point. Even nearing a two year anniversary of her passing, it remains fresh and pivotal in my mind. The following describes my first day seeing her like this. She died not long after on 11/07/16. :

I’m sitting in the front room of my parents’ house now. Mom lays there, her eyes closed, with a troubled look. I wonder what she is thinking now. Terror. That might be what I’d feel. I’m not sure. I don’t dare ask, because I know. The news is recent. The decision to allow nature to take its course is, also. I’m here, watching and feeling this. The fear of the end would be ever-present on my mind, were I to get the news of my own terminal illness.

I’m writing in part, because I am trying to break into one of the lockers of my mind that is airtight. I tuck things away, compartmentalize with the best of them. It’s really been happening for almost a year, where I rarely can live the moment. At this moment, I’d rather not, but I should. Writing has been a vehicle that I have used to get there over the years. My brain seeks escapism, and I will indulge, but for now, I feel obligated to sit and absorb this in any manner that I can.

I hear the air conditioner come on. A noisy bluejay yelling outside, and the noise of my mother’s stomach growling, struggling even now, simply attempting to do its job. The noise is constant, and I associate it with the monster inside her, growing stronger and taking her life. The noise is a product of the very system that is killing her, which likely started in the pancreas, and moved into her liver. And her stomach, deprived of anything to work on, complains incessantly about it. Her appetite is nonexistent. When I ask her how she feels physically (I don’t ask the other), she says “unwell”. I ask if it’s tiredness, and she agrees that that is part of it. I think a big part of it must be starvation. atrophy on an exponential scale. She sips periodically on a protein drink with a straw, but more often, water with a straw. I don’t know how to speak with her yet, and I show her pictures of her granddaughters and regale her with umpteen instances of their success. It’s all I can bring myself to do. I wonder what others have done.

She has drifted off now, I can hear short breaths drawn through the nose. Thankfully, she is at peace for the present. Oh the phone starts ringing, and mom stirs for a moment. Her eyes open. The house is incredibly loud, with all of the systems in place. FMR called, and doesn’t reply to my hello. The dog barks reliably at most little things. We also have a clock that chimes every half hour with assorted bird noises. That has been a part of this place as long as I’ve known it.

Mom is awake. Eyes open. Is she musing “I’m still alive…”? Moves her arms, and shifts slowly with her legs. I can see little of her figure. What I see most of all at the moment is her face. She shares the same skull as her mother. Always beautiful, and glowed when she smiled. I’ll always remember that. When she genuinely smiled, it was uplifting. It improved my day. She mentioned she practiced “smiling with the eyes”. I have seen the smile less over time. Over the last few years it’s been a smile that says “oh that’s nice”. In the modern parlance, it could be described as “cool story bro”, in a momentary patronizing grin, if I got a little too philosophical or outspoken. That was always there. The casual relegation of me to a child role. That’s ok though. I understand it. Maybe it more had to do with her not paying attention, and to tell me “I’m happy to be, nonetheless”. I’ve been known to close things out, from time to time in the same fashion. I imagine a blank look more than a grin.

I flew down here with an understanding of what this would mean, from my insulated home in Stevenson. It was initially simply “something I needed to do”, an inconvenience that I would never consider passing up. And hearing the news of the decline in the north, my dad’s hope and often positive stories of how she is doing better. I saw the pictures of her covered with the quilts that she had made, I had a feeling that this was not what you would call better. Life continued on for me, and I had a multitude of distractions.

She has drifted off in puffs of air now. I’m relieved. Why? So there is something there. I fear her wakefulness. I don’t want her to suffer physically, and worse to me, emotionally. When she wakes, uncomfortable doesn’t begin to describe the moments of silence beside her. Do I fill that silence, and with what? Do I talk about things that she can no longer do? Do I talk about the good ol’ days? Older folks love that! Maybe I talk about stories of she and I, that I remember, and that I was positively affected. She doesn’t hear well, and looks at the ceiling as I loudly speak my stories or thoughts, and her mind may often be elsewhere, in more painful territory.

I still don’t know the full impact on dad, when the axe drops. Silence? Absolutely not! The dog will continue to bark, and the real and fake birds will chirp. The scammers will continue to call on a ridiculously loud land line. All these systems in place, mostly because of mom, may be a painful mockery or an endless distraction from the gravity of the situation. There will be the house, full of people, wishing well, sympathizing, maybe crying, maybe tending to the affairs at hand, maybe praying, maybe attempting to help, or offer it at least. Then, the silence. The dog is barking.