This is one of the things I wrote when my mother was dying. It feels awkward to say any more than that.
Nov 5, 2007
My mother is sleeping now. Her soft snores assure me the morphine is working. She goes in and out. We talk to her when she’s conscious, talk among ourselves when she drifts away. The only sound is the steady patapatapata of the machine hooked up to her hand and nose. They oxygen tube is wound around her ears so she can breathe; the gastro tube is taped to her nose, goes down her throat, and slowly drains the bile her body cannot expel normally.
Her intestines, the doctor said, are twisted and a toxic build-up in her system has created this crisis. He doubts she would survive surgery and even if she did, the result would be a few more days in a morphine-based coma. Less morphine would leave her in agony. Right now, after deciding to forgo surgery, we are simply trying to manage pain so her final hours are as comfortable as possible. She made it clear long ago she wanted no heroic measures. Her kidneys have begun to fail, her intestines cannot rid her body of waste, and her heart is beginning to falter. Her breathing has slowed to less than half its normal rate. We are here on deathwatch. Anything we wanted to say should have already been said.
I was here last week and the week before. I missed a few weeks – moving and then a chest cold – but I have tried to visit regularly for the past couple of years. I’ve been writing her story – at her request – and reading to her when I visit. She refers to me as her daughter, Kathy “the writer.” I appreciate that she doesn’t think of me as a failure – I do – but as something she dreamed of for herself all her life. For this, I am grateful. My love of books and writing were a gift from her and I will forever credit her with that. It has often been my only lifeline – this act of putting words on paper. Stringing words into sentences the way I string beads into necklaces.
Maybe I can eventually get the sentences to form the story she has been trying to tell me all my life. Maybe even after she’s gone she will still talk to me the way her parents communicate with me now. They fill my dreams with stories and even asnwer questions. Whatever I do with the rest of my life ,nothing will ever be more important than finishing her story.
The dry hospital air
Makes her thin skin itch.
She moves her hand,
Bound with tubes,
Toward her face, her hip .
We gently move it away from tubes and bandages,
murmuring encouragement .
My brother rubs lotion on her skin,
I think of butterfly wings.
Morphine pulls her back into that soft, dark place
Of painless dreams and peace.
Those of us at her bedside
talk of things that don’t matter,
Our eyes never resting on anyone’s face.
We’re trying to ignore so much,
Huge things, past hurts, regrets, painful memories.
We hold her hand, smooth her fine hair,
Wish for a peaceful end. Final peace for her Release for us.
We are a large family. Not close.
Too much pain, too much damage.
Being here is beyond awkward.
There are some not strong enough to be here at all.
I do not judge them. I am here for her. Only her.
Because I let my anxiety explode
recently at someone who pushed
against my fragile bounderies
I vow to keep my own council,
For her. Hearing is the last thing to go.
So now my face is smooth, my manner calm.
I am as cordial and polite as I would be with strangers.
They mostly are, in fact, strangers. Mama would be appalled.
She’s your sister She’s your niece He’s your brother.
And on and on. She’s right.
I care as far as my heart can stretch.
They are related to me by accident of birth.
Too many experiences,
Too many reprisals,
Too much damn drama.
My own life has drained patience from me,
My own pain fills me up; there is no room for theirs.
So many of us in one room poisons the air with sadness.
We are all old now, hard lives etched on our faces.
The damage of lives mired in sorrow and desperation
Reduces the memories of goodness, bright days, personal achievements
To mere moments – moments long gone and tarnished.
I was young once- bright, energetic, even beautiful.
I still have bright days,
And I guard them as jealously as any miser guards his gold.
My brothers and sisters must have secret caches
Of happiness that they dip into,
count out in the personal darkness of their lives.
I hope so.