A week ago, when a large contingent of my extended family crowded into my mother's nursing home room to sing, pray and say goodbye, I didn't envision this day. We were thirty strong then, with the voices and tears to prove it. Today, because of another unexpected crisis which falls into the category of "when it rains it pours," I was alone in that room. Having taking only the novel The Help (which is great, and makes me want to investigate post-Civil War, pre-Civil Rights 'slavery' in the south), a bit of knitting, and my cell-phone, I didn't have much to occupy me through those hours alone. At one point I did find myself humming, "There was one in the bed, and the little one said, ' Alone at last!'" My siblings and the rest of the family just kept peeling off, until it was just me and that barely, but working-hard-at-it, breathing woman.
I finished the book, finished the skein of yarn and began counting Mom's breathing. I thought, perhaps surprisingly, that if I put a numeric value on it, it would stop bothering me. I don't know if you've ever sat with someone who stops breathing for longer and longer stretches, then suddenly starts back up again, like her nervous system had been jump-started, but that's the way my mother breathes these days. And it's a bit disconcerting. Produces a small fright, in a way. But it doesn't take long before the strange becomes the new normal in the room of a dying person. Her stop-gap breathing, which, we've discovered, is actually called 'Cheyne Stoking' shook us way back on Tuesday when we first heard it. But these days, we continue to talk around it, and rarely look up, except when a new symptom is added. Like a cough or a deep voice or something.
But today I was alone. So that breathing was my companion. And when it stopped, the silence from her bed was a too quiet. Not every time, of course, but enough that butterflies would climb out of wherever they'd been hiding in my stomach, and those butterflies would begin flapping their wings against my stomach wall. So I discovered that the best way to keep the monsters of "Eek, that's creepy!" at bay was to pay more attention to her breathing, rather than less. To count the cycle, the breaths, the climb back up into full-on snoring, then then decline back down. And I discovered that she's spending more time NOT breathing now than she is actually breathing. Twice as much time. That can't be good, right?
It's Saturday morning now. I was too tired last night to finish this post. Too numb from the strange day. See, yesterday, my sister had to rush her farmer-husband to Spokane for an emergency surgery on a torn retina in his left eye. Yep, just one more thing to add to the laundry list of that watering down on this family right now. This surgery means that farmer B, my brother-in-law, who lives for and stresses over and is hardly-fit-to-live-with-but-how-can-he-live-with-out-it-during harvest, must lay on his stomach with that newly repaired eye pointing toward the earth for the next week at least, maybe the next two. And I'm not talking pointing toward the harvest gold earth. I mean the plain old wall-to-wall carpet in their house earth. From all points of view, this next week won't be easy: not for him and not for his wife, who surely, surely has enough on her already-just-about-tipping-over plate. With Mom still struggling to breath, and all. Or maybe I should say, still struggling to die. I don't really know which Mom is struggling with now. She's not saying, after all.
But this probably be my last post from the Palouse for a while. SK and I are driving home tomorrow. A friend suggested yesterday that perhaps Mom is waiting until she's alone before she dies. And maybe there's something to this. At least it looks like she'll have her chance.
So what has been the point of all of this, then? Several things, I think.
Time with my siblings, first of all, in a way we haven't had time together since we were children. And as we were together, we reverted to our essential selves for a while--quibbling and whining a bit, trying to take control of an uncontrollable situation and of each other (who are likely as uncontrollable as the situation!), then coming to a consensus (which would have pleased both our parents--especially if we used that exact phrase to describe it), and finally, when that consensus had been reached, celebrating Mom and our childhood and our family. Saying goodbye to Mom. So what if she breathes for another few weeks? We had that time and it was complete.
Then, when the chairs emptied and the room cleared and RE and I finished our knitting projects and Mom continued to breathe, BB, RE and I had a hard, good second week. A powerful one. By Wednesday of this week, we were utter basket-cases, laughing at the stupidest things, being more irreverent than even the most irreverent of us had been the week before. We'd hit the wall, so to speak, had nothing left. It was NOT our finest hour, or day, I can tell you that, even if the laughing felt good and the irreverence felt a little healing.
Thursday morning, I was awakened early, far earlier than I'm comfortable being awakened. So I was pretty sure who it was waking me up. And He wasn't slow about making it clear what He wanted from me/us. When we got to Mom's (which is what we always call the nursing home where she 'lives', though basically it's only a room and a bed and not many of us would call what she's doing 'living' any more), I suggested to RE and BB that we begin our day with scripture and prayer. Then I texted our whole, large family and asked them to pray with us at the same time.
Since then, the atmosphere in the room and the attitude in our hearts has been far better, and the hysteria has abated. OK, so we're still slightly crazy, still a little irreverent, but I have a real sense of One walking around in this fire with us. And I think if you could look through the window to the fiery furnace in which we're dwelling, you could see Him too. Just like Shadrack, Meshack and Abendigo, exactly like them. I don't know why it took so long for us to get it. The enemy's ploy of blinders? Maybe. Doesn't matter. He is here, and He is not silent. And, whether we are here in body with Mom when she goes home or not, He will be with her. And, after all, who else really needs to be there?