Monday, August 9, 2010

Being with her

I've done this before.  Gathered in rooms to watch a loved one die.  Sat in hard chairs which have little or no support in unattractive rooms, making desultory conversation while the loved one sleeps, just so we can hop up and speak when she opens her eyes.  Saying the things we need to say to her, maybe things we should have said years ago, but it takes this exact set of circumstances to make those phrases pass from our hearts to our lips.  "You were the Mom God intended for us.  We wouldn't be who we are if you hadn't been our mother." "It's time to go, now, Mom.  It's okay to go." Such words make us cry, even though the person in the bed, the one dull of eye and cold of hand, barely changes expression no matter what is said.  In a different situation, she'd be crying too, right now. Tears of joy that we're all here, together at her bedside, lined up (metaphorically), oldest to youngest, participating in her send-off.  And tears of sadness that the send-off is at hand. For years Mom cried when she said goodbye to us.  I remember her tears from when I left for college, from the end of every vacation home with my family, and every trip she took to our house.  She never, ever like leave-taking.

So it shouldn't surprise me that she's having a hard time letting go now.  It's also fundamental to her nature that this is so.  My sister speculates that I'm trying to be Mom's mouth-piece when I say 'Mom likes it when we sing,' or some other such thing.  She looks at this woman, this silent, almost immobile woman and sees NOTHING.  Thinks, "There's nothing to see here, folks."  And, in one sense, she's absolutely right.  There's nothing to see in this shell of a person.  But we know Mom's real self.  We know who she really is.  The people who work at the nursing home where she has but one narrow bed, a dresser, a couple of children's books, and a few stuffed animals--they actually know nothing of Mom.  They've said several times that they love Mom, because she's 'so easy-going.'  EASY-GOING?  My mother has been called a lot of things in her life, but easy-going is absolutely NOT one of them.  One nurse told me yesterday, 'I just heard she used to be a teacher, and that she liked books.'  These two facts, which are merely activities/profession she chose, come far closer to the core nature of Mom, than the idea of her having an easy-going temperament. 

But we know that core nature.  Right here, right now we know it, even as she lies in a bed, her breath sometimes shallow, sometime hitched, sometimes simply deep.  We recognize her cough, her throat-clearing, her frown-lines from a lifetime of such habits and reactions.  So we can imagine what she'd be thinking in these last days, had she the mind power behind it and the word power in front of such thoughts.   So I can say with some confidence that Mom would love it if we sang for her, and we can all come up with songs she sang to us:  Waltzing Matilda, Edelweiss, Down by the Old Mill Stream, and most importantly, Ash Grove (her very favorite song).  These are all songs we sang in the car.  Lots and lots of car rides with lots and lots of singing.  When I told Beve tonight about the singing, he said, "Was it hard to talk them into singing?"  Just shows how much I failed to pass this activity on to my own family, more's the pity. 

It was a long day in a small room in a nursing home. Just like they were long days in the hospital when it was Glo lying in the bed, or Beve's mom. Or Dad.  Yes, I've sat in such rooms before.  And other than the day before Dad died, I haven't had the advantage, the gift, of final thoughts from the dying.  Nor will I--we--this time.  But we have two things.  We have each other: my siblings, some of our kids, and spouses.  We have our family, near and far to walk through these last days with us.  And, more importantly, we--the collective we that is the family she and the dad who waits in heaven for her--are in these last days with her.  We are simply in them with her.  Being with her.

This post has been carefully proofed for my brother and his wife, so that they'll know I'm neither a poor speller, nor incapable or finding flaws in my own writing.  In truth, no one can be as hard on a writer as she is on herself.  But thanks for pointing out my weaknesses.

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