Friday, October 26, 2018

Still Here...

Today is Rita’s birthday, so, while we want Mom to go as soon as possible because she is unhappy whenever she wakes up and sees she’s still here, we hope she hangs on until tomorrow.  Two days ago, not knowing what her situation would be in the days ahead, Mom rallied briefly and sang “Happy Birthday.” Rita listened, her smile wide, her eyes glistening, but we all had to chuckle when Mom wrapped up the song with “Happy Birthday dear Matt….” Ah well.  We knew what she meant. 

Right now, she is snoring softly, thank god, fast asleep.

Two days ago, frustrated with what was, to her, a snag in her passing, she keyed into the refrain her doctor, nurses, and Hospice staff have repeated:  “You can do whatever you want.  You can refuse food and drink.”  We have all learned that Morphine does not hasten the end; that common belief has evolved because it’s generally the medication patients are taking at time of death.  So, exercising the tiny area over which she still has control, Mom has stopped eating. 

She has been here at Muirfield for a month… as have we. Dave, Matt, and Bill have been extraordinary in supporting us and keeping everything chugging while we girls stay with Mom.  The men have done laundry; run errands; cleaned house; cooked delicious dinners for us… and more. 

Yesterday, I left Dave asleep at 638 when I headed out to take the morning shift at Muirfield. I clicked the “unlock” button on my car key and… nothing.  Must have pushed the wrong button.  Tried again. Listened for a hint of an engine purr. Nothing.

“Please, oh please...” I begged while stabbing the button about twenty times.  No luck. Still nothing.

Argh!  I love my hybrid C-Max, but she has failed me before, and this was really bad timing.

Fighting tears, I stomped back into the house, up the stairs, and woke Dave.

“My car’s dead!” I wailed.

“Ugh.  Bummer. Give me a minute to get dressed. I’ll give you a ride over, then call AAA,” he said.  Poor sleepy guy. I knew he’d say that.  So many times he has lifted my burden and made my problem, his. He delivered me to Muirfield, and spent the next four hours dealing with multiple glitches, finally getting the car started, and then, with Matt, driving aimlessly for half an hour to make sure it stayed charged.   

                                    *                                  *                                  *

Mom has gone without food or water for five days and has slept most of the time.  The nurses and Hospice staff tell us that despite all appearances, Mom can hear us. So Rita reports on her birthday dinner; I vent about my car; Francie reads aloud the inscriptions in cards when they arrive.  To give us a break, Dave took the late and early shifts yesterday.  He says he loved having time alone with Mom to tell her what she meant to him, things he wished he’d told her sooner… for it has seemed, increasingly, that she is far away. 

Dr. Spitzer has been on vacation.  Having returned, he has come in to check on Mom.  He stands at the foot of her bed and gazes at her. He turns to leave and whispers, “I don’t want to disturb her.”

“Wait!  Talk to her,” I say.  “Let her know you’re here.”

He sidles up close to her head, strokes her hair, and quietly says hello.

Mom opens her eyes and mouths, “Hi Peter…” 

We all look at each other, wide-eyed.  Wow.  Wow… She’s still here!  Despite what we’ve been told, we haven't really believed she’s heard our whispered love, assurances, and appreciation… but, she has! 

                                    *                                  *                                  *

March 1
1:02 AM
Dave has returned to Easton, and when not at Muirfield, I am happy here, alone at 638, surrounded by portraits, Persian carpets, needlepoint pillows, and vintage posters: vestiges of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and Mom and Dad. My sisters dislike the musty smell, but I love it.  It wraps around me, the scent of family history, and I envision all those lives that led up to mine, and am comforted. 

When I mount the well-worn, carpeted stairs, I trail my hand along the bannister and then the walls covered with the same paper hung when we first moved in over fifty years ago.  “Hello dear house,” I murmur.  At the landing outside my parents’ room, I call, “Good night, Mom…” It’s easy, not hard at all, to place her on her bed in her room, her favorite, cozy spot.

In the guest room, I wash up, then slip into bed under the crinkly white and pink-monogramed bed covers.  My gaze falls, as always, on my great-grandmother’s green velvet rocker and delicate lady’s desk. A needlework picture of a grumpy grandfather and little girl carding the wool of a compliant sheep hangs on the facing wall. For years I have slept here.  Even as a teenager, I’d tiptoe down the stairs to this room when my third floor bedroom seemed too dark or too far from Mom and Dad. 

With Mom soon leaving, and this house no longer mine to come home to, how can I pay attention enough?  
At 638, Mom is everywhere.  Sitting in one of the white plastic kitchen chairs watching Jeopardy or standing before the 1928 Roper stove.  Sipping her white zinfandel in the den, surrounded by shelf upon shelf crammed with family pictures. Stretched out on her bed, flipping through People or Majesty magazines… or ear to phone, keeping up with her friends.  

Oh Mom!  Despite all the CAT scans and hospital time, the cards and flowers, the vigil at Muirfield, the wretched days and this long stretch of sleep… it seems a terrible fiction that you won’t be here.

Who will recommend books knowing I will like them?  Who will be as eager to hear the latest tale of a St. Anthony find? Who will answer the phone at 4997 for a cheery, chatty phone visit?  Who will relish, as much as Dave and I do, the latest on our kids and their families?

You have to know, Mom, how fortifying this time has been for me, Rita, and Francie together.  Who would have imagined, after a half century as sisters, that we could get to know each other better?  But we have… and they have been stalwart, brave, and dear. I am so grateful for them! I think you must be proud of us… Do you remember what Francie said to you the other day?  “We’ll be okay, Mom.  We’ll be there for each other as friends and protectors…” And we will.


Eliza said...

Sometime we should sit down over a glass of veritas and talk. Have you, perchance,read Roz Chast's book on her parents last years? “Can't we Talk About Something More Pleasant?” You'll love it. When my mother fell and broke her arm it took her about 10 days for the reality to sink in that she would need help 24/7 because she needed a walker to get around safely, and now she couldn’t walk. She was so private that the idea of people staying over in her apartment, helping her bathe, etc etc- Not possible. She announced she was stopping eating. “Oh!? There's Osso Bucco on the menu tonight? I'll have that and a glass of wine.” Read Roz' book- you'll get why we 3 daughters would daily text each other emojis....if it was a ☠️ Day or a ๐Ÿž๐ŸŸ๐Ÿž (tuna sandwich) day. It's quite a journey being with parents at the end. Write on! Love. E

Lea said...

The perfect title for that generation and a humorous/poignant take on hard times. I'll look for it! Love your emoji texts - so much conveyed in those little symbols! XXOO

Joan said...

I woke up this morning and, in my first moments of consciousness, reached for my cell and connected with your latest memoir. Tears followed. What I am continually reminded of when I read your pieces on family and life are respect, love, support, love, acceptance, love. xo

Laurie Stone said...

So poignant, Lea. Having lost my dear father at hospice, i know a lot of what you went through. Going through your childhood home is so bittersweet, I can't imagine. Beautiful and evocative writing, as ever.

Geraldine Monahan said...

I cherished the time spent with my sisters during my parents last days, sometimes just two or three of us together, sometimes all 5. After my mom passed, I feared that there wouldn't be anything to bring us all together any more. That our lives would move on and take us further away from each other. I expressed that fear as we sat around mom's dining room table when the house was almost clear of everything. My sisters reassured me that we would still get together, and we have. Maybe not everyone all the time, but at least once a year we come together and it feels wonderful.