Five Years ago--my mother is dying
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
I always thought that there would be a simple undramatic ending. We would all get older and a bit wiser and with old age would come a sort of natural anaesthetic which would dull the aches and pains of contumely. Things would become smoother and the dramas would revolve around idle scenes--what to eat and what to wear and desire would have no keenness. You’d dream of a good night’s sleep or a day without a headache the way young people dream of passion and conquest.
I see my mother stretched out on her bed at the end. Nobody cared; when I came in I had them move her to a private hospice room where she would not have to hear her roommate shout out readings from the Bible and other exhortations. She wanted my mother to arise and cut a caper, evidently. And then I held her hand and talked. It seemed as if she heard. She smiled a couple of times and she rooted for the straw when I held up her water and sucked fervently.
Nobody else paid much attention to her. My sisters sat across the room (and we are now speaking of a big room---not a hospital room but something more like a hotel room with an extra twin bed and lots of chairs and a television and DVD player and CD player—I suppose in case you want to die watching a DVD.
I was there for my father too. Dying is not easy work. You don’t simply lie there and wait to be embraced out of nature but you choke, you have fever, your breathing is stertorous and labored. Your fingers look for something to pluck. Your dreams are further constained: perhaps you long for an easy breath or a nice sound. I didn’t know what my mother wanted but it seemed that she liked the sound of voices.
It was far across the room and my sisters were murmuring together about their wonderful sons—Greek Gods. Which is smarter? Which is taller? Which is fleeter of foot? And I felt resentment because I truly sensed that the far off murmuring of incomprehensible words was not what my mother was there for. I believed that she wanted to hear up close and clearly words—her name, a reference to the Buddha; poems. I kept on saying her name and reading poetry out loud and reading Buddhist mediations.
I like to think that she heard me or if she did not really hear me that she sensed a voice focused on her; directed to her; a voice concerned about easing her dying if at all possible. Why is it that so many different people in so many different places say that you should speak to the dying? That their sense of hearing is the last to go? She would sometimes smile at the end of a poem or the beginning of a familiar one. Finally, I know she heard me.
My mother was in a very different place than my father at the end. He was evidently dead; breathing through the auspices of a respirator—no movement, no plucking, no lifting up his lips for something….she was clearly wandering between two worlds—the world of the sentient and the world of the final destination—sheer oblivion and nothingness. I could not wander with her, but I held her hand.
Thank you to all who responded; my sisters did they best they knew how to do in the circumstances.