Signs

Febraury 12, 1993

It was the middle of the night.

My mother was seated semi upright on the sofa. She couldn’t lay flat any more without the fluids in her lungs overwhelming her into a coughing fit. She sounded asleep; her breathing was now quieter, and more regular than it had been earlier. Her eyes were closed.

My sister, brother and I were scattered about the room, in various stages of consciousness on the floor or chairs. A girlfriend of my mother’s was here with us too; she had driven the two hour drive from her home in Lansing as soon as we had called her the afternoon before. My son was asleep upstairs, oblivious to the goings on below.

The room was dimly lit by a digital clock and the lowest setting on a three way lamp.  It was warm; we’d cranked up the thermostat to keep my mother comfortable.  I could see that my mother’s friend was in the kitchen getting something to nibble on.  Outside, the streetlamps glowed, keeping watch over our vigil.  I grabbed my felt tip pen and journal notebook and wrote the following:

“How does it feel to sit and wait for your mother to die?  My mother is in the last stages before death, where her meds have got her so doped up, she remembers almost nothing.  Her speech is slurred, she’s very weak, and her entire body shakes with the effort of each breath.  Or at least, it used to.  Now she’s quieter.  She was rattling quite loudly from the mucous before, and now her breathing is slower.  This either means the meds are working or she’s very close to death.

This is exactly what I dreaded, remembering her in this terrible state; her mind is so messed up and she can’t do anything for herself any more.  Everyone is coming out to say goodbye; I expect it to happen this weekend.  It is 3:00am on Friday morning.

How do I feel?  I alternate between numbness and tears.  That I am losing someone I’ve taken for granted my entire life.  Something so basic…this is my mom.  And soon I won’t have one.  I can’t believe it’s already here.  It sounds so cliche, but I wish I had more time.  Not like now, of course, but before.  Talking about life, and her parents, and me, and family.  Now she’s so far gone, there’s no chance to say any of it.

I can’t believe it is finally happening.  I knew it would, but it came so fast; really, in the last two days.  At least I was able to take care of her and make a difference at the end.  I wish I could think of words for all of my thoughts, but right now it is easier to let them swirl around my head…”

I stopped writing, hearing  my mother stirring quietly in her place. One by one, each head popped up from where each of us was half asleep, watching my mother.

“Mom?” she asked into into the air, with her eyes closed. We all looked around at each other, wide eyed.  My mother’s mom had died in 1974, when I was four years old. Her father had died nine years before that, in 1965.  There were more words coming from my mother’s mouth, but they were impossible to understand.  I thought I caught the word “coming” and possibly the word “soon”.

“Do you think she sees her?” My sister asked my mother’s friend.

“I think she does, yes” she said.

“It’s on the list,” I whispered. “The list of symptoms that Hospice gave us. The ones that show that they’re getting…close. ‘Discussions with people who have already passed on’ is right on the list.”

“Yes, I see her,” answered my mother, with her eyes still closed.

“She isn’t asleep,” my mother’s friend said, stating the obvious. “She can hear us.”

“She is asking me to come with her,” my mother said. “She said that they are waiting.”  I assumed the “they” meant both of her parents.  I would have never in a million years believed that my mother spoke to her parents if I hadn’t witnessed it myself.  It was the kind of thing that I always thought was a good story, the kind that people tell when they are feeling maudlin or sentimental about those who have passed on.   But it was clear to me that my mother was indeed having a conversation, not a dream.

I sat there in the warm, dark room and tried to hold the moment in my head, knowing that it would be all too soon when this awe I was feeling would be replaced by something much, much worse.

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One Response

  1. This must be so hard. To relive it as you write it. Thank you for writing it though. I have been the distant observer (grandchild, niece…) of several deaths in the last year. I see so many commonalities between what you experienced and what we did. It is comforting to know that the process is normal…

    Anyway, I just wanted you to know that someone is still reading. Even though it is sometimes hard, I read every post.

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