Cloves and nutmeg
An opera on the radio
Mom sitting in the chair by the window, reading as the
Rutabaga and potatoes boil over
Telephone stand at the front door-
only say ‘Hello Grampa. It’s costing a fortune because it’s not 6:00pm’.
At the hospital. Lots of drugs. Nothing made her comfortable. She was still awake…Should have been an IV with a bottle of Crown-her 20 years with AA didn’t matter anymore.
At 2:00 am or around that, the cat is winding hopefully (expectantly)around my ankles that it’s breakfast time. In the 10 or so steps it took to walk to the toilet, I recognized the emptiness and that she no longer was with me. Sometimes I would silently agonize. Hot, fat tears dripping onto my lap..other times I would think about what she was experiencing or learning..did she know the secrets to the world? Did she know my secrets?
Her expressive and loving face, soft as a flower’s petal, shrinking and pulling up so that it was like a nylon had been yanked over her head- her features contorted back into what could only be described as skull like-her wide mouth that smiled a million smiles, now set into a fierce and awesome grimace.
Stood there. Then paced. Then touched. Quietly horrified. On my knees, head on bed. Listening to ragged breath escaping…I was no longer laying with my Mother but was experiencing something with her that was so painfully intimate I would get up occasionally…just every so often, to view the scene from across the room, staring at the door-bright hospital hallway (light) barely visible through the bottom crack.
Reality vs gateway…did this happen to everyone? This struggle?
She had been moved to a private room not 4 hours beforehand. I had arrived two hours later. Walking into the dimly lit room, seeing my brother and his girlfriend quietly keeping vigil..creases of concern and grief on their otherwise expressionlist faces.
Taking off my coat and shoes, putting my bag aside, pulling down the rollbar and crawling into bed with her. Cradling her fragile head against my chest and kissing her tiny skull that seemed to have shrunk to a child’s size in the hours since I had last seen her. Lips no longer visible-a thick, sticky foam rimming what teeth she had left ..and her ears, like they had grown inches in hours looked to have been glued there as one would on a paper mache head. I stroke her long, soft hair and whisper nothings and somethings to her…’I’m here, it’s okay..we are okay. Go to sleep. I know. I know…I love you. I know you love me and that you love Richard’..
My brother and his girlfriend had left me to comfort her. He said later that he didn’t realize she was dying. I felt terribly selfish that I hadn’t told him what I had thought when I arrived and glanced over at her. I thought ‘She’s dying and I am very glad I am here’. Then I thought, ‘But is she really? Or am I being dramatic’? Richard was exhausted. I waved for he and Noemi to go home. He leaned into Mom and whispered ‘I love you Mom’. Through clenched teeth it was almost indiscernible, but I told him later I was sure she said ‘I love you too’.
Through her clenched jaw, the moaning and gnashing, the millions of words she had stored away in her lifetime came pouring out in garble, seeping out through her mouth like an open wound. And then, after a time, the moaning stopped, the jagged breathing began and I waited, hand over her shoulder, then on her leg, then on her back…trying somehow to give her comfort on a journey she seemed very afraid to take.
I had held animals in my arms as they died. I had paced with them, held them close, whispered loving words and had felt the warmth of their bowels release against my breast when they had finally been picked up by the angels. I had done so more times than I would like to remember…some people would say I was ‘good at that’. Keeping calm. Being comforting. Being so strong.
I got up and walked toward the window and there I stood. A faraway street light cast a glow through the large picture window; the snow on the ground reflecting the shadowy figure of this crippled child who I called Mommy. I knew I could not turn away. I knew I had to be there. Right there. I could not bare to look. Hers eyes were open but behind them, it was as if she were watching and hearing a movie that I could not. I dropped to my knees and placed my head on the mattress. I closed my eyes and listened as her breathing became slower. I waited. Then her breathing stopped. And I still waited. It started again. I closed my eyes and thought of nothing at all-keeping my disbelief and horror and panic firmly behind a locked door. If I were to let it in, God knows what could happen. I was afraid to think of what was occurring with her organs. While I should have been praying, I started thinking in an odd, macabre manner…Like, there was some sort of grand master that was giving direction inside her body. “Okay, liver, time to shut down. ‘Check’! Kidneys, you finished ? ‘Check’! Lungs, how about you guys? ‘We’re almost done, just packing up shop’! Heart? ‘I’m almost ready, just a few more beats for old times sake’…
I opened my eyes. The silence was deafening. I knew she had left me. Her hand was cool to the touch. There was no longer any movement. I lifted my eyes to her face. Her eyes were open and opaque, her mouth slightly ajar…I stood up and walked to the furthest corner of the room averting her frozen gaze. No tears. Completely numb. Was she watching me? I couldn’t cry…she would see me cry and it would break her heart…
I stood in that room for 10 minutes. I had tried to close her eyes but the lids wouldn’t close..It wasn’t like in the movies where they slide their hand over a deceased person’s face and the eyelids close. I think to myself that Mom, Richard and I would have a good laugh imagining a comedic skit of someone who had died, with the one character trying to close the lids of the deceased and the lids closing and then opening over and over again. I can hear her laughter.
I call my brother. He asks if he needs to come. I say no. Because, really, he has said his goodbyes, but if he wants to see her…He says no.
I walk out to the corridor. I stand there. Her room is at the very end of the hallway. It’s just past midnight. There isn’t a soul to be seen. I feel very small, as if I have reverted into 5 year old Margaret and don’t know where my Mommy is. Like I am lost and want someone to take me home. Someone walks toward me. It seems to take forever for her to get to me. She is holding a diaper and some blankets. She smiles and says ‘I was just coming to check and see if your Mom needs to be changed’. I stare at her. Then she says, ‘Or is this not a good time? Is she sleeping?’. I say “No. She’s dead”.
The women, taken aback begins to stammer and stutter and I recognize that she is not a nurse but a health care aid, who really doesn’t know what to do. She says to me “Oh. Oh my. Are you sure? I will go get the nurse. Do you know where the nurse is’? And I just stand there. In stunned silence. I turn and go back into her room. Two nurses come in and check the figure on the bed. They turn to me and say “We will give you as much time as you need with her. Just come and get us when you are through”. I said “I have been here for long enough. I don’t need to be here”. They say, “Is anyone else coming?” I reply there will be no one else coming. They look mildly surprised…or..like they don’t know what to say.
“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep!”