‘You have two weeks. You won’t be able to eat much longer, let alone walk, go to the bathroom on your own, or have conversations with your loved ones. We will control your pain, keep you comfortable, and allow your family to surround you with love and companionship’. That’s what someone in hospice faces. That’s what my mom faced three & a half months ago.
As strong as she always was, I saw my mother’s decline as a slow-moving cascade into dependence; reluctant and willful; determined and stubborn; and yet, though her body was failing her, her eyes revealed a different story. As she tried to focus on the conversations surrounding her, she seemed distracted by something larger. She had already withdrawn from everything that interested her in life. There was a pull toward the intangible world that was both compelling and frightening to her, and abstract and incomprehensible to the rest of us. She was becoming something different. So much so that, by the end, she was flesh.
Though she took her last breaths, I never felt that she was truly there to experience them. She probably didn’t hear when I led the family in The Lord’s Prayer in her last minutes. She didn’t know that I recognized her changing breath, and alerted everyone to that change. She didn’t feel me brushing back her hair from her forehead and watching as her eyes glazed over in closure.
I remember my aunt, my step-sisters, my step-father, losing grip. They didn’t want to accept her departure any more than I did. But something took over me. Something else moved inside and urged me to just be there; to be her; to comfort them, console their spirits, and share with them the truth. She was no longer there. Her time with us had passed.
Just 3 weeks before, she told me that ‘there’s nothing else they can do. They’re sending me into hospice’. The entire month leading up to that moment, my mom demanded that I stay positive for her. Do not cry. So, when she told me, and said that it was ‘okay to cry’, I refused. I refused right up until the point where she told me that she had wanted to write me a letter in her new journal, but that she had waited too long. Her hands were too shaky. That’s when I promptly climbed into her bed and bawled like I was 14 and broken-hearted.
After she passed, I once again took on the role of ‘strong daughter’. I talked other people through the grief, and comforted them. I dotted all the what-have-yous and the crossed all the now-whats until everyone was securely satisfied with her passing. It’s only now that I am lost. Any questions I have, or decisions I need to make; any battles I need to fight, or confrontations I should face, seem impossible without her. Afterall, where does water go when it no longer has a dam to keep it in its place? Where does a tree go once its been severed from its roots? Where does a baby bird go once its been told to fly?
I try leaning on friends and family, but they’re not her. There love is not unconditional. I am convinced, more than ever, that the closest love to God’s love is a parent’s love for their child. I still find myself talking to her, mentally. She was answering at first, but that voice is becoming a whisper. Will that whisper be enough? Probably not. For the first time in my life, I’m learning that my own voice, combined with the holy spirit, is all that I have. That will have to do. In the meantime, I have to dot all the what-ifs, cross all the which-ways, and finish all the what-nows, the best that she taught me.