My Mother Died 5 Days ago
She was here. In my living room. She wanted to die here with me. Looking out at the mountains. With Toby, our sweet Labradoodle, near her. So we contacted hospice and they brought in a hospital bed and some oxygen. And she willed herself through her pain in North Carolina (where she had gotten VERY sick, very quickly) long enough to be transported by ambulance the 15 hours it took to arrive at my home in Vermont. They carried her from the ambulance in my driveway into my living room and moved her from stretcher to bed. She was here for seven days. Toby laid on the couch beside her.
Seven days. Seven days of holding hands and crying and listening to violin music from her collection of albums and to the cars passing on Route 2. I fed her medicine, largely morphine, through her hours that crossed from clarity to delirium. She called for people she loved. Some living. Some not. She wanted badly to see her great granddaughter once more and repeated her name again and again.
On the morning of the last day she would wake up, she looked at me and held my hand and said, "My sweet baby girl. I love you so much." It was the last coherent thing I remember her saying...except maybe that the morphine was bitter. That evening her breathing changed. By about 8:00 p.m. we thought she had only moments so I phoned my kids first and then my brothers. But mom hung on. Through the evening and into the night. Just she and I. I sat with her and took care of what she needed in those hours of her unconsciousness. Until just before 3:00 a.m. she stopped breathing.
And now she is not here. I don't have any idea what to do with that. I do not know how I am.
...It has been three months, a summer, since I wrote that. Time just passes on and on, moments flying into the next one. I have worked some but have been confused by my own schedule, feeling kind of half-brained. We have traveled. First to North Carolina. Then to Alaska. Then back to NC. I have steadily made progress on settling mom's estate. I have taken the boat out on the lake and made some nice meals. We have had some folks over and have played some games of cards and caught quite a few fish.
What I will remember from this summer is feeling muddled and lost. I have talked about mom's dying with acquaintances, feeling the need to tell the story, but have avoided talking to the people who loved her. Talking to them might make it more real. More real? Than dead? What does that even mean?
In a gift shop at our lodge in Alaska, I started looking at earrings because I had the thought that I would buy some for mom. Then, just in a flash, it was like the reality of her death jumped up and bit me. That is exactly how it felt. I bought a baseball cap (I don't wear baseball caps) and walked back to our room dazed. A few weeks later, I spent five days alone at mom's (now my) cabin in the NC mountains. I think I was hoping to feel her presence there. But I only felt her absence. I discovered instructions she had painted on some art paper and taped to the side of a watering can on her porch, so that guests might help keep her plants alive...and death just reached up and sunk its teeth in again.
I wonder what I am learning from this but can find nothing profound. Only the mundane. "'Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch..." (Yehuda HaLevi). For all of my encouragement to clients to acknowledge and allow whatever emotion they are experiencing, I prefer myself to avoid this one...GRIEF...entirely. I much prefer work or distraction.
But maybe that isn't entirely true. Yesterday I sat at the piano with my guitar for a couple of hours and tried to put chords to a song mom wrote about my dad. It was excruciating but also a bit like that week she was dying...terrible and intimate and something I would not trade. The intimacy. That it was only ours.
I want to talk to her again. That's the hardest thing for me. That the only way to hear her voice is to imagine it. Many times throughout each week I want to call and chat. Complain together about whatever we can think of. Have her tell me the same thing for the dozenth time. The "never-again" part of death really bothers me.
So I guess that's it. Nothing profound. Only mundane. The stuff that grief is made of. Writing this this morning in my living room, where mom died, I feel her absence for sure. And there's nothing to do but do my day...be me...walk through this like everyone else. But I must say I do not like it one bit. Not at all.