Friday, November 16, 2012
From the children's book, "The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece."
My mother lost her long fight for her life around 2:30a Wednesday, November 14. I was with her, timing a Smash script when she left me. I sat on the floor about two feet away from her bed, my back to her, acting out the end of Act IV. As I whispered the last of Ivy Lynn's lines, I suddenly realized that the horrific gurgle of her breath had silenced. I looked at her, saw her chest rise and then spread out and stop, and rushed out of the room shouting "She's quiet!" Three nurses marched in, brandishing stethoscopes. One picked up her right arm which was pressed against the edge of the bed and rested in gently on her stomach. I slid down against the wall and sat on the floor.
"I'm sorry for your loss," the first nurse out of the room said. I stayed on the floor, refusing their offer of a chair, not wanting to be far from my mom as I waited for the undertaker type to arrive an hour later. I didn't watch as he went into the room but the sound of a long zipper rising will never leave me.
I am not young and I still have a father but I feel like an orphan. There are no words. Eliza's birthday is next week so this weekend is filled with activities to celebrate her birthday. She knows of my mother's death but is quietly mourning in her own way. I don't know that the reality of forever is quite as accessible to her yet. Frankly, I don't know that I realize it now. I am going through the motions. Sometimes when I'm giggle with my girls, I see Mom's face as she gasped on that hospital bed and I feel terrible that life continues, often joyously, for us when hers has stopped. I will never stop feeling her weak arm around me for the last hug I will ever get from my mother. It's like she willed herself to make it to my birthday and then let go. After that, it was relatively quick.
In mid-October, the facility called to say she might code that night and what should they do about a DNR. The nurse called to ask if she should bother to send my mother to the hospital or just let it go. While I knew she had a terminal illness, I didn't know what was wrong with her and it was hard for me to believe that this was it. So I told her she absolutely did not have my permission to just let my mother stay there without getting checked out. It turned out she had a UTI which in the elderly or the very sick can render the sufferer delusional. I met her at the hospital and watched as she screamed repeatedly that she had to move her bowels. Two nurses pushed her onto a bedpan as she raised her arms touchdown style and grimaced but nothing happened. I saw her naked that night, clawing at the hospital gown and the bedsheets. My mother would not want me to see her naked but there I stood, staring at her mutilated body, the flat right breast from her mastectomy with it's useless nipple recreated by a plastic surgeon. The long train tracks of a scar that ran down her abdomen from either her colon resection or the whipple. Her wide fishbelly white butt as she writhed on the hospital bed. the bruises that ran down her left arm from everyone trying to unsuccessfully extract blood from her collapsing veins. I looked at this body, realizing it had no business being alive.
I stood over her, not knowing it was a UTI, thinking that this was it, she was leaving me. I patted her hair, touching the misshapen scar caused by a craniaotomy that removed a benign brain tumor six weeks before Elena was born.
"I see you," she said, not to me.
"Do you, mom? Do you see Pap Pap?" My beloved grandfather.
"No," she said, looking at me for the very first time. "I don't see him. I don't see Pap Pap. I don't want to die," she said and I understood.
"I don't want to die. I don't want to die."
"I don't want you to die." I said.
But you're gonna, I thought, staring at the scars, all that damage so immediately apparent.
She didn't die, not that week. It was a UTI and within hours of starting an antibiotic, she was greeting nurses and visitors with the words "I hear I was delirious. Sounds interesting."
We were separated by the storm and three days passed without my being able to check in on her because the phones and the power was out. So when I found her and I heard she was all right, that she was actually sitting up in a chair again, I became so hopeful. The storm had passed and we were okay and I would be home and she would be with me again.
But she wasn't. She was so very sick when we finally saw her on November 4th. But she held it together until November 7. She hugged me, she told me she loved me. She went under the next day, babbling and gyrating with discomfort for two days and then comatose for the next four. She didn't babble about seeing anyone who'd passed, it sounded more like she was somewhere else, reliving her youth. There was no talk of white lights or some one else in the room. Only of the steps she had to go down and the "practice" she had to do.
I think of her that night in the ER and all those battle scars. How much that body had been through just so she could stay with us. Before she went into the hospital never to return, she could barely get up from her chair but yet she hid how badly she felt so I'd let my kids stay with her when I went back to work for two weeks in the summer. My babysitter tells me now how my mother told her not to tell me that she had pain. I don't know if she didn't want me to worry or if she was afraid I'd take the kids away. What I do know is how little she told me about what she was going through. How little she wanted me know.
Her sad, weak, almost useless naked body with all those scars. I stood beside her that night, not able to hold her hand because she squirmed from one side of the bed to the other. I stared down at the jagged lines on her navel and I felt nothing but a hot, fierce, surging pride. I don't know that I will ever be prouder of anyone, not even my own kids, ever.
This was my mom at the end of her life but there's so much more to her, so much more. I don't know that I even love my kids as much as I love her.