My mother is dying.
Not imminently (at least I don’t think so), but sooner rather than later. She is, as they put it, “in her decline.” It’s a term I heard a lot in my role as a Hospice volunteer. Not yet in the pipeline, not yet “actively dying” (another term I learned). Think of her as a rocket on the pad, steam coming gently from various pipes, readying herself for the big push to the Great Beyond and whatever lies waiting for her.
She’s pensive, mulling. Thinking. Ruminating. Chewing over her life like a cow chews cud, inspecting each portion for what sustenance it offers her on this road which she has now set her foot upon; a road along which she can draw the rest of us only so far before she must leave us to go on ahead, alone.
She doesn’t talk a lot about her dying. The family in general becomes voluntarily deaf whenever she tries, saying things like “I don’t want to hear this” or “Oh, Grandma, you’re not dying yet.” Their fear won’t allow them to acknowledge what they see. I understand that pain, that reluctance to admit what stands before their eyes, but they’re doing her a great disservice. The dying need to talk about this process, need to search their life and give it some sense of order, some meaning. The dying need to be heard.
My mother fears that she has not always been a good parent. (Who is?) She worries that she will not be forgiven for transgressions she has made; forgiven, not by God, but by those she feels she has wronged. Some of those folks I know. I’ve asked them to come forward and tell her she’s forgiven, whether or not she really is. Fake it ‘til you make it, as they say. Maybe if they just say the words, it’ll come true all by itself. Forgiveness has a way of slipping in the back door like a silent cat around your ankles. You don’t know it’s there until you turn around. Even then, some people boot it back outside.
I am my mother’s Health Care Proxy; a heavy role to play and one in which I need to become more active. Calls to her doctor are in order and appointments to discuss her care. A call to Hospice, maybe. (Mention of that will go over like a fart in church with my father, with whom I am already at odds. He may try to bar them from the house, I just don’t know. Maybe he’ll surprise me, although he’s expressed his reticence to have strangers in the house and, at 91 years of age, is as obdurate as the Rock of Gibraltar.) Still, I owe it to Mama to try. I have that responsibility to make her passing as dignified and peaceful as I can.
I am not unaffected by the thick stew of emotions alive within my family right now. I sometimes wish I were. It might make things easier. Certainly it would keep me from having those (juvenile) knee-jerk reactions to my difficult father (who has always been difficult, just ask anyone who knows him). My work with Hospice has given me a certain degree of distance/dispassion when working with the dying and their families, but this is my family, woven of a cloth patterned with betrayals and hatreds, petty offenses and joy, loss and love. At some remove there is affection (sometimes). At others, outright dislike. We are definitely not the Waltons. How to bring us to an accord, to agree to disagree, to put ourselves aside and focus (for a change) not on ourselves and our often petty grievances, but on that woman in the bed, that woman who finds it difficult to open her eyes some days, who lays awake in the dark and thinks about those who have gone before her (brothers and sisters, her unloving mother and wretched grandmother, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren)? How do we unite for her sake?
Maybe we don’t. Unite, I mean. I have to accept that possibility. Bringing cohesion to my family is not my job, but it is my wish. I’m hoping for a Christmas miracle, no matter what the time of year Mama chooses for her “lift off.” We each do battle with our own demons, so I will battle mine (that knee-jerk reaction, for one) and strive to do the best I can at any given time. Sometimes that best will be pretty good. At others, it will be pretty lousy. It is what it is.