The talk of "acceptance" and "letting go", remeinded me of something I had written in my journal several years ago when my mother died. It's a long post but today is almost the anniversary of her death and I have the feeling that I want to share this with the kind of people who are drawn to this thread.
11-20 This evening, when I came home, there was a message on the answering machine left by my sister in Boston. My mother was in the hospital, the tape told me, and my sister wanted me to call whenever I came home.
As soon as she answered the phone in Boston I asked her how our mother was doing.
That's how the "dance" began. I couldn't bring myself to ask a direct question and she didn't want to give me a direct statement. We had to work our way towards the complete information like a Slinky going down stairs.
"Very serious", she said.
So it went until bit by bit I learned that the reason she hadn't answered her phone last night was that she had had a stroke and was lying next to the phone, on the couch, in a coma. My sister had been worried when she didn't answer the phone in the morning and had gone over to her apartment where she'd found her.
Her prognosis, the neurologist at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital had told my sister, was that she will last for a couple of days until the swelling in her brain following the massive stroke, will finish her off.
Right now she is lying in a coma, her EEG is almost flat and if, miraculously she survives, she will be a comatose vegetable. Her wishes in this regard were very clear. She would want to die. The doctors have agreed not to take "heroic" actions and so now there is a death watch.
"Mother died yesterday. Or maybe the day before." is the way Camus'"The Stanger" begins. I read it thirty years ago and have never forgotten the cold matter of fact way the protagonist spoke of his parent's death but I feel that way tonight; detached, vaguely sad.If there is such a state, I am in pre-grief.
I've been lucky, I guess. I told my mother the things I wanted to say to her before now. At least I won't be haunted by those regrets but there is always more that could have been said, more that could have been done. Even something as simple as calling a day earlier. It wouldn't have changed anything but I would have spoken to her one more time.
11-24 By the time I reached the hospital after a cross-country flight from San Francisco, the doctors were able to tell me that the coma my mother was in was extremely deep. She had had a stroke, blood from a broken vessel haad flooded her brain and deprived most of the tissue of the food and oxygen needed to function. According to them, all cognitive function was gone. She had become what is often referred to as "a vegetable", something she had feared might someday happen to her.
They also were able to tell me that her condition was stable, a euphemism meaning that she would probably survive in this vegetative state for days, weeks or even longer.
When I went to the hospital, I found her alone in her hospital room, all the more alone because hospital personell don't spend a lot of time with comatose patients unless they are in critical condition. From the doorway, my mother looked as though she were sleeping. The only out of the ordinary things were the clear plastic oxygen mask over her mouth and nose and the IV dripping into a shunt in her left arm.
From closer up I could see a small crust on her eyelids which I washed away with the handtowel beside the bed.
I've never been close to Eunice (my sister and I always called our mother -and father- by first names). It always seemed to me that she had her own agenda in every conversation. She was very opinionated and she never seemed to listen. After a while, I had stopped trying to talk to her and we had drifted further apart. Only recently had we begun to repair the rifts that are ten and twenty years deep.
Now, in a hospital room overlooking the city where she had been born and had spent most of her life, she was dying. I looked out the window for a long while remembering a lot of things, trying to remember just the good things but the mixture that rose to my consciousness was a varied one.
After a bit, I started talking to her. I was still looking out the window and I told her about the view. I could see parts of Boston University where she had gone to school and I talked about that as well as about how we used to drive home along the Charles River. I rattled on and on until I felt drawn back to her bedside.
I pulled up a chair and sat down near her head. My family was never very physical. Touching, hugging, kissing were done at moments of high emotion only. We were never much for sitting around with arms about each other and the like but now I was tracing my fingers across her forehead and brushing back her old-woman's bleached blonde hair. An inch of grey roots showed that she had really not been feeling well in some time. Otherwise she would never have allowed her hair to get into such a neglected state.
I continued talking to her, more gently now and about more serious concerns. I told her how Linda (my sister) was handling the details of dealing with physicians, hospitals and lawyers. I reminded her about what an unusually fine man Linda had married and how the two of them were raising two charming, happy and intelligent boys. I spoke of my two boys and of how much all of us were going to miss her.
When I heard myself say that we were going to miss her, the reality of her death moved closer to my comprehension and sadness rolled over me. My eyes started to fill and then overflow onto the bedclothes.
I remembered a book I'd read years ago, "The Autobiography of a Yogi". There is a story in that book about the yogi's walking through the forest. He finds a dying fawn beside the trail and he begins to pray over it, asking that it be spared from death. He prays so hard that the fawn stabilizes. It doesn't get better but it doesn't get worse. The praying has taken all of the yogi's strength and, exhausted, he falls asleep against a tree.
In a dream, the spirit of the fawn comes to him and asks him to let go, to stop praying for him. "please let me go, it is my time. Don't keep me here."
Now I understood. With my hand on her still warm cheek, I told my mother that everything was now under control, "You're done here now, you can leave whenever you want". I was now sobbing as I finished talking to her.
"I'd like to be here when you leave but if that's not possible for you, I'll understand." I stood up, placed a hand on each of her cheeks and kissed her on the forehead. I could see where the moisture from my eyes had marked her face and that brought a new flood of tears. I stood up. I don't know whether I whispered or spoke it but I said "Goodbye". I drew my hand back, turned and walked into the corridor. I had the feeling that this time, in this last conversation, after all of those years of tring to get through to her that this time, this sad time with this sad message, she had heard me.
My mom died at 5:25 that morning. The doctor said she just stopped breathing and was gone.
At the end, I think there was an acceptance and a sense of peace on both sides.