Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Two Years Ago Tonight
At 10:35 pm on March 11, 2006, my mom passed away from this life to some place that was hopefully much easier on her.
Her last two weeks were difficult, and in the last week, she knew and we all knew that she would not survive. She had all but one of her children with her at the hospital to see her on her way. But she waited to slip away until all but one of us had gone back to the hotel to get some sleep. It seems that it was the way she wanted it. She saw to it that we were okay, and then she moved on. It was an hour-and-a-half before what would have been her 59th anniversary with my dad. He died at age 59. Coincidence? I don't know. I don't think I believe in coincidences.
If I can die with as much grace as she did, I will be amazed. She was a month past her 76th birthday (which she spent in the hospital), and she was ready to keep going as long as she could. She was a woman of faith, though, and at the end of the prayer she said after the surgeon told her that there was nothing he could do, she said, "Thy will be done."
I wrote a poem for her, after I processed things for awhile. Here it is:
We did as you asked,
took away the tubes, the green
monitors and finger sticks,
moved to a tranquil spot
across the hall. No roommate.
We held hands as you prayed
a long prayer of your own,
fed you pudding, ice chips,
salted greens, and two sugar wafers.
We did as you asked,
signed—then we cried, held you
to the last. Bathed your forehead
with Dove soap. Kept the morphine
coming and counted your breaths.
You took your time, let us know
things we needed to know.
We cleaned your room today,
found two sugar wafers.
Your last meal.
Truly, the last thing she wanted was two sugar wafers from a pack that my sister bought from the vending machine. When we cleaned out her room at the nursing home, we found two sugar wafers wrapped in a brown paper towel in her nightstand. It stopped all of us in our tracks.
There were many such moments.
My sister, thinking this could really be the end, bought a pink suit for Mom, thinking that whenever the time came, it's what she would want to be buried in. When my mom's best friend was visiting her in the ICU, they got on the subject of what they wanted for their final performance. Mom's friend said she was being buried in white silk pajamas, so that she would be comfortable in death. Mom turned to my sister and said, "I want to be buried in a pink suit! Don't forget." The suit was already purchased.
Mom also opened her eyes at one point, when we thought she was already slipping into a coma, and looked at us. She particularly locked eyes with me, a fresh Buddhist. "Don't worry," she said, "I'll be back." I felt she was speaking to me. I wondered what she had already seen.
I don't want to be too morose here. Mom had fun in her life. She was a cut-up. Just see the picture of her in the Cookie Monster mask! That was a woman who could find the humor in anything. She loved romance novels, especially anything by Barbara Cartland. I have a picture of her reading a stack of Beatrix Potter books to me when she was 9 months pregnant with my little sister and I was in kindergarten. My love of reading definitely came from her.
She was stylish, too. She loved to have the full complement of jewelry on, no matter if she was just going to the dining room in the nursing home. She always fixed her hair and put on makeup. My mother was no slob.
And she was a modern woman. When things became unbearable with my dad, she left him, and together we made a new life. She went to work in a sewing factory and supported us, learning to balance a checkbook. She refused to ever get married again, because she didn't want to take care of another man, but she had a couple of flings. Good for her!
She was a woman who didn't die until she had to. She didn't sit around feeling sorry for herself or bemoaning the things she couldn't do. Sure, she had some blue days, but overall, she brought joy to those around her.
I miss her, especially tonight, but I love knowing that she is no longer in pain. She is no longer suffering. And I'd like to think that somewhere, she's walking those streets of gold she so fervently believed in.