On April 19, 2011, I woke up in my childhood bed in my childhood home, alone. And immediately, I prayed to fall asleep again. Maybe wake up a few years ago, or in what I hoped to be a better future.
I put on grey pants, a T-shirt, a pink cardigan and flip flops, and pulled my hair off my face. After taking care of Rosie, I left the house and headed to Starbucks. One tall house blend, one tall white chocolate mocha please.
On the road to Blue Ash. Overcast outside, but windows down anyway, music on, like a normal day. I pulled into the hospice parking lot, grabbed the drinks and my computer bag, and went inside, tentatively making my way down the winding and surprisingly confusing hallways. There: room 307.
I pushed open the door, and my disheveled father’s eyes brightened ever so slightly when he saw the coffee. Brief conversation. No change in her condition, probably getting further away. Can’t leave the bed, call the nurses if you need something. He left to go home for a shower and a few fitful hours of sleep.
I settled in the chair next to her bed and sipped my coffee while I watched her. The frail woman in the bed was the ghost of my vibrant mother. The hair on her shaved head was coming in grey, a far cry from her meticulously colored caramel hair. No glasses on. The skin on her forearms that was once so smooth and beautiful was hanging; her forearms were about the size of my wrists.
I got my laptop out with honest intentions to work. I put in a solid 20 minutes over the next hour. It was too hard to take my eyes off her. If I watched her, saw each labored breath, at least I knew there was still life in her body.
Occasionally, she’d lift her arms and start to pull and tug at the hospice gown, trying to remove it. A sign she felt it was holding her back, stopping her from getting where she was going. Each time, I’d sit on the bed and catch her hands, rubbing and massaging them until they relaxed back at her sides. Retie the gown near her shoulders, and move back to my post, talking to her the entire time as though this was our usual Tuesday.
Around lunchtime, people began arriving. Annie brought me lunch first. Then my grandma arrived, taking a post on the other side of the bed. Two of my mom’s friends came for a visit. The woman who had been a steady confidant for 20 years was welcomed easily; I had to fake it with the self-absorbed fair-weather friend who had been asked not to come. My aunt and uncle came up, and Dad returned.
Around 3:00, I went to get my oil changed. Reality check: the world around you doesn’t stop just because you feel your world is ending. It was surreal sitting in Honda’s waiting area, thinking that I was getting my oil changed while my mom was 15 miles away in hospice care. (In retrospect, it was a blessing to check that off the list when I did. I was in no condition to handle something like that 24 hours later.)
When I got back to hospice, a priest was just finishing the Anointing of the Sick. TJ arrived after he got off work, and Zach showed up once his classes for the day were finished. Eventually, it was just the five of us – me, my parents, my brother and my husband. It was nice to be just us, just our little unit, even if it wasn’t perfect.
Zach and I sat outside for awhile. He smoked and I didn’t yell at him for a change. We talked about our family and what it means to have a family and parents who love you and each other. He told me he was grateful TJ was who he is; Zach could feel he was there not just to be a “good husband,” but because he truly loved our mom and realized how significant this time was.
Eventually, Dad gave us the boot. I think he liked his alone time with her. I suspect he talked to her, saying sweet things, filling her in on the day, reminding her how much he loved her. As we left, I told her I loved her and that if she felt it was time, it was ok. Her hands were like ice, and as I moved my hands up her arms, I could feel the forearms cooling as well. I began to think that it might be a sign… but then I decided to ignore that thought. Not ready for it.
TJ, Zach and I went to Bob Evans for dinner and tried to act like it was a normal day. I asked Zach if he wanted me to stay at the house again and he said no. And we all went home. And I cried and took a shower and cried more.
And then the day ended much as it’d began. I prayed to fall asleep. Maybe to wake up a few years ago, or in what I hoped to be a better future. And I slept until the sirens went off at 1:15. The real end was beginning.
Part of me doesn’t want to remember details from her last days, but I also don’t want to lose a single memory of her. Putting them in print is a double-edged sword. I’ll always have the print to refer back to if needed. But it’s also a torture device. Rereading the words is reliving them.
It’s unreal to think it’s been two years since I saw her, felt her skin, listened to her breaths in and out. It’s unreal to think life has continued on without her. It’s unreal how much I miss her, need her, wish for her, pray to her, love her. But that’s not just April 19; that’s a normal day.