Writer Donald Murray once said (this was in my journalism class) that you know you’re a writer when, in your head, you are recording what you are seeing, this in reference to his 17 year old daughter’s passing. This was in the context of dirt being thrown on top of her coffin.
Murray was often criticized because much of what he wrote was thought to be male-centric. I don’t know if the above is the best example, but in this instance, his remark was heartfelt, something I have always kept in mind and was brought home today, as I was reacquainted with my dying mother. El called two days ago and said that I’d better get down here, that mother is having trouble breathing. The doctors think she has a respiratory tract infection.
I didn’t sleep on the plane here – I never sleep on planes. I met Eleanor, my sister, at the Portland airport at 5:30 a.m. El and I stopped briefly at her place. I am not sure why. I deduced that El has been tending to my mother and has not been in the mindset to think logically about anything. I dropped off my knapsack and we headed right to the hospital. There, I put my mind on record. I thought, what details here are important? What details are unimportant?
I have to say that seeing my mother in the state she’s in is gut wrenching. To extend the metaphor -- I’m meeting death head on, I feel like I’m attached to the front of a train cow catcher and going down the track 100 miles per hour.
The details are etched in my mother and sister’s faces. My mother greeted me with open arms – her facial features were soft, child-like. Her bright blue eyes were glazed over. Her skin soft, her grip firm. She could not speak in words, and only with great difficulty. This was because she’s attached to an oxygen machine, via a nose cannula. In talking with her, her face lit up – I got this sense that that she’s not ready to check out, just not yet. In contrast, El, my mother’s life-long caretaker, looked weary. Her eyes were red and there were bags under her eyes. Every so often she’d break into tears; however, tending to mother was oddly, a distraction of sorts.
The tiny room that my mother is in is adjacent to a nurse’s station. El and I have begun a routine – CNAs, RNs, respiratory therapists, doctors, palliative care nurses, they enter and we step into the hallway so they can do their job. El, who has been here the past four days, is more familiar with procedures, so sometimes she stays put and I go out into the hallway. This is also partially by choice. I don’t want to assist with changing my mother’s diaper. Odd, mother did not resist when it came to changing my diapers. I guess that I’m my mother’s daughter not her daughter’s mother.
I love my mother and Eleanor. El had said before we entered this room that this was going to be a really hard ordeal. I denied this, but after spending an hour by my mother’s hospital bedside I realized that she is right.
Yes, my mother is going to die – this may be for the best since quite obviously, the quality of her life has been compromised. She can’t eat, get out of bed, or go to the bathroom. I’m sure she does not like being in this particular situation.
Mother is also on 100 percent oxygen and getting 45 liters a day. An RN said that her vital organ signs are shutting down, and that she won’t be around long, to which mother yelled out “bullshit!” I don’t know what to make of any of this. Time is no longer of the essence for me. I know that I’m where I should be – this is the most important thing of all.
Next: 80. 3/23/16: By My Mother’s Bedside