Friday, December 11, 2009

Before I Wake ...

My mom, at right, and my Aunt Ruth, with Reggie, in the summer of 1945.

My mother has been in the skilled nursing center in a bed next to my father for about ten days, since a fall in the bathroom at our family home. When the physical therapists tried to get her out of bed to exercise, or to walk to meals, she has resisted and has spent much of her time in bed.

As a consequence, she has come down with pneumonia. Today she did not eat or drink. I'm not sure she is going to make it.

Before dinner, I took Dad to her bedside and he sat and held her hand. I was worried about doing this, because he is so vulnerable right now and his whole life has been built around her. But my sister felt I should do this, and for her I did so. I think it was clear, even to my father in his diminished state, that my mother is very ill. She is on oxygen, gasping for breath, thin beyond belief. She's not conscious. The nurses gave her morphine about midday.

After Dad sat there for a while, he asked me what we were going to do, so I told him we were going to dinner. I walked him around in his wheelchair for about ten minutes, as it was a little too early for dinner, and I needed the walk. He appeared to sleep as I pushed him in his chair. When we got to the table, he continued to look as if he were sleeping.

I tried to give him his soup and he didn't seem to want to wake up and eat it. I tried to give him his juice and he didn't open his mouth.

His nose always runs when he eats so I went to get a box of tissues and when I returned he still appeared to be dozing. I touched him on the head with the box of tissues and he opened his eyes. I asked him if he was okay.

"I'm okay," he said, without changing his expression. "I'm just thinking about your mother."

It made me think back to a night, long ago, when I was nine. My mother had pneumonia then and had been taken to the hospital. Dad came home from work, rushed my sister and me through a half-cooked chicken dinner and then a neighbor came over to sit with us while we went to bed and Dad went to the hospital.

Some time later, I woke up and saw the light on in the hall. And I heard the strangest sound: I heard my father crying in the kitchen. It is the only time in my life I have ever heard him cry and til this day I have never seen him do it.

Many years later I learned the doctor had told him he didn't think my mother would last the night.

She surprised my father on that night. But I do not think she will surprise us again, lo, these many years later.

In the dining room of the nursing home, I began to cry, because I know how much my mother means to my father. I did not want him to see me, but my father's eyes were closed again. I got up from the table. Thad, the CNA from Kenya, has told me many times he would be happy to serve my father his dinner, and tonight I asked him if he would do it for me. I blew my nose and I went to the room to check on my mother.

She looked terrible. When we lose her ... my father will be devastated. Although she wasn't conscious, I sat and spoke with her for a few minutes, even though I knew she could not hear me.

I kissed her on the forehead and went back to the dining room. I gave my father a hug and kissed him too and then left the nursing home to return to my own home. Each of us must now face this sea of troubles in his own way. I am out of things to give.

I wrote the above, and then the call came. My mother died at 11:50 p.m.

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Polly and Thad said...

Oh Robin, what a tender account, with such a poignant conclusion. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, and your father, and your mother, who is at last at peace. We are thinking of you with lots of love. T&P

Jack said...

Hi, Robin. You and your mother weren't close, but her passing is still a powerful moment. You're clearly in touch with the impact this will have on your father; at least he won't have to deal with this loss alone, thanks to you and your sister.

Robin Chapman said...

She had a strong faith and she was ready to go. She was a powerful force in my life and a fascinating person. Her life was blessed: she had everthing she ever wanted, except peace of mind--for reasons none of us ever understood--and now, at last, she has that too.