A Year Ago Today

We had had a good night and morning.  She ate dinner: baked apple with raisons and pancakes as requested.  I decided I had to have a reasonable amount of sleep so instead of sleeping in the next room,  or next to her in her bed,   I slept in my own bed downstairs and woke up after a good solid six hour sleep feeling almost human for the first time in a month.

I gave her the puffer, the steroid one the doctor prescribed and helped her up.  She had taken off her bottoms in the night and I suggested we try a shower,  a procedure which involved helping her to a seat in the tub and washing one area at a time and rinsing with the hand held shower attachment, while patting dry her very frail body and tissue like skin, throwing  a towel over her finished parts so she wouldn’t feel chilled and then applying Oil of Olay body lotion, her favorite.

But that morning she said she was tired; her breathing was much better.  I told her I’d bring her breakfast at 9:00.  I did my Zen sitting and took her peppermint tea and bakery bread with some homemade jam.  She ate it all, said it was good and that she had no stomach ache. She didn’t want to shower or wash yet She wanted to nap,so I told her she could sleep and I’d check on her before 11:00.  That was at 9:30 or so.

I was just down the hall.  I decided I would bake cookies.  I would not be getting out much, looking after her, and cookies in tins would make good gifts in case anyone dropped by.  They are shortbread and I make them really small so they fit in small tins.  I have some miniature cookie cutters…

I talked to my brother on the phone.  On the whole I had started to feel a bit optimistic that she would be well enough that we could enjoy a family Xmas with my children and maybe with her new great grandson or daughter.

When I checked she looked like she was sleeping.  I went to pull up her blanket her legs were bare. In the last few days, when her kidney backed up and she was delirious from the toxicants she would suddenly have the urge to remove all her clothes, insisting she had to dress from some important event.  Often it would be in the middle of the night.  She would yell and insist I was a bitch, ruining everything.  When she finally would relent and take a drink of water and a bite to eat I would show her the time and that it was dark out, the middle of the night, remind her that she was sick. “So I guess I AM just crazy!” she’d say.  Exhausted I would shrug or agree, it made no difference really, not to either of us.

I wasn’t surprised to see her bare legs and the blanket pushed away. From my journal a few days before:

 Night before last was bad.  She was up wandering around naked in the middle of the night.  She wanted to have a shower but got too tired.  She had turned the space heater up high and her room was hot and dry.  At least she didn’t get a chill. 

She barely eats anything and so I made pancakes, a favorite of hers and she sat up at the table and ate almost one whole pancake.  She doesn’t remember one day to the next at times and how she fills in the blanks depends on how she feels in the moment.  Mostly she feels crappy.  When she doesn’t eat or drink or walk around her kidneys don’t work and she gets toxic and altered. 

“Please just leave me alone! No I don’t want to sit up and I don’t want to eat anything!” on being asked to eat anything at all after a day of refusing food.
“I had gotten so much done and you came and shattered it all!” after helping her out of bed after she spent most of the day there.
“She’s just as bad as the nurses!” to her friend who dropped by in reference to me.

The doctor is coming at 4:00pm to check her cough. 

I bruised (cracked?) a rib climbing under the bed to get her slippers. I have a cough now too.

Yesterday I got out the photo albums.  After she ate a bit and drank some water she got into looking at them and telling stories about the pictures, most of them correct as far as I know. I moved my S.A.D. lamp to the front room and turned it on.  I think it helped too.  I think I will have a shower and tune out everything for a while. 

…A friend’s sister is dying but she doesn’t use the word and instead speaks about the specifics of her cancer. None of us are prepared for this stuff in our culture. I have come to appreciate rituals concerning death as a way of buoying up the ragged heart but how to convey that in a way to anyone that doesn’t just sound like bullshit?  I just try not to talk too much.  Try to listen.  It’s hard.
When I touched her I knew.  I just knew.  But I didn’t believe it.  It was like I had been running down a long road without turns, with only a horizon for so long and then found a sudden drop into nothing and yet kept running.

It was surreal.  Everything that followed that day was both fast and slow.  Calling 911. The EMS, the cops, a fire truck?  I don’t think so.  I was babbling.  Eating cookies like I was gulping air, drowning.

We had to wait for the Coroner. At one point it was thought her doctor could come. Instead the Coroner was a young woman who came.  She just looked too young to be a Coroner.  People would tell me what was happening and I would nod appreciatively but not really hearing them.

While we waited I offered the police and EMS cookies.  I had made a lot of cookies.


I got hugged by a woman EMS. Every few minutes I would have this impulse which had propelled me constantly for the previous two weeks to go and check on my mother.  She just looked like she was sleeping, so tiny in her big bed.

When they were taking her out of the house on the stretcher in the closed black bag, I hung on to one of the cops in a sort of grabby-hugging way, really he kept me standing up. My sense was that the floor had dropped away. I apologized to him. He said it was okay.

In the last few years as she grew more frail and more dependant and angry I wished her to see past feeling out of control, to see the care and attention and effort on her behalf, from a lot of people, not just me, as NOT just examples of her own loss of power.  Care is good.  Lots of people don’t get much care shown to them in their lives.  But mostly I wanted her to say she loved me and not in a barbed, accusatory or manipulative way as it was so often said.

I lived away from her for twenty years and mostly felt I had escaped the worst of our mother/daughter relationship. Part of that was learning to sit zazen, to watch the stories that came up lose their power over me, evaporate in the fresh air and sunshine of awareness.   I haven’t always done well. In the years that  my kids and I lived with her I had a sense of what we shared and how we could manage, without ever being really happy, to be happy enough.

The last days the small shows of approval that came, when she took a few bites of a meal, when she sighed with pleasure at a warm wash cloth and a soft towel, a smile for a cup of tea, I would be overjoyed.

I did get the chance to tell her how much I wanted her to love me and how much I felt my heart would break at times for want of it.  I broke down and cried like a baby in front of her. And she soften to me after that and two days after that she died.

That was a year ago today.

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