I didn’t expect her journey to last this long. But it has. Three weeks have passed since the heart “event” that tipped the scales in favor of dying “sooner” versus living “longer.” Three weeks of decline with brief rallies. From spending her days in her chair, engaging with company between long naps and eating small meals, to being bed bound. She spends the hours in deep sleep, sometimes restless, no longer outwardly responding to my voice. I accept after each visit it may be the last time I experience her warm skin against mine. But no phone call awakens me in the wee hours...
She is tiptoeing toward Death as she would a vaguely familiar lover. And Death gently reaches out to her, rubbing her feet, her hands, leaving them cold. Death strokes her cheek with a soft, open palm. At first she leans in, like a cat accepting the caress. Then she pulls away, not ready to fall into these arms. Her eyes open and look into mine and she says, “My darling girl.”
The day comes when you are the daughter, not the chaplain. You are grateful for your experiences and for the lessons other daughters and sons have taught you when you walked beside them. Relieved that you invited families to trust the journey of their loved ones and to practice self-care, so that you too can hear the echo of your own words as you sit and watch your mother meander from this world toward the next.
December 17th, my father’s birthday. My dad would have turned 93 this year if he had lived so long. He lived to 63, barely. Funny how grief can linger submerged for a decade or two or even close to three and then bob to the surface for no apparent reason. Or maybe there is a reason—a mother with Alzheimer’s who, as she drifts farther out in a sea of old memories, brings my father up a lot, stirring my own recollections. She still gets peeved with him for “leaving” so long ago, knowing it wasn’t a choice.
My pug, Hugo, turned 15 today, June 26. I remember the day we, my then 13 year-old daughter, 10 year-old son, and 74 year-old mother, drove to Southern Oregon to pick him up. A hot mid-August day, a day we had been anticipating after months of research and deciding on what type of dog to get for our family of four. My mother volunteered to go with us and let us use her car as it was more reliable. We brought a puppy toy, blankets and towels, water bowl and a tiny harness. We brought excited hearts, ideas for names and promises of being consistent on training and chores. I don’t remember much else about how the day unfolded except the scared whimper of a puppy, held between my children in the backseat until he finally slept, and our own oohing and awing at how soft and cute he was and the joy he would bring.