My mom wasn’t much for sharing feelings. We knew when she was angry. It was impossible not to know. We knew when she was happy because her smile lit up the room, but she didn’t tell people, even those closest to her, what was really going on inside her heart and mind. Maybe she talked to her sister. I hope so.
I, on the other hand, share way too much. If I’m happy I’ll tell you why. If I’m pissed off, you’ll know the reason, and then some. I even annoy myself sometimes.
When Mom was dying I flew down to stay with her and Dad at their apartment in Sweetwater, Texas. I’d just begun teaching that year in Great Bend, Kansas, and it wasn’t easy for me to get away, but my grandmother needed a break from caring for her dying daughter and it was my turn.
Can you tell it was something I did not want to do? I was in denial. Mom and Dad were, too, so we didn’t talk about death during the daylight hours. But at night, when Dad was asleep Mom and I talked. Now we never directly approached the subject; that just wasn’t going to happen. We danced around it, tiptoed, balanced on the edge, but anytime I came too close Mom’s face tightened up and the subject was changed.
We sat in the bathroom of their claustrophobic apartment and didn’t talk about death.
I’d bought her a book. It was the children’s book by Robert Munsch, I’ll Love You Forever. I’d hoped it might break down some barriers and allow us to express our feelings before it was too late. She refused to read it.
“I’m afraid it will make me cry,” she said.
“Maybe that’s the point,” I said.
And that was the end of that.
She needed someone to come care for basic health care tasks, but a private nurse was out of their budget range. I suggested we contact hospice care.
“But that means I’m dying,” said the woman whose bladder cancer had spread throughout her body and into her brain.
“Maybe you are,” I said.
And that was the end of that.
She had a major seizure the week I was there, and was admitted to the hospital in Abilene. I should have stayed, but again, we were all in denial and I had a plane ticket back to my life in Great Bend. When I left, Mom was her old self, joking with the nursing staff and not talking about death.
She never recovered enough to leave the hospital, and when my Daddy called to say we needed to come we left as soon as we could get some loose ends tied up.
As is often the case with those near death Mom roused herself the day we arrived at her bedside so she could interact with us, touching our hands and trying to reassure us. She called my daughter stubborn and we all had a good laugh, then she drifted off to sleep.
I sat with her that night and listened to her struggle to breathe. With her captive there in that hospital bed, attached to all the monitors, I finally got to tell her the things I’d wanted to say that she didn’t want to talk about.
“Mommy, I love you and I wish you weren’t dying. If I could I’d hold you in my arms and comfort you as you always comforted me.”
At one point Mom opened her eyes and tried to tell me something. It was important to her, but I couldn’t understand her speech right then. I called in a nurse and she tried to make Mom more comfortable, but she stopped trying to communicate after that. I’ll never know what she was trying to say to me that night because she passed away soon after.
I guess the point of this is, don’t wait to tell people what you feel. We’re all dying. It’s just a matter of time.