Life and Death (written 2002)
Hugs and tears shared with my sister and with our brother, too seldom seen. Once again, as we were a few years ago, we're united around the illness and critical need of a parent. Somehow we all drop the so important routines and obligations of daily life and converge here...around a sickbed.
“Is Mom still here?” we ask. She hasn't wakened since her heart attack. She's breathing...with the support of machines. The fever of pneumonia abates a little then returns. Occasionally she reflexively moves her legs and she pulls away from any touch on her sore leg, the one that has tortured her with gout for weeks now. But no blink, no word. Even her coughing is silent and eery.
Where is she if not here with this frail body now? Choosing to let go? We laugh through our pain about Mom's characteristic indecision, even now.
I chant as I hold her hand. I know my beliefs are not hers. Hope the love and intent to comfort carry despite words she won't understand if she's hearing them. Then I sing softly...Amazing Grace.
She's here. Not in the familiar body, warm to the touch, the curling white hair, the pulse so strong by her left ear. She's in my brother's brown eyes, in the spontaneous and intense love he radiates. She's in my sister's touch and voice, taking on too much in her quiet and practical care-taking of each of us as we camp in her home. She's in the anxiety I feel about asking others to take on my kids and duties while I watch here. All these are her legacy. The strand of life's web that is this small family. Trembling now at the changes, a foot lifting, a soul flying free again.
Back at my sister's house, the boys, my young sons and nephews, are all happy to be together, no thought of what circumstances bring this about. The house is filled with their chaos: toys, laughter, forgotten snacks.
Life is this composite of pain and joy. The adults talking in hushed voices about decisions we don't want to make, battling fatigue, struggling with patience. Yet breaking into laughter as we share stories or amusement at something the children do.
The wonderful warmth of the shower. Coffee and fruit in the morning. Shared glances with no need for words. Love running as a steady stream below the fumbling of actions, words, mistakes.
This too will pass. And somehow, moment by moment, we'll face the decisions and what needs to be done and time will go on as it always does.
Driving here I tried to remember the trips we must have made when the parents of my parents were critically ill. And my mind jumps ahead to the day my own sons will take on this role.
It's as it should be. The Tibetan prayer for the dying says birth and death are but doors. Perhaps Mom is reaching her hand to the door. If so, it is ours to love, let be and let go.