Right now, as I write these words, I am sat watching my mother-in-law. She’s in her bedroom at home. The rhythmic pumping of the oxygen machine is soothing. Her erratic breathing is not.
Her mouth hangs open, sucking in air every 45 seconds or so.
Sometimes I count them….41. 42. 43…. Making sure the next staggered breath will indeed come…that this isn’t ‘it’.
So many things are not like they are in the movies. Love. Moving to a new city, finding the perfect apartment on a low budget and in an area where you won’t be murdered….and death.
In the movies death has a soundtrack, usually one that elicits tears. It is often quite clean and quiet and everybody seems to be feeling an awful lot. (Unless of course you’re watching a Tarantino movie...but that’s not the death I’m talking about)
Two weeks ago she initiated hospice. They hook her up to a pump that should hopefully keep her excruciating pain at bay. When we wake up the next morning, we find her fairly unresponsive and breathing differently.
The nurses tell us, this is it. Call everyone now. If people want to come, they should come now. You’re looking at 24 hours, to a few days.
The next few hours are a blur of phone calls and doorbells. The house is suddenly filled with people. Relatives, friends, neighbors, they all loved her and want to be here. There is laughter, some tears and lots of food.
I sit with a social worker and have a bizarre discussion about whether she would want to be cremated or buried, and if it’s cremation I should take along my own container so they don’t over charge you at the cremation place.
I am struck by how little I am feeling. I don’t feel numb, I literally feel nothing. Is it because I have known that this eventuality has been coming for awhile? Because I prepared ahead of time? Because I know that this is what she wants, and it’s the best scenario, realistically, the only scenario?
It all seems surreal and at the same time, so incredibly real, it might as well be in Technicolor.
In the midst of getting people food, making sure everyone is ok, ensuring the dogs don’t bark when people come in the door…… I realize, I never had that ‘moment’ with her. The one I also knew was coming…
I was too afraid to sit down and have it – to say my piece, to tell her how much I love her, how grateful I am to have known her, to thank her for raising such an incredible daughter who I am lucky enough to love.
I had plenty of opportunities, and yet I always put it off.
For fear of…feelings? Emotions? Upsetting her?
And now, the chance has gone. That was it. Speak then or forever hold your peace.
I am ashamed to admit that I’ve made this mistake before. I lost a friend to this same cruel disgusting disease that we call cancer, 3 days before my 21st birthday. I never said the things I wanted to then and now history is repeating itself. Same cancer, same mistakes.
The eventually visitors all disappear into the fading sun.
The hustle and bustle of the house comes to a stop and then, there is just three. Her 88 year old mother, her daughter, and me.
We stand, surrounding her bed, them on either side, me at the foot. Just waiting.
Suddenly her eyes open, “Hi” she says. “Hi” we say. She stares straight at me.
She slowly opens her mouth, and says…. “Your eyebrows look awful.”
“Oh. Yeah?” I smile.
She makes a face. “Hmmm”
“I want a cup of coffee. Let’s play Parcheesi”, she declares.
We’re all in shock. What is happening?
Grandma makes the coffee, I offer her some pizza, which she eats followed by apple pie and ice cream and then we sit round the dining room table, laugh and play Parcheesi.
Of course we let her win, since she is dying from cancer.
And I realize that I never needed that big moment, that emotional reveal and bearing of souls. That’s not our relationship. That’s never been our relationship.
So instead, she critics my eyebrows and I make her laugh.