I brace myself, expecting it to be bad. I’ve been preparing myself for the past week to do this. It’s something I need to do, for me. I know it will be hard. I know it will be painful. I know it will be emotional. But I need to. For me and for her and for my mom. 3087, 3086…5 more steps and I will be standing outside her room. As I take those final steps I think to myself, “I can do this. I can do this.” I enter the room. It’s not bad. It’s worse. Drawing in a deep breath, I come next to the bed.
Everything inside of me is screaming, “Get out! Leave! You’ve done your duty; you’ve seen her, now go!” But I stay, as if there is a hand on my shoulder holding me in place. I take her hand and stroke it gently. She opened her eyes slightly. Mom says, “Mom, she’s here.” She’s pretty agitated and unaware, but I’m sure she knows I’m there because she squeezes my hand ever so slightly.
For whatever I expected to see, I didn’t expect this. Her hair is gray. I’ve never seen it gray – she’s always kept it perfectly dyed red. I’ve never seen her without makeup. She looks…old. And she’s never looked old before. She’s never acted old before either. Heck, she won’t even let us call her Grandma. “Merlin” it’s always been, as if she could make herself younger like the magician did.
Now she’s just lying there, unable to speak due to the tubes down her throat, agitated and frustrated and tired, and hardly aware of anything going on around her. Gone is the vibrant personality. Gone is the butterfly. Gone is the youthful spirit that has always made her seem decades younger than she really was.
I stand there holding her hand, wanting to break down and cry. But the owner of that hand on my shoulder places another in my free hand, holding me still, and whispers, “You can’t. I can.” Somehow I am filled with an inner strength not of my own, a strength that keeps me at the hospital for the next three hours, talking with my mom, waiting with my mom, offering her the strength and support that she needs after spending a ten days at the hospital every day.
I get in my car to go home, start the engine, and play a song. For some strange reason, I don’t break down. I go home and practice piano and simply don’t think about the way shelooked or the pain of seeing her go through so much and my mom trying so hard to be strong. I resolve to go back again, tomorrow and the next day and the next, because if I can bear it once, I can bear it again, with that same strength not my own.
I arrive at 11 this morning expecting that they will have already taken her to surgery. She’s still in the room, weary and ready for the surgery to be over. She’s more alert today though. She definitely knows who I am; she pats the bed beside her and I sit down and hold her hand. I tell her about recent news in my life; I haven’t seen her since before all this began, except for yesterday, which doesn’t count.
The first hour passes slowly as we wait, expecting them to take her down to surgery at any moment. They don’t. Finally, two hours later than projected, they pack her up and roll her up to the O.R. Before she leaves the room, I blow her a kiss. It could be the last one. That may sound pessimistic. It’s not. I’m at peace, but I’m realistic. She’s 77 years old with a collapsed lung, kidney and liver problems, and a boatload of other problems including congestive heart failure.
Over three hours have gone by. The clock ticks slowly. Can time pass any slower? Each hour feels like days. I sigh. Thank God for WiFi. I’d be going crazy without it. I know I could leave; Mom says she’s all right, but I know she can use the company and I’d like to be there when the surgery is over. Just in case.
She made it through the surgery. I’m back here again today. Being here the last two days has shown me just how strong my mom is. She’s been doing this every day – watching her own mother in pain and discomfort, unable to communicate, near death at times, growing years older within a week – and yet she comes every day all day, enduring, bearing, doing what must be done, putting herself aside to be here for her mom. Now that’s what I’m doing, because someone has to be here for my mom too.
When I see her, her skin looks ashen. Her hair is whiter than it was yesterday. The cumbersome tube is still in her throat. Her hand feels light as a feather in mine. Her eyes do not twinkle. She does not call me by my nickname. She just lays there breathing with painfully labored breaths. We sit. We watch. We wait. Nothing happens, but so much happened.
Though she made it through the surgery, deep inside I know: this is the beginning of the end.
Death has come calling.