Mom’s finally losing the battle against the congestive heart failure that’s bedeviled her for so many years. The medicines that helped her heart beat and drained the fluids from her body no longer work. Her lungs are filling with water and she is slowly drowning from the inside. It’s not a kind death. It’s hard, painful work.
Thankfully, her hard death is being eased as much as possible by good people. Because of her heart and other problems, she’s lived for several years in a skilled nursing facility. And because she is, in Runyon-esque terms, a feisty old broad, she’s fought epic battles with every last one of her caregivers. She drove them crazy and earned their respect and affection. I have no words for the loving kindness they’re showing her now. These are hardworking, often overworked people, due to the nature of their work, staffing limitations due to the chronic hidden inflation of the last few years, and their own financial needs, which see several of them working two jobs. Yet during these difficult days, they’ve never hesitated to be there for Mom with both labor and love.
I’ve also been the recipient of so much kindness. I cannot say how much all your messages have meant to me. Mom’s closest family and friends — people I’ve know forever — dropped everything to say good-bye to Mom and give me a hug. I’ve wept on many shoulders, something disconcerting to a person who hates to cry and prides herself on never doing so.
This has been harder on me than I expected. She’s a very older with myriad health problems, so I’m not doing most of the stages of grief. No denial, no anger, no bargaining, and plenty of acceptance. I’m just so sad. I really didn’t think I would be. When my father died, which was also a slow and difficult death, I had more of a carapace around my emotions. I was young, had no children, and was not the primary caregiver, so I could keep myself a little distant, even sitting at his bedside on the last day.
My relationship with my Mom has been so complex. She loves me too much, which is an uncomfortable burden, but also an incredible gift. I’m still too immature to handle this strange blessing well.
A few years ago, I wrote a post about the death of a mouse, something I characterized as a peculiarly dignified process. One of the worst thugs here is that there is no dignity in this death. Although ever more slowly, her body keeps cranking along, making its needs felt — pain, breathlessness, nausea, and the need to evacuate, none of which Mom can handle unaided.
No matter how gently done, the reality is that this woman who lived through the Great Depression, internment during WWII, Israel’s War of Independence, immigrating to a strange new world, and raising a family, is physically reduced to infancy. She has no control and no bodily integrity or privacy. In babies this is endearing and feels natural; in an adult, it’s deeply saddening.
Mom’s passing has been even more sad because she’s a committed atheist. She’s not a political atheist, going around tearing down crosses. It’s just that she believes that this is all there is. One you die . . . poof! Gone forever. Death has frightening finality.
Interestingly, my atheist parents did not raise atheist children. Both my sister and I, following our own serpentine intellectual paths, have concluded that the universe is too complex and mysterious to be an accident. If it’s not an accident, there must be something out there infinitely greater and more powerful than we can comprehend. And to the extent each person is a being so much greater than the sum of his chemical parts, that added element in each of us is some sort of divine spark. My sister and I agree that, when the chemical vessel fails, the divine spark, the essence of each of us, continues somewhere else. We’ll find out later where and how, but it’s enough to believe that this is so.
Sorry for wandering on here, but I do process my life through words. I’d like to hit a punching bag too, but that’s not happening today, so writing it is. And please pardon typos. It’s hard enough writing on a cell phone; proofreading is impossible.