Presently, the night isn’t far from tomorrow. I can’t sleep and so I pace back and forth in the darkened room where my Mother sleeps. The only thing you hear, in the quiet of the house, is the swooshing sound of the oxygen concentrator and the cycle of pressured air headed toward the ventilator. In between those sounds, is the poof of blocked expiratory air by a peep valve that helps my Mother’s lungs remain open after she exhales.
The sounds of the machines, the glow of the numbers on the oximeter and the sight of her rising and falling chest calm me as I run from the reality of her death. I can’t imagine not being able to speak to her, be with her, listen to her voice and learn from what she says. So often she worries that no one who is around her will talk to her. She sits waiting or trying to talk to anyone, to whoever is here and then feels they never hear her. Oh yes, anyone can hear her, but I don’t think they realize she has something to say. It is difficult for them to grasp that Momma lives in two worlds. There is the one that is here in my home, the one within the terms of our reality, as we understand it. The second world is from her addled memories that concoct a world filled with her childhood family, still run by her mother, even though my mother is now eighty-six. Everyone tells me it does no good to explain to her that all this has happened because of her big stroke three years ago. Its not her fault at all and now after a month of explaining this to her I see a beginning to remember that it is important to trust me when I help her through these frightening times when there isn’t a way for her to recognize the right world.
Currently, not only is Momma frightened of her tomorrows but, I feel the same. I have been her son for sixty years and I feel I have just begun to find out all she knows, or especially all that is troubling her. We often laugh that we don’t have a problem communicating. I talk for hours and she tells me what is on her mind. No one understands just how much she thinks. I told her yesterday, that I believe they have no idea how alive with thought she is, even though it is inevitable that she slips farther and farther toward her darkest hour.
Occasionally she looks at me with a woeful face. I see her right hand frantically moving her warmer and I ask why is there such sadness and her response is: “I’m going to die.” Regardless of how many times she says this, even though usually it is used as an opener to share a thought, my immediate reaction is for my stomach to flip. I answer her by telling her I don’t have time for death at that particular moment. I ask if she can wait until I no longer am busy! However, she and I know what has just happened. Momma warns me, I hear her statement and I instantly ignore it.
Presently, Momma doesn’t even understand how I feel. Now every word, every utterance, every movement must be recorded in my memory. Often I look at her with eyes that truly are a camera because I need to memorize her face as she is now. I have her faces and voice recorded from the past, although there are times when my eyes are closed that I think my image lens must be broken because I can’t see or hear her. I panic because I need those thoughts and images to be available when I call for them in the future.
Possibly, it isn’t good that she and I are close. Momma was always there as I grew up during my first seventeenn years. She wiped up my childhood spills, encouraged my adolescent dreams and applauded my teen successes. When I moved from home to further my education she beamed with pride, yet during the first months following my draft she successfully hid her fears, only to have them reappear even more poignantly when I left for Vietnam. Each day held her in a paralyzing, embrace; an unrecognized panic by the people closest to her. When I returned I looked into her eyes and knew that she had suffered even more than I had.
Our inescapable bond continued during the intervening years before my father’s death, strengthened while we lived in Arizona and continued into our move to Illinois. Beginning before our last move, I became her consul, then Power of Attorney and now caretaker, confidante and companion. Inevitably, our bond continues and is maintained and allowed to grow.
Now, it is nearly impossible for her to travel beyond her doctor’s office. Some days to move from the bed to the sofa is too strenuous, while on other days her breathing can be sustained easily with the oxygen.
Tonight, the tenebrous room intensifies my mother’s own darkness. Standing by her I yearn for her twilight to return. I know that isn’t possible and I have promised to accompany her along her path of darkness; but continually I ask myself how I will ever face that ineluctable moment when I see two golden wings guiding her spirit to eternity. I know at that moment I shall bid her my heart filled with love, but I shall never say good Bye.