Being There

Mom lies dying. We sit with her, around her. For several days, we return each morning and leave as it gets late, when we need time to rest, renew. There is no dignity in her death. Gasping for breath, oxygen, morphine. We sit vigil, telling stories, some spoken many times before, others confessed only to mom, but now, shared with each other.

Dad and I leave the room, go outside for air. To stretch our legs, clear our minds. When my brother comes for us, we know it is over. And we follow him, for one last touch of the lady we love, the heart of our family, the soul of us all.

As we walk into the building, we pass a resident sitting near the entrance. Suddenly, she exclaims, “Blue sky! It goes on and on and on. Forever.”

It is a strange comment, in this Alzheimers home, in this beautiful blue-sky world which is Arizona. We smile, my brother and I, and guess that it is not the first time she’s uttered these words. Perhaps it is her greeting, to those who enter the life of dementia care. Fasten your seat belts, I think, is more appropriate. But this exclamation of continuity in a time of endings, it is comforting. We are grateful.

And then I say good bye. I stroke her hair and touch her skin. She is gone.

Mom was not a spiritual woman. She enjoyed all sorts of stories, including those from the great religions, but did not spend time reviewing inner meanings or personal truths. She did not contemplate the great beyond, the life after this one. It just wasn’t important to her. She was not concerned about what would happen next; she was instead interested in the so many things happening now. So it is difficult for me to think of her in a paradise, gazing down upon me. If she was to choose her own after life, ascension to a higher plane would not be it.

She carried a poem in her wallet. I have a copy, too. The poem is about offering oneself to others, in life and in death. And, in fact, we donate mom’s body to a teaching hospital, so that others can learn from her. It is the perfect resting place for a woman who spent her life educating, sharing stories, teaching lessons. I am pleased with our choice.

The poem she kept tucked away ends with this line: “If, by chance, you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed or word to someone who needs you. If you do all I have asked, I will live forever.”

And she does live forever. When my oldest sits with me until late in the night, discussing politics and books and just everything, she pours herself a cup of tea and joins in. She is the arch of his eyebrow and the glint in his eye. She is his laughter and his insight. When my middle boy welcomes a new friend into his tight network of forever pals, she is there in his greeting, in his leadership, in his confidence that there is always room for one more at the table. When my youngest scores a goal and celebrates with his hands in the air, wrapping his body around his teammates, her pride explodes within me, her awe, amazement that this little hockey player could be ours. When my husband believes in me, when I doubt myself, she smiles through me, with me, for me, and also, through him. And she believes in me, too.

When my brother and sister share snippets of their lives and memories of our shared history, she holds us and loves us and insists that we continue to grow, with each other and for each other. And when my dad looks at me, even with his confusion and forgetfulness, she stands with him, as one.

And although there is no dignity in her death, there is a great deal of dignity in her life. And when I am lucky enough to witness a blue sky day, a blue sky that goes on and on and on. I see her there, too, continuously. And forever.

Thank you, my friends, for allowing me this year of mourning and remembering. Of laughing and crying. Of recollecting the important stuff and the not-so-important stuff and sharing it all. Your kind words have meant so much more than you can ever know. This is my fifty second blog entry and my year long writing challenge is complete.

I don’t know what comes next, but I am so very proud of what has been.

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