Nearly two weeks ago my mother fell down the stairs. She was staying with my older sister Vicki while my younger sister Sheri, her primary caretaker was out of town. Mom taking a nose dive down the stairs was Vickis biggest concern. Something she worried about every time mom stayed at her house. The agreement was that if mom woke in the night she’d call out to Vicki so she could help her navigate the dark safely. This was standard middle of the night potty procedure, which left some of us wondering if the dead quiet silence that preceded mom’s plunge was intentional.
Her head smacked the yellow pine stair treads so hard the sound shocked my sister awake, like the crack of a gun fired into the night in a peaceful small town neighborhood. Then came the screams, horrible primal shrieks of terror erupting from my sisters lips, tearing a violent hole in her heart; opening a portal for mom’s departure.
Holding mother’s head in her lap, like a vulnerable newborn, she pleaded with her not to die. Watched in helpless confusion as mom’s life-sustaining blood, liquid garnets, trickled out of her right ear, like the sap of a mahogany tree cut away from its source.
As soon as she arrived at the hospital they rushed her into emergency surgery, drained the flood of blood threatening the circuitry of mom’s brain. Prognosis: Broken shoulder. Coma. We can’t say. Some wake up in a few days, a month; some never wake up. Have to wait and see. Treatment: Intravenous nourishment. Soulless air wheezing through a plug on the hospital wall. Morphine. Wait and wonder.
All her children gathered round her sterile bed. Her beloved, our brother Ron, incapacitated by his drug addiction. Vicki, mom’s right hand. Sheri her left, partially paralyzed years before by a stroke. Me her nemesis. The room, a tiny cell, was separated from the nurses station; raised above each humming, buzzing, beeping, wheezing unit, by a sliding glass door with a broken track. Mom’s head wrapped in bandages like a turban, a dried black blood clot closed off her right ear canal. Eyes closed, her incoherent body overwhelming as a corpse.
We talked awkwardly amongst ourselves, nurses coming and going. In whispers we lightly touched the subject of moms do not resuscitate order, the ventilator supporting her insufficient breathing sibilating in the background. Intravenous fluids dripping slowly into her sodden body. We laughed and cried, none of us knowing what to do. Ron stood up, hobbled to the picture window door. As he was leaving I heard him say, “We need a Chaplain.”
I was surprised and comforted by the fact that the Chaplain was a woman. She offered a prayer, then asked those of us that wanted to to share what we most appreciated about our mother. As I listened to the others offer up their praises I got scared. What the hell am I going to say? racing through my mind. Unable to fake feelings that don’t exist, when my turn came I said, “Thank you mother, for giving me the courage to live ‘To thine own self be true, above all things.’ ” It felt honest and although I didn’t share it, I believe that her rejection, the pain of being left out, unloved and emotionally abused by her helped birth my lion-hearted Self. I also believe that that is what drove the biggest wedge between us. I chose to live bravely as me, and it cost me her. I added “I love you,” but it didn’t feel right when I said it.
Then the Chaplain asked us what denomination mom belonged to. Someone said Protestant. Someone else said Episcopal. “And did she have a favorite prayer?”
My intention was to keep quiet as much as possible. To listen carefully to the hearts and wishes of my siblings. Didn’t feel it was my place to interject much of anything, considering mom and I’s lifetime of contention. But the room fell silent so I interjected what I knew. “Her favorite prayer was the Serenity Prayer.”
“Do you know the words to that prayer,” the Chaplain inquired.
“I have a copy,” I said, digging through my bag to find it. I was disappointed the card I carried didn’t have the prayer in it’s entirety.
We all said the first verse together. My heart unwound a bit because I knew mom’s favorite prayer. I was also surprised that my sisters and brother didn’t know.
After a long day of waiting for mom’s destiny to be made clear to us, [Wake up or die mom; which will it be?], drinking too much coffee, eating only boiled eggs, a brownie and some almonds, I decided to go home. As my car whizzed along the rural route to safety, questions whirred through my mind like a ticker tape parade.
All I wanted was to hear my son’s voices. To have them tell me that what I wasn’t feeling was ok. I called all three of them. Left rambling update messages on their voice mail; feeling awkward because none of us had an authentic relationship with her. Because I was not in love with her.
To be continued very soon…