2010 / year eight
My sister, Geralynn, calls me on my cell phone. “Did you talk to Dad today?” she asks. I know immediately, the pitch of her voice, something.
She tells me that our mom passed out while another sister was giving her a bath.
“That had to scare everyone,” I say. My heart pounds.
I immediately wonder what I would have done if this happened on my shift. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have called an ambulance, honored my mom’s “do not resuscitate” bracelet. Probably not though—I’m too much of a pussy for that.
“We’re not sure what happened to her,” she says, “but Mom and Dad have been at the hospital all day.” We make plans: she’ll try to get Dad to go home, and I’ll stay with Mom overnight.
I call my brother, who works about five minutes from the hospital. I leave him a detailed message on his voice mail.
When he calls back he says, “What do you want me to do?” He thinks in terms of action.
He goes to the hospital for the first shift. When I arrive, David’s got his chair pulled close to Mom’s bed. She’s slurping soup, and there are flecks of chicken and noodle on her gown. She greets me: Where did you come from?
I sit on my mom’s bed, and all the bells and whistles go off. A nurse comes running and then slows when she sees me. “We can turn the alarm off until you leave,” she says.
“They have alarm beds for wanderers,” David tells me.
I snuggle in next to my mom on her bed. Directly across from her is a white board with today’s date and her vital signs printed in marker. Next to the numbers is a thick horizontal line with a hand-drawn bunny face peering over the top—big round bunny eyes and big loopy bunny ears.
“Mom kept reading the numbers the nurse wrote down—over and over,” David he tells me, “so I was trying to distract her with a bunny.”
“How sweet,” I say. He may struggle with being the son of a dying mother, but David knows exactly how to be a dad.
“After I drew the rabbit, Mom never looked at the white board again.” He laughs. I can hear in his voice how hard this is.
“It is kind of a scary bunny,” I say, and we laugh some more.
What I won’t say to him but I suspect he knows: for all of our talk about “what is best” for Mom and “letting her go to a better place,” none of us is ready for our mother to die.
David says, “She ate half a sandwich and tried to give me the rest.”
“Do you know each other?” Mom says to me.
“Yep, I’ve seen this guy before a few times.”
When the nurse brings in a bed pan for my mom’s roommate, David says, “Well I think I’ll head out.” He squeezes my shoulder when he leaves.
Darlene, the aid, comes in to take Mom’s vitals. She says to me, “You’re lucky you have your mother. Mine died a year ago in December. Colon cancer.”
“Oh no,” I say. “Was she young?”
“Well it’s always hard to lose your mother,” I say. I tear up. My mom is fine; she simply fainted in the bath tub. Am I crying because for one moment today I thought I was getting “THE call” to tell me it was over or because I know she may linger on many more years like this?
The phone rings. It’s my dad checking on us. I ask him how he’s doing. It was a long day for an 84-year-old guy. “I’ll live,” he says. He clears his throat. I tell him I’ll stay till Mom falls asleep. Her room is right across from the nurses’ station, and Ger’s daughter, Jaimie, will begin her nursing shift on this floor before Mom wakes up in the morning.
Darlene says to my mother, “Ooh, what pretty toenails.”
“I don’t know where they came from,” my mom tells her.
When Darlene leaves, I tuck the blankets around my mom’s chin and sit on the edge of her bed. “Tomorrow I’m going home,” she says to me, what she says at least once a day when she IS at home. What she says nearly each night to my dad in the bed they’ve shared in the same house for over five decades.
I kiss her cheek, and she makes smooching sounds with her lips but in the dim room she can’t quite contact with my face. “Tomorrow I’m going home,” she says again. For once in a long time my mother is exactly right.