When The Night Closes In
MOTHER is lying in a hospital bed in Tarpon Springs, Florida, severely deformed, alone and dying; too slow for the pain she’s experiencing, too fast for the life she’s lived. She’s frightened, and not at all ready, and there’s not a thing in the world I can do to help her.
I want to be able to do something more for her, I really do. She’s a sweet old lady, made of whip smarts and a spitfire wit, a sharp sense of humor and a genuine reason to love me, but, the idea that she and I have the kind of relationship that would warrant the type of response one would typically expect at the passing of a parent is just one more of the many delusions that have comprised the majority of her 70+ years on this earth. And it hurts me to say that, it really does. But I can’t deny it’s the truth.
The reality is, she’s not my Mom.
My Mom calls or texts me regularly to see how I’m doing, to get the latest status update and find out what’s going on with Mother, so she can pray for her, and for me. We’ve talked extensively about the impact of this experience on me, especially falling so closely on the heels of my Father’s passing, just a few short weeks ago.
The latest chapter in Mother’s ongoing adventure of hospital explorations came to my attention a few weeks back, when I got a call out of the blue from a stranger in her neck of the woods, who wanted to confirm that I am, in fact, her relation. This member of her church spoke with me at great length about his concerns. At first, it seemed he was informing me of her condition, but, upon closer inspection, I think he was mostly reaching out for help. He’d been in her house by then, and was overwhelmed by its unexpected state… Her home environment was so slovenly that it more or less amounted to a biohazard worthy of a call to the CDC. She was not entirely a hermit, as she still worked outside the home, but, she was reclusive, living like the opposite of Howard Hughes… no money, and an aversion to anything that gave off the merest suggestion of cleanliness, completely surrounded by the clutter and debris of a life of total chaos.
I felt for him, and the position that his family, who’d effectively adopted her as a kind of surrogate grandmother, must have been in, trying to find some way to positively impact her circumstances, rather than returning her to this wasteland, where it was hard to understand how a human could function. He was very glad to talk to me, because I was able to shed some light on a better impression of what her life had been, and how she’d come to that point, with a perspective he hadn't had, and an insight that helped to make looking around her hoarder’s nest and observing her extreme neglect of her now grossly disfigured body make a bit more sense… to some minor extent.
But I couldn’t help him, anymore than I could fix her.
I’d given up that battle more than 25 years ago, about the time I saw her last.
Turns out, however, that particular quandary wasn’t going to remain all that relevant.
Things went very quickly from bad to worse, and, suffice it to say, Mother has reached the end of the line, and will not be coming back home.
I’ve lived a fair portion of my adult life expecting at any point on some random day to get a phone call from some stranger telling me that Mother had left this mortal coil. I didn’t always know if there was anyone in her life in tune with her enough to even know that she had children, much less to be able to contact any of us. I think everyone in our family would always have supposed I'd naturally be the one of us most impacted by her death. At age 3, I’d been old enough to remember her, but young enough to get over being abandoned by her. My brother and sister, 8 and 7 years my seniors, respectively, were not quite so understanding. After Mother eventually acquiesced her five year long battle with the state in which she tried to convince anyone who would listen that she hadn’t been a paragon of everything unfit about raising children, my siblings were no longer of the optimal age to be adopted to another family, or to be able to move on quite so easily. They avoided making any attempt to stay in touch or maintain a relationship. I at least make a phone call on birthdays, holidays, Mother’s Day, and other occasions I know hearing from me would make her feel special. But that’s about it. I learned long ago that the only way to have any kind of successful interaction with a Paranoid Delusional Narcissist with Borderline Personality Disorder is to recognize the relationship for what it is, and to not try to expect anything more from of it.
Mother could never have been any more to me than what she was. The kindhearted lady who created me was also a weary, tortured soul with neither the skills, nor the coping mechanisms to know how to raise me. And, I really can’t fault her that, so I don’t. I’ve long ago put far away in a box on a shelf any childish, foolish hopes for something more than she could give, and, I’ve learned to just love her for what she is, without trying to force her to be something she’s not.
But now she’s dying.
She’s been reaching out to me in these last few days, as a dying parent would to a child in an hour of need, and I don’t really know how to respond. She plays a game of manipulation, a dance she knows so well it’s second nature to her, in which she rewrites history so convincingly that she believes it herself, and, for a brief moment, she almost convinces me. She is not ready to die, she wants me to pray for a miracle. She says God is not through with her yet. She says she can’t go, she has still has so much more to do.
She wants to fight.
She wants to LIVE.
For half a breath when I got the call, I suddenly started into the mode that one goes into when you realize you are faced with one of those situations in life that waits for no one, and cannot be put on hold. Death takes no reservations. It gives you a number, and when your time is up, it collects. It does not linger, tapping an impatient toe. Death is on its own schedule. There are no forbearances, and no reprieves. It will come for us when it is ready, whether we are ready or not. It is best to hope that we would be; that we could live in such a way that one day is just as good as the next. But, it doesn’t always work out that way. In fact, most of the time, it doesn’t. Yet, Death is never convenient. Death doesn’t care a thing about your agenda.
MOTHER is dying.
Mother will be DEAD soon.
I have to get ready, I have to prepare…
There’s so much to do, I can’t think straight…
In that mode, I started looking at online airfare costs, coordinating if I could take off work, wondering what I could hire a hazmat team for, and, do they have 1-800-GOT-JUNK in Florida?
And then it hit me.
…Wait a minute…
This is NOT my Mom.
WHY exactly am I thinking about jumping through all these hoops???
I had to pause, to think, to regroup.
Nobody wants to die, much less to die alone. And, I feel for, her, I do… I don’t want her to go out that way. But, I can’t think about mourning her death, because I’m still in mourning over her LIFE. I mourn the opportunities that she’s missed. I mourn the bridges that she’s burned. I mourn the friendships she’s turned her back on, and the loved ones she’s driven away. I mourn her body betraying her into the grave now because she has ignored every sign that it has been screaming at her over the last several years as it begged for her attention and her nurture. She is dying as she lived... in denial. And when there is nothing left but the end, I can’t suddenly turn back the clock and undo 70+ years of bad habits and bad choices, and pretend like I am the person she needs at her side to show her love and comfort and respect. I cannot be something that I am not any more now that this is almost over than I could have been able to for the duration of our relationship up to this point.
I called her Pastor today. I was happy to hear that a large portion of the sizable congregation is deeply concerned over her loss. I was beside myself with gratitude to learn that they have already dealt with the disaster that is her home. I am glad to know that she will not be alone, but that she will be surrounded by light and love, and supported in prayer and praise. I am thrilled to realize she has such a strong connection in this second family she’s created from this church. Most importantly, I am happy that they will help her to somehow come to terms with this, and accept it, in the hope that she can be at peace.
Now there’s just the quandary of whether or not I actually need to be there in those final days.
How soon can I get there? Can I afford a ticket? How long will the trip be? Will I still have a job when I get back?
The nurses give me the impression the logistical puzzle is probably a moot point, anyway.
I spoke to Mother on the phone. I’m not sure she knew it was me. She called me by a name I don't know. She talked about a conversation she had with her daughter, someone she thought was in the room at the time, then realized she was confused. She talked about a day at work like it was yesterday. She talked about my brother (pushing 50) like he was 12. She laughed, she joked, she sang... a lot. She read me something, I think it was the back of a cereal box. I don’t know if she wouldn’t have been doing the same thing whether there was a person on the other end of the receiver or not.
THAT's not MY Mother.
I can't help but think it won’t be long now.
I still call her every day, just in case one day she's actually still in there somewhere. It's always the same. I remember the last time I actually spoke to her as the person she used to be... it was a good conversation. I don't really mind it being the last time we talked, in that, I don't regret anything about it. But, I just didn't know then that there wouldn't be any more... ever. I keep hoping she'll have a moment of lucidity long enough for me to get through, knowing I may never get the chance... to tell her goodbye, and I wish for her to have peace. But I may not get that chance... she hasn't really been the woman I have known my whole life for several days now.
So, if she’s already gone… what’s left? Funerals are not for the dead, they’re for those left among the living to remember the dead. But what is there in that for me? I can't go down there just to be surrounded by a bunch of strangers from her church, remembering a woman neither of us really knows the way the other does.
If mine was anything resembling a normal childhood, or ours was anything akin to a nuclear family, I’m certain that, distance be damned, financial caution to the wind, I would move heaven and earth to be by her side.
But, it wasn’t, and, we’re not.
My Mom gave us a brief scare a few weeks back, where she accidentally mixed up her Prednisone with her Ambien and landed in the hospital from an apparent overdose of sleeping pills by putting the two different bottles in the wrong place. She’d gotten up on a Sunday morning, got ready for church, made some muffins, took her medication, and then promptly passed out, unable to be rousted. Inside of two hours, four of her children (my brothers) were at her side, along with her husband (my dad), and their preacher. When she was coming out of it, within minutes, we were laughing at her bedside, grateful she was going to be well, with no adverse effects to her health. She was incredibly embarrassed, but very happy, and we’ve even teased her about her “Ambien Muffins.” Because if you can't laugh at yourself, what's the point?
Mom is concerned for me, through all of this. She spends a few minutes preaching at me when we talked last; she didn't really mean to, it was just hard to pass up the opportunity to point out the lesson I could take away from this example of how a tragic life ends, and how she hopes for so much better for me. Of course, her idea of better for me is a life closer to the one she understands. I'm just not there. I don't know if I ever will be, to the same extent that she would want me to. She believes in something I just don't, and, I envy her that undying conviction, but, trying to find it at this point is just a little more than I can handle right now. She apologizes, says she wants me to be comfortable talking to her, and doesn't want to overwhelm me... I know she means well. I love about her that she has learned to pray for me in that respect without being angry, because she has come to be able to disconnect her love for me from her desire to save me, and, it's the most amazing thing she's ever done — for her, for me; for both of us. Now she leaves the fate of my soul for me to work out with my God, and she just loves me anyway, so that her sense of responsibility for me no longer has to come between us.
And I love her for that most of all.
I don’t want to lose my Mom anytime soon. But if I have to be ready to, I can be. Because, when her time has come, there won’t be any concerns that she hasn’t done everything that was asked of her. Whether she fades away over a period of weeks or months, or she is taken by a bus tomorrow, she is fulfilled, and she is ready. She is loved, and, if it is possible, she will be surrounded by that love in her final days. We will mourn her passing, but we will celebrate her LIFE.
No, if I am given the opportunity, there will never be any question as to whether or not I’m going to be there at the end of days for my Mom.
Ø My Mom, who raised me from the time I was 10.
Ø My Mom, who put in the hard work of growing with me through the changes of my life,
from at-risk youth to troubled teen, to independent woman.
Ø My Mom, who made herself vulnerable to me, with all of my walls and defenses,
who demonstrated tough love in the face of my indifference, and stood her ground
in the path of my aggression, knowing that she wouldn’t escape unscarred.
Ø My Mom, who made mistakes along the way, but who took responsibility for them,
who learned there was still more learning to come and more growing up to do,
and who found a way to rise above it all, to work through it, and to overcome.
Ø My Mom, who has discovered how to forgive, and to let herself be loved.
Ø My Mom, who, over time, has come to want nothing more for my life than I want for myself.
Ø My Mom, who finds a variety of ways on a regular basis to tell me that she loves me…
for no other reason that she just wants to make sure I know.
We aren’t born with instructions. There’s no right way to figure out how to get through this life, and, for sure, life is the only endeavor from which none of us will ever make it out alive.
Life doesn’t always work out the way we want, and certainly, death doesn’t either, but, for many of those among us who’ve ever taken time to give thought to the way we might choose to die, there’s a commonly desired image in mind for when we get to that stage. We may not always have the choice, but, if we do, we tend to lean towards the option to be surrounded by friends and family and faces of those we love, and who’ve loved us along the way, offering comfort and compassion as we pass into the next stage. But, if we die as we have lived, then, if we want that, we have to be living a life that brings that love and support of family and friends all along the way, throughout the journey, so that it can be there with us at the end, just as it always has been.
And a life like that doesn’t come with batteries included. You have to build it as you go, piece by piece, one brick at a time… a smile, a laugh here; a gesture, a hand there; a kind word, a hug… a moment of time... maybe just a cup of water.
With the materials you lay down, you’re paving the road to whatever comes next.
God be with you, Mother.
I love you. I will never forget you.
Rest in Peace.
LJ Idol | Season 8 • Week 12 - Topic: SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED
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