Boboli Palace Passage, 2002
I’m done with all this dying stuff.
I don’t know if death is like when a woman finds out she’s pregnant and all of a sudden it seems like there are pregnant women wherever she goes. It has sure seemed like that for me lately with death. It’s been everywhere.
Mostly, I’ve been steeling myself for my mother’s death. Since late November she’s teetered at the edge of death, at times given no more prospect than a few hours.
But then, just before Christmas, she bounced back. She’s not strong, nor out of the woods, so far as death is concerned. Some days are still dreadful for her. But her condition now seesaws back and forth enough that I’ve let my guard down and no longer expect every moment of clarity on her part to be the last or every phone call from the nursing home or hospice team to be “the call.”
This is a very consuming experience. I didn’t realize how much I’d gotten worked up about this until the other day when I walked into my mother’s room and found her sitting up in bed feeding herself breakfast. The night before she’d been out for the count. But here she was, somewhat alert and thoroughly confused, but clinically speaking no worse for the wear of her ordeal than an achy back. For a moment I was even angry at the thought of all the energy I’d wasted worrying about her death.
I told myself right then, “She may die today or she may die tomorrow. But I’m not going to stop living as if it’s coming any moment.”
It’s funny how a simple affirmation like that can make all the difference. Years ago I realized that I was bothered by someone who’d been unkind to me early in life. I’d never thought much of it, so I thought, until after the person died. Then the experience gnawed away at me in insidious little ways. Finally, it all came together one night as I was trying to go to sleep. I could think of nothing more to do about it than sit up in bed and say, “I forgive you.” And that was it.
The other morning while walking down the hall at my mother’s nursing home I happened upon one of the older gentleman who was rolling his wheelchair to the dining room. He lost both legs to diabetes and a stroke makes it difficult for him to communicate. His appearance can be a little off-putting to people who don’t visit nursing homes much. But I always speak to him. I don’t even know his name. After I greeted him he asked how I was doing. I answered and asked him the same thing, to which he responded, “I’m doing all right myself, young man.”
And that’s about how I’m doing, too. Life’s testing me in a lot of ways. But I’m doing all right myself.