Sunday November 16, 2014
Last night at around midnight she called to go to the bathroom. Adam heard her first and when I walked out she was already on her commode. “Let’s give her some privacy,” Adam said, and we walked into the kitchen. There we began a lengthy vigil. She was bent over her knees and she sounded like she was in pain. We’d pop our heads out to ask if she was done yet, if she was all right, if she needed help, and she’d wave us off.
I helped her back to bed and sat on it next to her. She put my hand against her cheek and closed her eyes.
* * *
In the morning she still has some confusion but is feisty. Adam is up early with her and gets her coffee, canned (!) peaches, tea, bone broth, and a quarter of a slice of toast. He gives her the Ativan on schedule. Muschi calls and I give the phone to Mom.
“I can’t believe this is how it ends,” she says, “after stealing potatoes and pears.” She’s referring to their poverty and starvation in late 1940s West Germany. She’s crying. Then she switches to Bavarian and I can’t really follow. When Mom gives the phone back to me, Muschi’s voice is changed.
* * *
Berle, Peggie, and Peggie’s husband Pat stop by. “We’re bringing church to you, Inge,” Peggie says. “Because church is wherever we are. We’re going to do communion, and I don’t care if I’m not a priest. This is our own communion. I don’t need somebody between me and God.” She and Pat and Berle read from Isaiah, John, and Psalms. They say prayers for my mother, and for me. Peggie finds some of her favorite praise songs on Pat’s phone and plays them for Mom. She weeps and tries not to let Mom see.
Adam and I leave the house to pick up some pizza that Mom has suddenly begun craving. When we return she tells me, referring to Peggie and Berle, “They tied me down and made me listen to stupid foreign jokes.” The women laughed at that. “Inge, you are still so funny,” Peggie says. Mom doesn’t eat more than a bite or two.
* * *
At half past noon it’s time to pick up Mieshelle. Adam offers to go with me, and at the airport he walks inside to find her.
“It’s been a long time!” she says, as we hug on the sidewalk by the car. “How are you doing? Nevermind,” she adds, “I know how you’re doing. I read your blog.” She is still beautiful, hasn’t seemed to age, and she’s very smartly dressed.
It has been about three and a half years since we last saw one another. I reminded her that we’d been in the Barnes & Noble in Bend, Oregon, negotiating our settlement agreement.
At the house she goes to Mom and hugs her. It seems they are crying. Berle, Pat, and Peggie take their leave, hugs all around. Mieshelle chats amiably with my mother. She has brought a wave of positivity into the house. I am happy to see someone, anyone, here to love my mother, but I also feel, I suppose, something related to reconciliation. They’d fallen out of touch during the divorce, though in recent years they have corresponded on Facebook. I know my mother is important to Mieshelle, and I know my mother has tender feelings and compassion for Mieshelle. I feel good that she is here, and I am relieved.
I listen in and watch them talk for a while, and then I think it would be good to let Mom sleep and let Mieshelle be alone with her. I explain to her the workings of Mom’s world – the pain pump and Ativan, her need to be on her side, her water bottle and vaporizer pen, the bed control and the marijuana salve – and Adam and I jump in Mom’s car to go to Montrose’s newly remodeled Starbucks. “Well that was sweet,” I say. “I’m glad she’s here to love my mother.”
* * *
There is a dividing line between our parents as mortals who yet breathe and our parents as legends that grow as time winds on. I have a feeling I will talk about my mother even more once she is gone.
* * *
She ate some plain yogurt earlier this evening. Several spoonsful. Spilled a good bit on her pajamas and chest, and then made it really clear she didn’t want any help with all that. Mieshelle managed to clean it up anyway, and to put a paper towel on Mom’s chest. Adam and I went to Starbucks to work and catch up on correspondence while Mieshelle gamely made entries into our log for the Ativan and pain pumps she was giving Mom. She’s a positive influence on the household. Adam and I tend to keep to ourselves, in quiet pursuits. Mieshelle, by contrast, is in full charm mode.
Adam went to bed early. Mieshelle and I watch a movie, then begin a second. She is cold so I get her the heavy Afghan blanket and drape it over her. She falls asleep and now both my ex-wife and my mother, separated by a few feet, are asleep before me. It’s an odd sensation. This is the person I shared part of a life with, have memories of traveling and parenting with, then fought and resented – and she’s right here, as if none of the unhappy stuff happened.
Monday November 17, 2014
The days wear on. Today marks three weeks since I sped from Telluride to Montrose, afraid my mother was about to die. Mieshelle and Adam are up before me, though their military maneuvers in the kitchen wake me up before I’m ready. Adam comes in to tell me my mother is alert if I want to spend some time with her.
She is concerned about what happens to some of her things. There are certain items that she wants to stay in the family. She has me take a picture down from the wall and look for the name written on the back. There is no name. She tells me to write “Inherited from Ingeborg Amanda Cheatham” on it.
“Who do you want to give it to?” I ask.
“You!” she says. She looks up at the shelves to her left. “If Oma’s Madonna doesn’t stay in the family,” she says, “you’ll all be cursed.” She looks at another figurine below it. “That black Madonna,” she murmurs, “pretty much the same.” Adam laughs at this. “Giving away, losing, stealing, nothing bad should happen to those Madonnas.”
She points to the armoire housing the TV in front of her. It’s neither an antique nor particularly attractive. “My son hates that, but I like it.” She starts crying as she mentions an aunt of hers who had a similar armoire “that stood there right when you walked in,” and concludes, wiping her eyes, “That’s why I can’t die. I’m too attached.”
* * *
When we ask her to turn over on her side to get off her bedsore, she asks, innocently, “Which way?”
* * *
Tanya, my sister’s best friend, writes me a long text of encouragement and love. I get a Facebook IM from one Karin van Deyk, who writes:
I don´t know you personally, I am a Facebook Friend of your mother – I’ve never met her, but she touched me very deeply – we often talked about cancer – I myself had breast Cancer 13 years ago, so we had something in Common and we shared hope, Inge is that kind of woman I always wanted to be – always open minded, always kind and helping others – even her words always are kind.
* * *
I am reading and answering emails. She lifts her head from dozing and says, “We don’t have a dog, do we?”
* * *
Mieshelle is washing dishes in the kitchen. I find her presence surprisingly comforting, and I feel myself not wanting her to leave so soon.
* * *
“They say there will be four more days of this,” she says to me.
“Four more days of what, Mom?”
“Of this. Illness.”
“Who told you that?” The hospice assistant who was just here?
She waves her hand vaguely. “Somebody.”
“Nobody has said it will last four days, Mom.”
* * *
Sometimes she says things that are somewhere between an attempt at a joke and a slippery grip on reality. A cat with shiny pajamas – who turns out to be Adam in his silk robe — promised her a bon-bon. The cat also told her to take oolong tea into the garden, where waterfalls sing.
I watch her as she falls asleep. I notice that I’m numb to the enormity of her imminent non-existence. I kiss her forehead and smell her hair and skin, and then some tears come.
I am mostly numb from this waiting game. I did struggle not to cry at the funeral home. The woman handed me the cremation contract and I found myself shaking from the war between the impulse to cry and my efforts to hold it in. I was surprised to find Adam teary as well.
* * *
I told Mieshelle I was glad she came out here and it’s been nice to have her here. She agreed. It’s both strange and very familiar. I’m glad this happened.
* * *
We increased Mom’s basal dose from .15ml per hour to .25. The hospice nurse said Mom would probably sleep more, though it’s hard to imagine how she could sleep more than she has been. On the other hand, she seems to be dozing less and really sleeping more.
Mieshelle leaves tomorrow and Adam leaves on Thursday. Linda will come tomorrow for a short time. I like not being alone. I like visitors coming here.
I am grateful for Adam’s three-week stay. He’s been invaluable in the kitchen and at night, and has helped me with hosting when people visit. On their way out, he thanks them for coming. I’m grateful that Mieshelle’s visit turned out so well. She’s been great with Mom, pleasant with Adam and everyone else, and I’ve felt a sweet affection for her.
I’m grateful for Berle and Silke and Peggie, for Karla and Monika and Inge, for Jayne and Will Kay and Lynn, for Gregory and Annika, for all the people who comment on Facebook.
Tuesday November 18, 2014
Mom does seem to have been sleeping a lot since her base dose of the painkiller was increased. This is a mixed blessing. She may be in less pain in spite of being unable to remember how to use her bolus to deliver painkiller, but she is not conscious to us. Her ability to perform that most basic of human tasks, that of being present, has been taken away from her, and from those who love her.
I have been grieving this for some time, but I can also tell that I’m just a bit numbed by it all. How else to explain that I’m reacting as if my mother not being present, and dying, is just the way things are. This is what I mean by having settled into a rhythm. There is nothing else to do when you’re waiting.
* * *
Carrie and Laurel arrive from Grand Junction. Carrie has impulsively moved to Nebraska and is back in the area for a few weeks.
“That’s where Mom and Muschi got their start,” I say. “One of the first places they lived in the early 1960s was Omaha.”
“Don’t tell them that!” Mom says, coming to life. “That shows them how stupid I can be.”
“What’s stupid about that?” Mieshelle asks.
“That really changed my life,” Mom says.
* * *
“Is that your ring? Let me see it.” Laurel was married recently.
Laurel shows her the ring.
“Tell him you lost it,” Mom murmurs, “and to buy you a bigger one.”
* * *
Mieshelle and I talked quite a bit this morning. I hung out at the bathroom door while she
put on makeup. I thought of telling her that I missed having a connection with her, but I didn’t see the right opportunity and figured I’d do it at the airport. In the living room, Mieshelle wanted pictures of herself with Mom and of herself, Adam, and I with Mom. She applied makeup and lipstick to Mom. Mom wanted to put a different lipstick on, and to put it on herself. “It’s a girl thing,” she said. She looked at herself in the smartphone Mieshelle was holding out for her. Mom took the phone.
“My God,” she said. “ Who is that person?”
Before she left, Mieshelle went to hug Mom. Mieshelle was crying a little.
“It’s not over,” Mom said.
I couldn’t see Mom’s face, but as Mieshelle continued to say goodbye Mom said, as she had with Muschi, “Just go.”
* * *
Mieshelle and I got in Mom’s car and drove toward the airport. On the way there, I said to her, “It was really comforting and healing to have you around.”
“Oh, really?” she said. “That’s so nice. I’m glad.”
“I think I re-remembered how much it hurt me not to have any kind of relationship with you, and I feel like I want to keep some connection.”
“I feel the same way,” she said.
I ordered some chai latte that was light on the real chai and had no latte. To be candid, it was the worst chai that has ever been made on this planet in the history of humankind. We sat and talked for a bit and then we hugged in front of the security ropes. I kissed her on the cheek.
“I’m serious,” she said. “If you want to talk to anyone, you just have to say so.”
As I drove out, I felt the bittersweetness of spending positive, caring, affectionate time with her, and feeling supported in my journey with my mom, as well as sadness about the losses we both endured when we split up.
* * *
Carrie was asked what were the best things about the Camino for her. She thought for a second. “Inge, of course,” she said. “That woman has just inspired me so much.” Her eyes were red. At one point I saw her and Mom both gazing into each other’s eyes, and caressing each other’s faces.
I do some work and then come out to kiss her head and stroke her hair. “My cousin!” she says, maybe trying to make a joke. “My son,” she says more softly. She pulls me down into a hug.
I see her smile again. “You’re really smiling a lot more these days,” I say.
She begins to cry.
“What? What is it?”
She waves her hand in front of her mouth as if to dissipate the tears from her tight throat. At length she says, “I have such good friends.”
“Awww, of course you do. And you have friends who live in other places and have never met you who would love to be here with you. All kinds of people on Facebook saying Inge has been an inspiration to me and Inge helped me immensely when I lost my parent or was diagnosed and I always loved Inge for her posts with beautiful photos of nature first thing in the morning.”
“When you haven’t been worth anything,” she says quietly, “it’s really hard to believe.”
“Believe it, Mom. This is who you really are. It’s your old way of thinking of yourself versus how everyone else does. And you know they’re the ones who are right, don’t you?”
I tell her she’s so loved.
“It’s weird,” she says. “It feels fake.”
* * *
“This nice gentleman comes in every morning and says, ‘Coffee or tea, madam?’” She explains this to Linda, just arrived. She is probably talking about Adam, but I can’t be sure. Linda has called to check on my mother every day since her visit a week ago.
“Love you, Mom.”
She begins to cry.
“What’s wrong, Mom?”
“I just love you so much.”