July 11, 2016
“Soon it will be your turn,” says my old dad. “Imagine what this world would be like if there was no death.”
I don’t know why merciful death does not come for my parents. They are truly scary looking now. My dad looks at me from behind his brown skinned skull—his eyes so deep in their sockets, like he’s already beyond the grave. It pains me to see him like this. He’s strong enough to get in and out of his bed and walk down the short hallway to my mother’s bed—always dragging the oxygen tubes along with him.
Tonight my mother has a death grip on both of my hands, every once in a while shouting as if in labor, “Help me . . . help me.”
“We are here, mom,” I try to assure her. I have plenty of time to examine her. Her arms are so thin–like you could snap the bones in half. Tonight I really see just how fragile her bones have gotten.
My old parents—two skeletons with skin hanging off their bones. Yet their life force continues.
I pray my mom is passing in the night, as I write this. My dad is relaxed, waiting for death. He’s gotten used to it. These past weeks, he’s been virtually pain free, still taking himself to the bathroom, totally coherent, though he repeats himself more and more.
But my mom was tense and stiff tonight—like she didn’t know what was happening, like she was scared. She stares out from her bed to the objects in her room. I tell her where she is, that we are with her, in my feeble efforts to assure her that she is safe.
She’s aware that she’s dying, yet she’s not aware. When I tell her that she’s 95 years old now and that she’ll live on in her grandchildren and great grandchildren, she glances down at me—almost with a look of anger and disbelief. It feels lame to tell her that she’s going to the spirit world now, somewhere beautiful.
None of it makes sense, yet we spend our whole life denying and grappling with it.
My dad tells me that my mom will be saved by proxy—by virtue of being married to him. When he seats himself on the bed beside my mother’s head and swings his bony stick legs on top of the cover, my mother screams. I don’t know if it’s coincidence but it seems like she’s so sensitive that if we brush against her it’s like an electric shock—our proximity gives her a jolt.
Oh, my poor, sweet mother. I tell her once more how much we love her. Her bony grip is so strong—she’s hanging on. Her voice is still strong. Her eyesight and hearing are perfect but she’s had only a few sips of liquid for almost two weeks. She doesn’t want to drink tonight and my dad orders me not to try to give her water. “She might choke Suzan. Don’t do anything . . . ”
My mom is confused. “What’s happening?” she asks, again. She lifts up the covers and stares down at her body, now living on itself. Every once in awhile she winces. I don’t know how much she comprehends the magnitude, the finality of what’s really going on— this unfathomable final wrestling of her spirit out of her flesh.
I look around at all the pictures of her life, on the wall near the bed and on the dresser. My parents’ wedding pictures—she looks so beautiful in a long lace dress, one that I still remember hanging in the closet as I was growing up, her wavy black hair combed neatly back into a flowery headband. She’s holding a bouquet, my dad standing so proud next to her, in his perfectly pressed new suit, so handsome, recovered from his years in the prison camp, both of them looking into the future, their roles defined.
“We are one flesh,” my father tells my mother. “We are united for eternity. . . If you go first, I will soon follow. A few days later or in a few weeks . . . in the span of eternity, it doesn’t matter. I will follow you and we will be together in our heavenly home.”
My dad can relax in the assurance that his heavenly father is waiting for him. That He has prepared a place for him. He tells me again that he’s ready to go—that he’s not afraid of death. That sometimes in the night, when he cannot sleep, he prays for his heavenly father to take him but that He tells him, “Not yet, son. Not yet . . . ”
I came home tonight beyond tired, falling asleep with all the lights on. I have all these books on death—at least thirty—inherited over the years from when I did elder care. I don’t know how I did that—sometimes twelve-hours overnight and even three-day shifts. But now sitting in a hot room in the flow of death exhausts me . . .