How Close to Death is My Mother?


July 18, 2016
I can tell that I’m totally losing it. I was on the phone with a friend, describing how close to death my mother is, and I heard myself say, “It’s different for my sister. I think she’s counting on seeing my mother in the afterlife, so it’s not such a big deal to her.”
I honestly don’t know what to believe. I only know that I want to go sleep in my mother’s bed so that I can hang on to her nightgown and go with her if she flies away.
10857245_10153067402699703_7603214433623327342_oMy dad says he’s going to hang on till my mom goes. “She’s already gone,” he says, “but I’ll wait till she dies. Then I’ll follow her.”
This afternoon I noticed another change in my mother. She wants me to put my face up close so she can feel my hair and skin with her bony hands. When she runs her fingers through my hair, I can feel the death grip in her hands.
She’s also moving her arms and hands slowly back and forth through the air, stretching her hands wide open and then closing her fingers, as if feeling the ability to move them for the last time.
My mom was thrilled when her red-headed granddaughter, Kelsey, came to visit. She spent many minutes playing with Kelsey’s long red hair. Maybe this wanting to touch our hair and faces is her way of saying goodbye.
My dad is so enthusiastic about my foot massages. He thinks I should massage elderly people’s feet for a living. “You should get paid a lot to do this, Suzan. Most people neglect their feet.” We discuss how cruel it is that so many people never get a foot massage—or any kind of massage. Since the end is now so near, on this day I give him two deep foot massages.
During the first massage, early in the afternoon, I notice that his feet and lower legs are ice-cold, in spite of wearing thick socks under the covers. By the time I finish, his feet radiate heat!
The second time, in the late evening, I notice that his feet are still warm. Good sign!
I can tell that my foot massages are getting better and better. My dad has fabulous, strong, sturdy Indonesian feet. We agree that his feet are the best part of his body. As I massage the ball of the foot, the arches, the heels, in between the toes, he reminisces how many miles his feet have travelled. And he remembers how the Japanese tried to break him in prison camp by making him carry heavy oxygen tanks. “They tried to break my back, Suzan, but they didn’t break me. I grew stronger . . . ”
Just when I feel too tired to do anymore, he sits upright in his adjustable hospital bed and asks for a back rub. How can I possibly refuse?
My sister and her husband, who moved in with my parents a few months ago, are still out on their nightly run. So I take a short nap in my mother’s bed. Then, when I see her moving her hands in the air again, I sit up and meet her hands with mine—like we’re playing a game. I tell her, “Just think mom, right now millions of people are dying and millions are being born . . . ” I don’t know if that’s the right thing to say at a moment like this—but this is all beyond words anyway.

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Photo: My daughter, granddaughter, and mother, 2015.

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