These are strange times. So many times in the past, I have felt that my mother was near the end. This has dragged on from the moment a little over 31 years ago, when my father died. Now we really ARE near the end. She is in hospice, and has already lived longer than they expected. When I signed the papers admitting her to the hospice program on Christmas Eve, she had not eaten or taken any drink in couple of days, had dropped to 84 lbs, and the hospice nurse told me she could not go on more than a week like that.
It has been more than a week. Ma has been eating a few bites here and there, and taking the occasional sip of ginger ale, but this is not enough to sustain a person, and she has lost a bit more weight. I have been visiting briefly, almost daily, and each day she looks more and more waxy, as if an undertaker has already been working on her. She is usually asleep when I arrive, and only wakes when my husband calls to her.
When I call her name, she continues to sleep.
She admitted on Christmas Day, cheerfully and with a little chuckle, that she does not know who we are. Surprisingly, this does not bother me. If she is cheerful and chuckling and not knowing me, I would prefer that to angry and bitter, judgmental and critical, as she was before this dementia stole away her memories and personality. She was never an easy person, even before Dad died, and I carry a lot of scars from the cruel things she has said and done to me over the years. I work at not placing blame, and try to figure out just why she was as busted as she was, even though I know that's a pointless exercise. We will never know, and does that really matter in the end?
There is only this failing body with the face of my mother, and the mind of a child. As the chaplain suggested, maybe this is the pure soul that was my mother before life buried it.
So, I answer her, no matter how many times she repeats the same questions. I point to the pictures of my children and tell her who they are, though two minutes later she will have forgotten, and will ask me again. I bring my cat in to visit, because somewhere in the back of her mind, she does remember that she always loved cats, and when she asks me if the cat is mine, and where we found him, and remarks that he is a "big one" five times in fifteen minutes, I answer as if it's the first time I've ever heard any of those questions/remarks.
It's hard to remember, now, that she could be as awful as she was, back when she was still in her "right" mind.
But can one say she ever was in her right mind? Depression is a monster. Unmanaged, or improperly managed, the person who suffers from it will try to drag everyone down with him/her. A child who in complete innocence trusts its parent falls quickly. Some have the ability to fight. Some don't. I was one of those who didn't, and here I am, almost fifty-three years old, still having a hard time believing that I really am any good at anything, though my list of accomplishments tells me (and others) that this is far from the truth.
All I see in my own blindness is that I work in a factory. I could have been better than that. I could have reached for the stars, only...
Ma didn't believe I had the right or the talent to do so, and neither did Dad. And like a trusting child, I believed them, and I lowered all my expectations, and here I am now, trying to raise the bar and reach higher, and accept that I do not, in fact, suck in every possible respect. I am not second best.
And then there is the little voice inside that pipes up with, "Oh, yeah? Who do you think you are? Think you're pretty smart, don't you? Just wait, you'll find out."
With God's help, someday I may manage to kill that little voice for once and for all.
In the meantime, I watch and wait, and this song haunts me.
"Through the door a harvest feast is lit by candle light at the bottom of a staircase that spirals out of sight."
And I think about that room, and that feast, and that Ma is drawing closer to the foot of that staircase, and the long journey upward.