January 5, 2008

Denying Everything

My mother is dying. There is no hiding from this fact. I am at home helping my siblings and father care for her as she declines. Last week... Actually, just prior to Christmas, my mother was restricted to a wheelchair to leave the house. By the time I came home for the weekend before Christmas (something like December 22), she could not leave the house, though she was still lucid. On Christmas day, we awoke to discover my mother severely jaundiced; she was unconscious most of the day. We flew my sister in from Rhode Island that night.

The next morning saw my mother regain much of what we feared she had lost. She was conscious, though tired, and able to converse with us. This was a welcome moratorium from what we believed would be my mother's swift decline. We were able to spend the next few days with her, having discussions, preparing food for her, assisting her as needed. This was a relatively relaxed period of time, though we all knew that the inevitable was approaching.

In the last few days, my mother has drastically declined. She transitioned from being able to walk herself to the bathroom, to requiring assistance, to not being capable of speaking to even let us know that she needs to alleviate herself. She is, largely, comatose. In fits, she will ponder aloud why she is taking so long to die. This breaks my heart. She is still aware of us, hears us, and occasionally responds with a slight motion of her head, a word, a sigh. A few days ago, she was eating food, though she was not hungry. Now, she is not able to eat anything and we are lucky if she drinks a little broth in a day. If she does not die from the cancer, she will die of starvation, soon.

Everything seems like a dream to me. As though my mother will die, I will go to bed, and when I wake she will be refreshed from the cleansing that she just went through. For all of what I am worth, I cannot fathom the experience that is coming. I feel like a surfer who has just had an excellent and exhilarating run realizes that there is an immense undertow beneath his board, hears the roar of massive wave behind him, it's grinding as though it is summoning up boulders from the deep to hurl at him, is cognizant of the torrent bearing down on him, but is unable to turn and grasp the magnitude of the wave that is about unleash its energies upon him.

I am not surprised by the outpouring of support that my family has received. My mother is an incredible person who has lived a life of service. I once commented to her that we lived on the poor end of town despite my parents' level of education and middle class background. She shrugged and asked me if I thought that that was not a conscious decision. Not because my parents are condescending to the neighborhood, but because this is what they could afford doing what they love. In my mothers case, she worked for the Women's Center at the local community college, working to help women facing overwhelming odds succeed at college and improve their lives.

It is a strange feeling to be rooted in denial. I am aware of it but, ironically, am unable to dispel it. It is as if I am in a state where my mind and body will not recognize reality. My mother is dying, as people are wont to do. I have a life, a job, an apartment in a different city, all awaiting my return. Yet, it all seems hollow when I ponder it as "the place I will go after my mother dies." Strangely, my family is obsessed with the pragmatic. We have a casket, a burial plot, a silk shroud for my mother. Her banking and work and taxes are all in line for my father so that he won't have to figure it out. My parents recently replaced their stove and diswhasher, refrigerator, washing machine and dryer, furnace, hot water heater, car, roof and windows.

So attached to our physical reality... It is as though we are all in denial. No, denial is too small a word. Denial is a state of disbelief in the obvious. No one doubts that my mother is going to die in the imminently near future. None of us knows how to prepare to weather the coming storm. A little bit of dramatic irony (dramatic irony, I guess, for God) is that my mother is the only one of us who has gone through this before, the only one to lose a parent so young. Yet, whether or not she was capable of communicating this to us, we were unable to hear her or make sense of her when she told us about losing her mother.

My plaint is that I have not had enough time with my mother. I've been mature enough to have an adult relationship with my mother, now, for only a few short years. She is such a cool person to be able to have that kind of a relationship with. I am jealous of my older siblings, each of whom has had a far greater amount of time with my mother.

Furthermore, she is still, and always will be, my mommy. I still crave my maternal relationship. There can be no filling of that role after she is gone and I cannot fathom what that void will feel like, neither do I wish to. There is a point in my life that is approaching where everything will be hollow, devoid of meaning and purpose. When we strip away the shell of culture that we surround ourselves with, there is little meaning. We are simply living things, born to a world, doomed to the fate of constantly struggling against entropy only guaranteed to lose. We must go about seeking shelter, food, physical and psychological comforts, pointlessly surrounding ourselves with irrelevant matter, as though we were attempting to construct our own sepulcher.

We were able to enjoy Kinder Surprise the other day. My brother talked us into opening them and playing with the toys under the premise that if we waited too long to enjoy something that my mother loved, it would taste of ash in our mouths. This is a vivid and apt metaphor for how I am feeling about the prospect of losing my mother. I am catapulted back and forth by the strong ambivalence created by the awareness of the difficulty of dealing with and accepting my mother's death and the overwhelming desire to believe that my mother cannot die, that she will soon get better.

Ultimately, I have this to say. Mommy, if you're listening, I love you. I will miss you more than I know. That silly mug, the one that says, "world's best mother," you're one of the few who really deserve it. Thank you for your unconditional love, your tutelage, for snuggling when I was small, for holding my hand when I needed it, the hugs and encouragement and expectation that I achieve to the very peak of my capacity. I could not ask for more of anything except time.

Posted by Mendon at January 5, 2008 12:00 AM

Dear Mendon,
My heart goes out to you as you journey down this difficult path. Your momma will always be a part of you, down deep in the heart of you. Keep her memory close, and cherish all that you shared. My prayers are for you today and in the days ahead.
Much love,

Posted by: Linda at January 7, 2008 12:36 AM

Dear Mendon,

Doing my best to allow for the time difference, I'll be praying at 12:30 your time.


Posted by: Helen at January 7, 2008 9:53 AM

Dear Mendon,
One thing I CAN tell you is it's the quality, not quantity of time you had with your mother that counts. You may have had less years than your siblings but I think she had the most years of pure simple joy with you. You were not a "planned" baby but once she got to know you she told me many, many times she was SOOOOOOO glad she had you. You were always her sweet Mench - so loving and affectionate.
You were never a problem. An anxiety free relationship that she thoroughly enjoyed. She felt quilty and worried about leaving you when she first got sick but she rose to the occasion of your wedding. It was miraculous. I think it is the day of her life in which she looked the most physically beautiful to me. She was always a beautiful woman but on that day the radiance of her soul gave her an extra glow.
She always told me she made many mistakes with her older children and though she did the best she could they could just go and get therapy when they grew up!
But by the time she had you SHE was all grown up and after having "practiced" motherhood with the others you got the real deal right from the start.
I know you are smart and already know all of this but your blog made me so sad for you that I just had to remind you.
Aunt Cindy

Posted by: Aunt Cindy at January 10, 2008 6:35 PM
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