Wednesday, December 23, 2009

everyone's asleep

I've come back from seeing Mom. She doesn't look any different from how she looked when I saw her earlier. She's still in her bed in the ICU, silent and small, a fragile woman wearing her protective helmet the way a child might clutch a precious toy. Her blood pressure's relatively low right now: about 105/50 when I was there. Her heart rate is too rapid: about 135 beats per minute. As before, she lies at the center of a mass of tubes and wires, including a ventilator that does her breathing for her.

No one else was in the room when I arrived, so I talked to Mom. I told her, once again, how sorry I was about everything. I told her I was sorry that we weren't able to do more for her. And I gave her permission to do as she pleased: "We want you to come home with us to Virginia, but if you want to leave us sooner than that, that's OK. Be at peace, Mom." I held Mom's hand, which was limp from sedation and swollen-- like her face-- from a massive intravenous push. It was strange to hold her hand, which was paradoxically limp, yet warm and alive. The sensation was too much: I cried a bit. Crying can't be helped these days; I'm always holding back tears no matter where I go or what I do; they're going to leak out at some point.

Before I left the ICU, a nurse came into the berth and began tending to Mom. I remarked about Mom's high pulse and low blood pressure; the nurse agreed that Mom's pulse was far too high, but she said that her blood pressure wasn't bad.

As I made my way out to the East 68th Street exit, I noticed an alcove with a humble chapel tucked into it. I haven't been a praying man in decades, and I wasn't about to pray this time, but I ducked into the chapel just the same, hoping there'd be no one there, so I could sit in silence for a brief while. That proved to be the right thing to do: the quiet was calming; my thoughts had a chance to settle. So I sat-- just sat.

And then I came back to the hotel, where all the guys have been asleep for some time. I don't know how peacefully they're sleeping, but if they're like me, depression may be as good a soporific as alcohol.

Whatever happens over the next few days, I don't want Mom to suffer. I don't want her yanked back from the brink of death merely to endure more invasive treatments and other unnecessarily life-prolonging measures. Would Mom herself want to live through more of this? I doubt it. Intellectually if not emotionally, I'm willing to let her go, to set her free. God knows she's suffered enough.

And that's why I told her she could leave anytime she wants. We want her back in Virginia for reasons that may have something to do with Mom, but which have more to do with our own desire to see Mom pass away in a certain setting. At this point, with Mom's consciousness both buried under a pile of sedative and torn apart by rampant cancer, I doubt she knows or cares where she is. Reality rarely fits our desired picture of it; accepting this fact is part of life. For us, this means accepting the possibility that the final chapter of Mom's story will end not in Virginia but in New York City, the very city where my father was born. Perhaps there's enough cosmic symmetry in that to keep the world from losing all sense.

Enough about death. Death still lies in the future. For now, for this moment, my family sleeps, and barring an ominous phone call during the night, we'll all see what tomorrow brings.


1 comment:

Nomad said...


My friend; My heart and prayers go out to you and your family. Be there for your mother, but also, be there for your father.