The voice on the other end of the phone was serious for once.
" We need to talk about Mom." Bob said. " You need to know that things are not going well."
And with that, my brother the nurse explained the situation through the eyes of a clinician. Mother's dementia and senility are becoming more pronounced. She no longer recognizes Bob and he comes by two or three times a week. She is losing body mass despite the fact that she is eating.
" She is starting to talk about wanting to die, wanting to go, wanting to leave, that kind of stuff." he said. " We see that at the hospital all of the time. When an elderly sick person starts talking like that, well...."
Coincidentally enough, the hospice chaplain called me later that same morning. She wanted me to know that she had been by to see Mother the day before. She wanted me to know that Mother seemed to enjoy the visit and that the chaplain prayed with her.
" My brother said that Mother is not...is becoming...is." I was stammering. This is unlike me.
" She is declining. That's why we're involved."
" He seemed to think that things were...were...."
" They are declining steadily. It is not fast but it is steady. I would agree with that. I mean she could plateau...."
She pronounced it platohhhhhhhhhhhh.
" I mean, it's not likely but it could happen." she concluded.
"Mother is dying." I thought to myself. "It's starting to happen."
" I'm here."
" You OK?"
" Yeah, thanks. I mean, even though we all knew this day would come, intellectually speaking, this is kind of a lot to unpack. You know what I mean."
" I do. That's why I called. We don't just care for the patient. We care for the extended family as well. Is there anything I can do for you?"
" Umm. No. I mean, thanks. But I don't think so. Not just yet."
" I guess what I am most concerned about is that I want her to be comfortable. I want her to have some dignity."
" So do we. That is what we are all about at hospice."
" I worry about that you know?" And I do. " I really worry about that."
" I know. Everybody does. I want you to know that she is being well taken care of. I want you to know that we will be with all of you every step of the way and that we are here for y'all 24-7."
And with that we said goodbye.
It is a beautiful Spring morning here in the People's Republic of Hillcrest. It is the kind of morning that makes you believe that Winter is really over even though you know in your heart of hearts that March and April in Arkansas is are full of surprises. Still this is the kind of morning that allows your to suspend what your sense and experience informs you.
I am on my front porch as I type this. My neighbor across the street was up early pulling weeds and putting out fertilizer. Runners are running. Folks are having yard sales. An earnest young man came by the other night asking for donations for the baseball team over at Hall High School down the road. He thinks they are going to be pretty good this year. What the hell. I gave him a check. Young fella thinks they are gonna be pretty good this year. Far be it from me to stand in the way of progress.
And it is while sitting here surrounded as I am by all of this life and by all this useless beauty (to borrow a phrase from Elvis Costello) I typed the sentence "Mother is dying." It is surreal.
" Her death is not imminent." Bob said yesterday. " She is clean, well-fed and the folks at the nursing home and Hospice are taking really good care of her. She's not suffering. But from what I've seen with other patients under similar circumstances it will be sooner than later. So you need to tell John and them what's going on up here. Now is the time to come and spend time with her. Because, well...."
Amid the splendour of all this useless beauty, in the season she loved most, my mother is dying.
It is starting to happen.