Cheer leaders

She was not breathing well. Her lungs were collapsing with her weakness. She couldn’t get a decent breath. She was so dehydrated that her bones were covered only with a fine parchment of fragile dried skin. A collection of pick-up sticks.

Nerves were pinching where the normal passage for them had collapsed and narrowed, causing pain each time she was moved. Her colon was collapsing, lack of fibre and food. Body systems were shutting down, feeding on on the organs since she could no longer supply herself with food and could barely swallow to drink. Every move was painful. Dehydration confused her thoughts. Only the primordial needs mattered. “Water”

“Water” she would plead, sometimes clearly, sometimes slurred. We constantly fed her water. Early on, she sipped through a straw but eventually it irritated her dry sensitive lips and she could not position it inside her tender mouth. Then as she grew weaker, she could not draw upon it and no water came. So we used a teaspoon, letting the side of the bowl touch her lip softly, tipping the liquid in and waiting for her to swallow it.

“Swallow!” we all would exhort. “Swallow!”

It was an effort for her to do so and she would store up the precious life-giving liquid in her mouth only to choke on it or spit it out when she could not get it down.

If one was looking down from above, it must have appeared quite funny. The five of us, her rag tag choir, were like a cheering team, exhorting her to excel. This woman who, it seemed, had never failed at anything, was on her last race being cheered on to do her best.

“Here’s a sip,” I would say, spooning in a teaspoon full of Gatorade. It restores electrolytes lost during dehydration. I hoped desperately that the tiny amounts we were giving her would make a difference; bring her some comfort; help her to think more clearly. “Swallow!” Swallow!”

“Here’s another little sip.” “Swallow!” “Swallow!”

The whole team was working together to get that liquid into her. I winced at the the thought that her travail was as difficult as childbirth. We cheer leaders had simply changed the words of our chorus from the “Push! Push!” scenario.

At noon, morphine finally was delivered. It was prescribed for every hour thereafter, and it settled her for about forty five minutes.  There would be nothing but palliative care given to her from now on.

The friends went, one to dialysis, the other to a luncheon at the Tennis Club. A lunch tray came for Mother with two sandwiches she would never be able to eat. We siblings shared them between the four of us. (Otto had arrived, then left almost as soon.) The other items – power drink, milk with extra whey, orange juice, water – were unappetizing and were left untouched. They added to the growing pile of drink and food accumulating on top of her dresser that Mother could neither eat or drink.

About three, Dorothy came back and then left again for the resident’s Happy Hour, the cocktail time between afternoon activity and early dinner. Not fifteen minutes later, she came back triumphantly holding three large juice glasses in her hands, loaded down with fruit punch. In this hot house room, it was wonderful.

I was in awe and wonderment before these three residents who, like Mother, had their own mortality close at hand. Here they were supporting us, supporting each other, and bringing love, kindness, concern and laughter to my mother.
I reflected that it might just have been easier and more real for them to face and to share this difficult journey of their dear companion head on. Better that, than to have her disappear silently, inobtrusively; her condition speculated about in whispers; her body, carried away surreptitiously by some ambulance, never to be seen again as if somehow she had not existed. That was how Peter had gone.

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