We waited

It’s one in the morning. The nurse has just come in at my calling for her. Mom was restless, moaning, her breathing even but jagged.

“She will go any time now” says the nurse.

“How can you tell?”

“Her breathing. Her face.”

The nurse smiled at me – a peaceful, comforting smile.

“I just know,” she added. “It won’t be long. Do you want to call the family?”

“No. They’ve been with her all day. Let them get their sleep. They will need their strength tomorrow.” And she left me alone with Mom breathing evenly, raspily, hypnotically.

I will hold on to her hand into the big sleep.

But she did not die. She continued her struggle alone as we waited with her.

Lizbet and Heather came back to stay with me a while. There was nothing much to do for Mother except wait with her, attentive for her needs if she expressed them. We settled in to wait. Heather took up her crossword puzzle book and from time to time would ask something like “What’s a six letter word for ‘go to’ that starts with an A. ”

How about “attend” one of us would respond quietly.

Lizbet was reading a book. I was working on a Sudoku puzzle.

We spent some time wondering at our own apparent nonchalance in face of this death, but we had been waiting too long, day after day. We couldn’t just sit there. We needed something to do while we waited. And what were the rules? What was appropriate?

Heather offered to stay with her while Lizbet and I went walking out for a break, for some fresh air, so we took her up on it. Lizbet and I went up to the shopping district two blocks away, looked at fashions and at shoes, then took a quick spin in an art gallery. There were lots of stores to look in, all attractively window-dressed to tempt us, but we did not go in. On the way back, we stopped at Skanda, the bead store and dreamed about necklaces in some of the new chunky styles – pyrites or Fool’s Gold, coral, turquoise, the uncut green diamonds, the Austrian crystal. It was a marvelous store, but we left shortly after with no purchases at all.

Upon our return, we were getting hungry but each of us wanted to stay with Mom, so we couldn’t go out and we didn’t want what was available from the kitchen down below. After some discussion, we decided to try ordering in a pizza to share. When I got down to the front desk to get a telephone number, there were pizzas already at the reception desk.

“For the staff,” said the receptionist as I teased her about our pizzas already having arrived. Our pizzas came within a half hour and were so welcome. As we munched away at the savory food, pizza boxes strewn on top of the scarce counter top (the tops of her dressers) it looked like a teenage take-out marathon. If Mother were conscious, what would she think of our behaviour, having a picnic of sorts in her room while she struggled at death’s door?

First of all, she could not think that pizza would ever be on the Queen’s menu. Then, we were eating with our fingers! And without plates!

Gladys knew of our pizza party and came to see us bearing two handfuls of wrapped hard candies. “For your dessert” she proclaimed, and then checked with each of us to see how we were.

I went down the corridor to the nursing station where I could make tea for all. I sat in one of the two side-by-side wing chairs and dozed, my head against one wing as the kettle heated. Along came Ruth, a beautiful, ninety one year old treasure and she held my hand for my comfort, all the while calling blessings upon me every time I stirred.

And Mother did not die. And we gave what comfort we could. And we waited.


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