• ONE •
This afternoon I climbed into my sweltering car and headed into town dressed in eccentric jumble of what passes for me now at mid-life as “business attire.” The destination? A talk radio station near the city center. The purpose? To talk about eldercare; more specifically what I said in this op-ed.
En route, with traffic swirling around me and the sun blazing above, I made the most of Bluetooth technology and placed a call.
A friend, you see, is at the point I was ten months ago almost exactly. Today she had “that talk” with her elderly mother’s doctor and primary nurse. She’s been summoned home. My friend, I mean, although I guess the same phrase applies to her mother.
On the phone my friend and I talked about the validation of what she’s been thinking–that it’s time to say the long, hard final goodbye–and how uncomfortable that can be.
Last year I wrote about the “gnawing knowing” that haunted me for
weeks months. My friend is leaving that space now, that place where you know what’s coming and you’d kind of like for the medical team to say it. My friend is heading into that sacred, liminal ground between Ordinary Life and Whatever Comes After For The Survivors when a loved one leaves.
Tonight my friend prepares to fly home again, to help walk her mother Home.
Tonight I sit here with my feelings and memories and hold them both in my heart. The journey is hard. What can I do?
Tonight I write.
• TWO •
At the radio station where we recorded the eldercare podcast (details later, I promise), my son and I were invited to wait briefly in a conference room.
“There’s a wonderful view,” the cheerful reception said.
She was right. From high above a highway exchange my son and I could see for miles, right up to that point where the Balcones Escarpment rises up to create what we Texans call “the Hill Country.”
In that conference room, I momentarily lost my head in the clouds.
The blue sky and white clouds filling those giant windows was the same swirl of colors I saw last August in my mother’s irises. I’d never heard of someone’s eyes changing like that, as death loomed. I recall so vividly standing over her (death)bed, listening to her breathe, and hearing her sharing her visions of family, her confusion about what was happening to her.
I remember thinking at the time that those were the colors of Heaven reflected in her eyes. Today I found those swirls in the Texas sky.
I’m not sure it matters, the difference–sky or Heaven. It wasn’t so much the fact that I was standing on the twelfth floor of an office building that had me feeling closer to her, either. I feel like she ventured a little closer today, knowing that as the Veil between Here and There opens for my friend’s mother, she might have a shot at reaching out to me.
She took it.
Or did she?
Maybe I was hot and worried about my friend and more than anything I wanted my mother back, living in the Hill Country with me.
• THREE •
After the interview, I drove home with a vulnerability hangover. No regrets, mind you. Indeed, I have no regrets about things I’ve shared about eldercare with others.
That’s not true.
There’s one regret, in a conversation I had with a friend, years ago.
We were catching up on our respective weeks and I’d just shared a hard-won victory in the hospital. He turned and said smugly, “You can’t save her, you know.” I’m pretty sure I gave him stink eye. As if I thought I could save her, as if anything I ever did as a daughter and eldercare advocate was part of some magical, misguided thinking, that I could help her escape the inevitable.
No, my job was to keep her comfortable and from unnecessary complications, pain, and frustrations.
I should have said that. That’s what I wanted to say today, when I remembered his words.
• FOUR •
In the midst of today’s vulnerability hangover, I opened my mailbox to find not one but two letters addressed to my mother’s estate. One was from her secondary insurance provider; the other, from a penny-pinching Medicare subcontractor that drove me crazy for years. Both companies say there might be more money to be paid, for things that happened over a year ago. The thought of this made me laugh. She’s gone, I whispered, and threw the letters where we kept the mail.
Before I took two steps away, I heard her voice again: You can’t get blood out of a turnip, and you can’t get money out of me anymore.
I paused, chuckled, and then I went to call my friend, the one who is preparing to say goodbye to her mother, while I fixed supper.