Baptism by Grief
Dan is working very late yet again tonight, and I am sitting in the living room lit by candlelight, the only sounds made by crickets and cicadas, and the gentle snoring of the dogs. I am numb from this day full of set backs and challenges. Through it all, though, I have been thinking about the gifts that can come from grief. I am trying to see this whole experience with my mother as a beautiful gift, a baptism by grief.
I awoke very early this morning, and then fell back into a deep dream-filled sleep, waking later than I normally would. I had left my cell on vibrate so that I would hear it if Mom called, and then panicked as I saw two missed calls from St. Vincent’s. I leapt out of bed and checked my voicemail, exhaling deeply as I found the messages were from Mom, her weak voice saying good morning, and asking where I was. I raced around, feeding the cat and the dogs, throwing laundry into the dryer, and tried to grab a quick breakfast.
As soon as I started eating, the phone rang, and then another call came in on top of the first, and another one right after that- all calls checking on Mom. By the third call, I gave up trying to eat, and jumped in the shower. I grabbed the blue bag that I’ve dubbed ‘The Mom Bag’, as it carries everything pertaining to helping Mom; important papers, her wallet with insurance cards, my iPad, etc. it has become an necessary appendage, as I am afraid that I will need something to help her and not have it with me.
When I walked into Mom’s room, I was thrilled to see Mom’s best buddy at Princeton Towers, Linda, there visiting with her. I also saw some beautiful flowers from my Open Group at Bedlam Farm friend, Nancy Gallimore. It was wonderful to see Mom so excited about seeing Linda and catching up with the goings on at The Home for Wayward Seniors. The colorful flowers brought a much-needed pop of life into the otherwise sterile room. I shared two cards that had come for Mom, too, and loved watching her face as she read each one. Again and again, I am overwhelmed and touched by the many kindnesses that have been shown to Mom and me.
Dan picked me up for lunch, telling me I needed a break from the hospital. It was good to have a nice, healthy, and hot meal outside of the hospital cafeteria, and was especially nice to sit and talk with Dan. We are having to run in two very different, very stressful directions right now, and we miss being together. Dan hugged me afterwards, saying, “Remember? For better or worse, in sickness and in health, til death do us part.” We are certainly testing that theory out this summer.
I went to the elder law lawyer to pick up my official copies of the Power of Attorney, and had them fax a copy to Mom’s insurance company. This day was mostly spent taking care of details for Mom, running around town. I would have much rather spent the day at her side, but I have to get these things done for her. When I went to deliver the Power of Attorney to St. Martin’s they delivered two bombshells to me; one of the admissions people told me that if I put Mom in Hospice while she was on Medicare, she would lose her benefits, that once she had switched to Medicaid, then she could move to Hospice care. What had given me such peace yesterday now made me very sad. I feel that Mom’s time is rapidly approaching, and I was so looking forward to having the gift of Hospice to help guide us through the mysteries.
My second bombshell arrived when I walked into Mom’s room- it was completely empty, cleaned out, devoid of any traces of my mother- as if she was already dead. I have to admit that it through me for a loop. This was also the room that I had just paid to have a phone line put in for Mom. I walked back up to the nurses station and nicely asked what I wanted to scream, “Excuse me, but where are my mother’s things?” Everyone looked uncomfortable and no one seemed to know anything. Finally, the head nurse found out what had happened and walked me down the hall to a semi-private room where my mom’s things had been put. Her potential roommate was sitting in a wheelchair, staring ahead, making no movement of any kind when I greeted her. My mother was not going to be thrilled about this situation. I made a mental note to hold off on any unsettling news until she was ready to come ‘home’. Hopefully her room in a The Cottages (the nursing home section of St. Martin’s) would open up soon. The administrators apologized profusely for what had happened, for not calling me, but it shook me to know that that could happen at all. It just felt so cold.
I kept my cool; I picked up what Mom wanted, thanked everyone, and then got into my car, called my sister, and cried. Sometimes I feel so alone in all of this, though I know I’m not. Sometimes I just want to curl in a fetal position on the floor and rock myself to sleep. Most of all I want to crawl into Mom’s lap, and have her stroke my hair, kiss my forehead, and tell me everything will be okay like she used to do.
Finally, I got to return to the hospital to sit with Mom. She didn’t have the BiPap on, and seemed so happy to have it off of her face- which I completely understand. I had a difficult time getting her to not talk too much- the woman loves to talk!– but we had to keep her oxygen levels in a good place to stay away from the mask. I helped her eat her meal and drink some water. Each time I feed her or give her a drink, or stand over her to stroke her head, I have strong flashbacks. I see myself as a little girl, burning with fever in the night, Mom stroking my hair, putting cool cloths on my forehead, telling me I’d be okay. I see so many scenes from my childhood, made beautiful by my mother’s love for me. We didn’t have much, but we always had love and laughter…and I wouldn’t change one thing.
Before dark, I had to go to Princeton Towers to give Mom’s shower transfer bench to Wayne for Jon to use after he gets home from the rehabilitation center. We had joked that John and Mom would be roommates at rehab, and would cause all sorts of mischief. A big storm was brewing as I arrived, with menacing clouds and strong winds. When I walked into Mom’s dark apartment, it seemed so lifeless without Mom’s vivid spirit there. I helped Wayne load the items, and then went back to the apartment. I looked around at the things my mother loved so much, touching things, finally winding and setting her crazy old clock. As I did that, fresh tears began to flow. This is all seeming more and more real, and I feel strongly that Mom and I are rapidly approaching the end of our journey together. I feel such sadness, but also the deepest joy, knowing how blessed I have been to have Mom with me for so long. It’s never really enough, though.
When I left Princeton, the rain was torrential, soaking me to the skin before I made it to the Bug. In a way, I relished it, as it felt like the weather mirrored my mood, and the rain washing over me was another baptism in its own way. I wanted to just stand there, put my face to the sky, and let the rain cry with me, take me away from the sadness. But that’s not the point- the sadness is important, it should be honored as a part of living a life full of love.
As this baptism of grief washes over me, washing away the things that don’t really matter, I will honor it, I will continue to cherish the little private moments I am having with my mother as she struggles to breathe in her hospital bed, holding her hand. I will tell her how much I love her, what a wonderful mother and friend she has been to me, every chance I get. I will be grateful for the many, many people who have expressed their love and support to us in so many ways. I will see the gift of our estranged family coming together in our love for Mom- perhaps one of her last gifts to us.
I want to experience everything in my life deeply, the joys, the sorrows…it is all life, beautiful life. I will see my grief as an indicator of having been given one of the greatest loves I can ever imagine having, and, with tears streaming down my face, I will rejoice to the heavens.