Monday, May 16, 2016

Vigil

At this stage of the disease, all we can do is wait for her suffering to end.

The hospice center is staffed so that we don't have to be up all night with her. I sat by her bed this evening, counted her breaths and watched her carotid pulse come and go, sometimes strong and sometimes absent. She is so tiny now that her whole chest moves with her heartbeat. She'll say a few words, not really making sense, sometimes her eyes open but mostly they are closed. She smiled at my sister and recognized me. Her two broken arms are still.

The last several nights she was in and out of delirium, concerned about a baby that she thought my sisters and I conspired to abandon. She accused us of terrible things. She told us to go away and leave her alone. It's not her. It is a short-circuiting nervous system over loaded with morphine and the pain of cancer. She would never say such things if she were in her right mind. Yesterday she said, over and over, Good night, girls. I wondered if she knew something I didn't.

In the early nineties, when I was a nursing assistant at a nursing home, I remember a daughter who was sitting vigil with her mother. The mother was agitated and in pain. The daughter, who must have felt powerless, said things like open the door, mother and go toward the light. I felt sorry for her, for having to say such ridiculous things at a time when silence was enough. Even so, I understood. Anything to end the suffering.

We gathered around her bed. I said good night and told her I loved her, and waited by the door while my sisters did the same. As I left the room I glanced back at the bed. She turned her face toward the windows and closed her eyes again. Good night, Mom.