On Waiting For Someone To Die

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You know what’s weird about waiting for someone to die?  You’re waiting for someone to die.  Just like you’re waiting for a cake to bake, or clothes to dry or the cable guy to show up.  You sit.  You watch the clock.  And wait.  Everything needs to be put on hold because you don’t know if it will happen today or tomorrow or next week or the week after that.  Some days you don’t feel like it’s going to happen at all.  Life gets put on hold because someone else’s life is being extinguished.  It’s a selfless act that tested me in more ways than I was comfortable with.

As my mom laid in her hospice bed in the middle of the living room, we all watched the clock. Every day.  She watched it, too.

“Am I still here?” she’d ask.

“Yes, Mother, you’re still here.”

“Shit,” she’d respond.

And we’d all go back to watching TV.  And watching the clock.  And sometimes even saying “shit,” ourselves because we didn’t know when it would happen.  And our lives remained on hold.

You feel guilty for thinking about the things you have to do other than being with the person dying.  In my case it was Christmas.  The parties I was missing, the decorations I would never put up, the popcorn that wouldn’t be strung this year.  I kept counting the days saying, “If my mom died today, and we had a funeral, would I get home in time to put up Christmas lights?”  So wrong, but it’s the stuff that goes through your head.

And then there were the Bob Seger tickets. I felt extreme guilt for not giving up a pair of tickets I purchased for a show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. I couldn’t bring myself to return them.  Just in case.  Just in case she’d go a couple days shy of the show.  They were really good seats; great seats, in fact.  The most money I’ve ever paid for concert tickets in my life.  One of the perks of being married to a musician is that you get into just about every concert for free.  With VIP passes.  And backstage access.  And after parties.  But my tickets to Bob Seger were just as a mere civilian.  A fan from Detroit who was looking forward, more than anything, to seeing this show 2,294 miles away from the living room I was sitting in now.

The concert was December 27th.  One week from today.  My mom’s blood pressure was still perfect, her heart was still beating, her spirits were still high.  She didn’t look like she’d be going anywhere anytime soon.  And, admittedly, I was antsy.  I was hoping the process would speed up so that I could go on with my life and go to this show.  I can’t believe I’m saying that out loud, but I am.  I’d had enough of diapering and poop wiping and tooth brushing and hair combing and body flipping and care taking.  I wanted to end the grieving.  I wanted life to be normal again.  I wanted to turn the page and let Bob Seger roll me away.

__________________________

As I stood beside my mom’s casket, in front of the church altar on December 27th – the day of her funeral, the day of the show – I never thought of Bob Seger once.  I could only think of my mom’s laugh and how I wished I could hear that sweet song just one more time.

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On Fear Of Dying

I’m not afraid of dying. I don’t know why, but I’m not. I’ve often said, I’m more afraid of living than of dying. The thought of living 40 years beyond retirement frightens me to the core. I’ve never been a good saver. Conversely, I’ve been an EXCELLENT spender.  As my mom would say often after I moved to Los Angeles, “If you spent as much time looking for a job as you did rollerblading, you’d be a millionaire.” And she was right. The nine months of rollerblading I enjoyed after first moving to Venice beach in 1996, broke me. But my legs looked GREAT!

Apparently, as the end of our lives draw near we all experience some fear of dying. If my mom feared death in those final days, she didn’t really show it. She would often say, “I’m gonna miss you when I go up there.” Which always melted my heart, because she seemed sure that there really was an “up there” to go to. That was encouraging. As a woman who wasn’t particularly religious in her life, this gave me some sort of solace that she had faith that there was something else after she left this place. And it helped to give me a little faith, too. There was no question she was going to a really nice somewhere. A place where we’d all meet again one day for a picnic. Everyone who stopped by in those last days was invited to my mom’s “picnic.” Oh how I hope there’s a picnic to go to. I’m about as good of a believer as I am a saver. I want so much to believe. Maybe when it’s my time to die, I’ll be planning my own picnic, too.

In the pamphlet, “A Time To Live,” Hospice Nurse Barbara Karnes writes, “When it comes time to die, we are all going to be afraid to some degree. Because few people talk about dying or tell us what its like to die, we don’t know what to expect. There comes a time when you’ll wonder “Am I going to die today? Is today the day?” If you can ask that question, then you are probably not going to die that day. The day you die, you won’t ask and you won’t care.”

My mom didn’t seem to care. In fact, she was getting antsy toward then end when she WASN’T dying. When the hospice nurse arrived on her last morning she took my mom’s blood pressure.

MY MOM TO HOSPICE NURSE: How was my blood pressure this morning?

NURSE: It was perfect!

MY MOM: Shit.

She was ready to go. And she didn’t know why the man at the end of her bed wasn’t taking her.

The Pajama Party

“Are you ever going to get out of your pajamas,” my mom asked me as I sat next to her bedside folding sheets that had just come out of the dryer.

For the first time in six days I realized that, indeed, I was still in my pajamas.  I hadn’t showered, washed my hair, changed my clothes or put on even the minimum of make-up over the past week.  I’m not sure if I brushed my teeth.  I didn’t even realize there was a “me” to take care of.  My mind was solely on my mom. Plus, my pajamas were comfortable, frankly.  If I wasn’t going out, what was the point of getting dressed?  And who was my mom to talk?  She was in her pajamas, too.  It was the start of a 2-week long pajama party and I, for one, wasn’t ready to give up the attire.

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