I am writing this in the midst of my mother’s “Long March Home.”
My sister called again this morning to talk and read to her. My Uncle and Aunt spoke to her from California and I know that my mother perked up and heard the love in all their voices. They will call again, and I am grateful for the peace they are helping to impart to my mother’s last days.
She is sleeping comfortably now, having refused all food and water for the past two days. She is in no pain, and of course she does not, nor will she, take any medication, so there is no need to call Hospice. I had a lovely Christian Science nurse come for a visit yesterday to brief me on the finer points of caregiving (positioning, etc.), but other than that, it is a time of calm, quiet and tranquility. With no meals to prepare, I am at liberty to just concentrate on Mom and reflect on the sixty-five year history we have shared.
I am surprised, and a little delighted, that the floodgates of my mind are opening and memories are just popping out of nowhere. I choose to think about the happy times, not about the days or even hours to come. I don’t even want to think about my future without her in it. There will be plenty of time for that, but the time is not now.
The radio is playing an opera that I’m not so crazy about, so I’m going to pop a CD into the stereo for us to listen to while I scan some photos. I chose ‘WQXR’s 100 Best Classics,’ and a mix of selections including Beethoven’s Symphony No.6 (Pastoral). The notes fill the air with beauty, and as always, lift us up when we need lifting. Classical music has been an integral part of our lives. We have several musicians in the family, and I sing whenever and wherever I can (the shower, the kitchen, the car) – even when the songs don’t have words.
A world full of music is my mother’s idea of Paradise. When I was maybe twelve or thirteen, she told me about her experience of dying in the hospital from complications arising from an ectopic or tubal pregnancy. My sister Andrea hadn’t come along yet, and I was about three years old at the time. Now you may doubt what I am about to say, but I have no reason to believe that Mom lied to me. It was something you just didn’t talk about back then; people would think you were crazy. (This was before everyone started cashing in on the ‘out-of-body’ stuff.)
Mom said that she had the feeling that she was floating, floating above the room. She saw the doctors working on her, but she heard music in the distance – beautiful music unlike anything she had ever heard before. She turned in the direction from which it was coming and started to walk. Everything glowed and sparkled, the way it can after it rains. She recalled saying to herself, “Oh. Is THIS what it’s like to die?”
Who knows how long she enjoyed that euphoric moment. But then, she had an overwhelmingly sad thought: “I can’t leave little Hillary alone!” And back she was in her body, facing pain and disappointment and loss and all the other human frailties. Not for a day, but a lifetime.
She came back for me.
How could I do any less for her? My mother. My teacher. My best friend.
She’s smiling now as she hears the familiar part her father first played for her on the phonograph when she was just four. As she watched him Craftex the ceiling, he taught her the words to the scherzo melody in the Pastoral, “I see you, I see you, tra la la la la la. I see you, I see you, tra la la la la la…”
In her mind now, she’s dancing and skipping around the room.