|Mom and Dad in their slightly younger days about 10 years ago.|
I thought it was odd, but she had been recovering from pneumonia. Two of my sisters were there, so I didn't worry and went about my day. It was my Saturday ritual: coffee, more coffee, then call Mom. Only then did I really start my day.
A few hours later, my sister called to tell me Mom had been taken to the emergency room and I should probably come home now. She had gone into acute respiratory distress. There was such a strong focus on keeping her breathing that they only realized later she'd had a stroke.
The next Saturday I was with her in hospice, taking my turn with her in the evening. Her ability to talk had been taken. She could nod yes or no and motion with her left arm. Swallowing was difficult. All her foods were pureed and her liquids thickened. When she needed something she would motion and we would play 20 Questions. Are you hungry, Mom? Do you need something to drink? Do you need to be repositioned?
That night she seemed so tired, like the fight was leaving her.
As I sat, I crocheted a scarf with big, looping stitches that grew quickly. Before I left, I showed it to her. Would you like it, Mom? She nodded yes and I tied off the last stitch before laying it over her shoulders, not knowing what else to do. It was like a child giving her a school drawing. Look what I made for you, Mom.
The hospice room had a star machine that projected lights on the wall like multicolored stars. I turned it on in the dim room and watched the pinpoints of light, some moving gently, on the wall. Do you like it, Mom? She nodded.
I left her under the stars and flew back to Wyoming Sunday morning. The next Saturday my oldest sister called me and simply said, "It's over."
Every Saturday since she had the stroke has felt wrong. Each week, I think I should call her. I drink my coffee, and there is nothing to do after, no transition into the day.
We rarely talked long or of anything of much importance. There was always the exchange of weather reports, then the update on what my siblings and their offspring were up to. She was the central news agency, the hub we all revolved around.
Although she rarely talked long -- perhaps a habit ingrained from the days when long distance was expensive -- she always kept up her side of the conversation. That was why the heavy breathing on that call seemed so strange. Maybe if I had asked. Maybe if they had known it was a stroke up front. Maybe, maybe, maybe. There are always those questions in the aftermath.
One Saturday I will wake and not reach for the phone. Just not yet. Not yet.