Hard Things Are Hard


I’m seated here by Mom’s hospital bed, laptop on my knees. Certainly it wouldn’t take a lot to talk myself out of writing right now. And then I look at her. And I realize and remember that that’s who I am. I am a writer and perhaps beyond that a performer. And all those things and any success I’ve had in those areas I can thank this woman for because it was she who relentlessly encouraged me and praised my young artistic soul from the beginning.

Can you imagine us there, two children really (she was only 19 when I was born), growing up together really on that hill in America Junction? We’d play together, games of imagination and creativity. We worked our way through the “Make and Do” volume of the Childcraft Encyclopedias she and my father bought me– such a purchase would have been quite a sizable investment for a young couple struggling to get by on not-limitless funds. She was interested in every character I made up, every story I told. “Jeffrey, you are so creative!” I must have heard her say this words a thousand times.

She didn’t find it odd that I found her hatbox so intriguing. She didn’t shame me when she found me dancing around in her silky nightgown to Vikki Carr records. When I told her how I found the colorful flags at halftime so beautiful, and how I wish I had one, she cut up one of her many satin petticoats (she was teenager in the 50s after all), dyed it, cut the mop head of the mop and made me a flag to twirl in the yard. My mom, as best as she was able, gave me the resources to be who I am at every step along the way. She has always been my chief supporter and closest friend. I don’t know what I’m going to do having to face life knowing that this woman will longer on the planet.

I am, however, grateful for my spiritual beliefs and I absolutely see death as a transition in our relationship and not a termination. I even do not believe that I will have to wait until my physical death to be “with” her again. My experience in prayer and meditation and especially dancing in the arbor in Native American tradition has taught me better. But I’ve been napping with my face on her warm hand this morning and the days of my being able to do that are at an end and my heart is broken.

Mom’s health condition is not getting better. I’ve been almost constantly by her side for the past few days. Only yesterday, when I got away from the hospital for a bit could I get a little more clarity about some signals that Mom’s been giving me. I guess I just got so single-mindedly focused on getting her better and getting her out of here, I couldn’t see some things for what they were. There’s a part of me, the Marine part, that gets his mission and marches towards it no matter what’s blowing up around me– and there’s certainly a time when that comes in handy in life– like when things are blowing up around me. But, as I said, being away from Mom’s bedside for a while yesterday allowed me some time to think. Mom and I have spoken about these things for years– end of life sort of things. Even when it was about the possibility that it would be me that was in the position where she is now. She didn’t like talking about it from that angle but when I became a Marine, it was the responsible thing to do. When I left for war, we were all very clear on what I would want if I ended up in a situation where the possibility of my returning to a reasonable quality of life wasn’t to be. I would want it to end. I have a body but I am not my body. Mom felt the same way.

Over the past few days she was compulsively and continuously pulling her oxygen mask off. I just sat by her bed and tried to make her stop doing that. “No, no,” I’d say, “that’s keeping your oxygen levels at a good level. We gotta leave that on!” I thought it was just uncomfortable to her, especially the “NG” tube, which goes in through the nose and into the stomach. She had to have the tube because she’s not been able to swallow. I was trying to feed her tiny bits of ice to see if I could get the swallowing to start again and then we could remove the tube, even if for Ensure or something like that. Each time I put the ice in her mouth she would get this very angry look on her face. When I got away by myself yesterday, prayed for help and guidance, it all become clear. Even in a very impaired state there’s no way this brilliant woman doesn’t know what the oxygen mask is there for. When they fall from the ceiling on an airplane, everybody knows what to do with them. When we see an oxygen mask, something inside us says, “That sustains life.”

When I was taking care of my dad during his death, in the couple of days before he made his final transition, even when I would wet his lips with the swab, he would close his lips tight so as to avoid letting any of the moisture in. His eyes were set on the other side and his body knew that he no longer needed or wanted sustenance of any kind. That’s what’s been going on with Mother and the ice. That’s why she was go against putting the oxygen mask back on. She is very, very tired and she’s ready to move on. I don’t know how I could have been so blind to what was going on right in front of me, especially since we’d talked about it so many times. I guess I just love her so much and I hate that it’s time for me to let her go.

(later at home, ready for bed)

When I got back to her room this morning, I leaned over her bed and kissed her. I said, “Mom, I believe I wasn’t understanding what you were trying to tell me and I’m sorry about that. I understand now and I want you to know I’m going to be here for you and I’m going to make this easy and gentle.” Her eyes lit up and filled with tears. She tilted her head and placed her face on the back of my hand. There she left if for several minutes. I’ve spent the day intermittently napping with my head in her lap and making arrangements to bring her home. I would like to have spent the night at the hospital but I needed to make some preparations here tonight. Her sheets are the wash. I’ll put fresh flowers in her bedroom tomorrow. I spoke to the nurse and made it very, very clear that I want her kept calm and relaxed tonight–preferably asleep. I’ll go back in the morning before the ambulance brings her home to make sure she understands what’s going on– and also that those who are transporting her are aware of some important details.

We’re going to ask that she not receive visitors as that time has pretty much passed. Whatever time she has left will be spent with her children and grandchildren.

Last night I cried so hard in the car, if it weren’t a man’s voice you’d think you were hearing an infant cry. At one point it almost scared me. I finally opened the door and projectile vomited what was left of my dinner into the parking lot. I’m sure it smelled great in the baking Alabama Summer sun today. I’m sorry to whoever may have stepped in my grief. This is not easy. And is especially not neat. I’ve done it very imperfectly but the only thing I care about is that Mom knows I did my best– and I’m pretty sure she does.

I have a larger and more loving support network than anyone I know. A Marine I deployed to Iraq with sent me a text yesterday that simply said, “Anything you need Marine, I’m there.” I know that if I texted back and said, “I need you to come here right now” that he would be on the next plane out. That’s true of all the Marines I know. I have an extensive family of incredible souls in the recovery community and right now my Sun Dance brothers and sisters are holding us by name in their powerful prayer. My family has many hundreds of loving, good-hearted people here in Alabama who will do anything to help make this seemingly impossible thing survivable. Dear Cousin Ina is coming in the morning to help me tidy up the house and someone will come to do the lawn. And, of course, there’s my blood family; we have been through some horribly rough things together, we’ll get through this too.

Hard things are hard; sometimes they are very hard– but because I know The Truth, I will get through this somehow. That being said, I expect when all the details are looked after and it’s all over, I’ll be free to have a complete come-apart and I intend to exercise that freedom. But right now, there’s no time for that because this is not about me. It’s about the most incredible woman I’ve ever known, who’s made incredible amounts of sacrifice for me in her life. It’s about my doing right by her as best I can this one last time. This is about my mother.

See y’all tomorrow.

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