Not Without A Fight

My younger sister looked awful when I showed up. There were dark bags under her eyes indicating she must have had a rough night at the nursing facility. Furniture was sparse and available space limited in the tiny hospital room. Mom’s bed took up most of one wall leaving little left over for a single chair and a small couch. I could tell from the way a blanket had been crumpled up and cast off to one side that Brandy must have tried to curl herself into a fetal position to sleep on that couch. It looked uncomfortable, made of thin cushions colored a dingy orange with a rigid stark cold steel frame typical of the 1960s. You only see junk like this lingering around in government offices or for sale cheap at a local thrift store these days.

Taking over for my sister on the day shift with Mom, Brandy packed her things into a bag and left. She wouldn’t be back until sometime long after dark. I was to stay with my Mother watching over her doing my best to make sure she was comfortable. Once an hour I was to change a towel laying across her forehead with a fresh one lightly soaked in tepid water before replacing it. The rest of the time there would be little for me to do except sit, and watch.

Her breathing was slow and deep. Mom’s eyes were tightly closed but her jaw hung loose leaving her mouth grotesquely wide open. Each minute that passed by felt like another hour had dragged away slowly. Nursing staff arrived throughout the afternoon to check Mom’s I.V. drip and scribble notes on a clipboard. I began to drift off into a hypnotic state staring at the wall across the room while listening to each breath Mom pulled into her lungs and then rasped back out.

I don’t know how many hours had gone by when Dad suddenly appeared in the room next to me. He successfully startled the shit out of me like it had been a deliberate sneak attack. Neither one of us said anything for a few minutes and the room was filled wall to wall with tension. Dad thought for a moment and then proceeded to tell me that Mom had cursed him out something fierce when he brought her to the nursing home. She was at least coherent enough that night to realize where she was being taken and was real angry about it. Dad said as he was bringing her through the building she cursed him out non-stop using every expletive and swear word she could think of. I suppose he mentioned it because he was hoping for a shred of sympathy from me. I had none for him. As he was telling me what happened I thought to myself, “Good for you, Mom. You went down fighting and you told this slimy bastard to go straight to hell. Good for you.”

After Dad left me alone again with Mom, a priest walked in. He was an older man of medium build and height with close cropped silver hair. From his flat top buzz-cut I assumed he was an ex-military man, probably from the Army or Marines. His candor and movement seemed consistent with my first impression of him that he was a career soldier. The stranger was understanding of our family situation and offered his services to us for anything we needed. He was there to help support us if need be. He was there to talk. I am no longer a religious man, but I did appreciate the fact that this guy was trying to be of some assistance.

We shook hands before he left and he told me there was something I had to do. The pastor said I had to say goodbye to my Mother. I had to speak to her and say that she was a good Mom, and that it was okay for her to let go. She could leave us when she wanted to. The silver haired pastor was adamant about his instructions, like it was a commandment from almighty God himself. I had to say these words to my Mother and soon. This man went on to explain that even though Mom is in a coma, she could still hear me and understand what I was saying. As he spoke I started to lose control of my emotions which made me feel ashamed of myself. I couldn’t allow myself to burst out crying in front of a total stranger. I tried to force those feelings of sadness down just long enough to hold my composure, just long enough to wait this guy out until he left the room.

I didn’t want to say those things to Mom. I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to her or tell Mom to let go and die. Besides I don’t believe in that kind of crap, that someone in a deep coma can hear people talking to them and understand it. I’m entirely skeptical. I convinced myself that Mom would never know I was there with her. For the most part, she was already long gone.

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~ by factorypeasant on December 30, 2006.

2 Responses to “Not Without A Fight”

  1. I remember sitting with my grandfather as he lay dying. His bedroom was dimly lit, and his eyes jittered back and forth in their sockets without focussing on anything. I tried to tell him everything was all right, but it was probably more for my own benefit. Just like when I said goodbye as I upended the plastic bag that held his ashes into the bay he used to sail on, I don’t imagine he heard me, but I remember saying it like it was yesterday. It helps me, I think, to go on with my life. Sort of a closure thing.

  2. wad- i think the underlying concept behind talking to the dying even when they can’t hear you is mainly to help those who will go on living. people i have talked to who didn’t have the opportunity to say a final goodbye to a loved one experience feelings of guilt for the rest of their lives. for me, it seemed very hollow. saying goodbye to Mom didn’t make me feel any better and i seriously doubt she heard my voice or even knew i was there with her.

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