When my husband heard I was taking my mother out by myself, he was astounded. "You? Alone? With her wheelchair?," he asked in front of our children, "How do you do that?"
I opened my mouth to explain but our youngest returned rapid fire, "Mom's Colombian. She's immortal."
That's how my son sees me, immortal. That's how we all see our parents, as immortal.
And when the time comes for their days on this earth to end, little is more shocking.
I know that the physicians and hospice nurses involved in my mother's care must use four or five exclamation marks in a row when they document their meetings with me. "Daughter in denial!" "Daughter feels mother getting better!" "Explained to daughter her mother is in hospice!"
When I went to my mother's last Doctor appointment just a few weeks ago on July 5, I asked him why she was so quickly falling apart. He took in my question, and graciously chose his words. Slowly, he answered, "She's not. She's 88 and a half years old and in end stage renal failure."
I still didn't get it.
Last week, before leaving for a social media conference and with much left to do, I stopped in to see her. I walked into her room and I could see in her reddened eyes that she had been crying. My mother has been independent her entire life, and now being in a wheelchair and in hospice -- just imagining the weight of her thoughts crushed me. She counted on the daily rides outside with me in this summer, and I only had enough time built in my day to take her for ice cream, but I couldn't ignore the loud nudging in my mind. We went to dinner.
And of all the whisperings and life decisions I have ever made, this one, will always be one of the most important.
On that afternoon, my mother and I eat like queens and we sit at our table for over two and a half hours. We order anything we want a la carte from the menu. She savors her bean soup, declaring it, "Delicious!" She eats every spoonful as if it were lobster bisque. We share bites of the cut-up hot dog on her plate and it might as well have been filet mignon. The chocolate milk we have is the way she likes it -- made from white milk with chocolate syrup stirred in. We have lime Jello, then order mint chocolate chip ice cream, and she eats it all.
We laugh, and she smiles, and I see her looking at me like she's seeing me for the first time. Her eyes linger on my face. I glance over at the clock on the wall facing only me; I note the time, and decide to ignore it. I promise her that in five days, after Chicago, we'll have dinner here again. Her mouth breaks open, wide and excited. She almost claps.
When I come back from Chicago on Sunday, I see her and she sits on her bed while I tell her all she wants to know about my trip; I clean up her room and put away the laundry I've done, and she listens. We go outside into the warm July night and we sit by the fountain outside of her hospice center. I hand her pennies and dimes to toss into the water. She asks for quarters for the big wishes, and we both fling them in, shouting, "Hawaii!' at the same time. I remind her we'd go out to dinner again on Friday. She can't wait.
On Tuesday, we go to the aviary. There is an orange feathered bird that is a bully to two little grey birds that just want to be alone together. We keep up with the daily feathered drama and she asks me where she can write a report to let the powers that be know of the mean orange bird. After she chastises the bully bird that she has named "King," I take her back to her room. I give her my word that I'll be back Wednesday, and she doesn't seem to want to say good-bye. She asks me over and over, if I really will be back in the morning. I assure her that I will, and remind her that it's going to be a big day, because I plan on bringing her along for back to school shopping with my youngest, because she seems strong enough. She promises me she'll go to bed early and I leave her, excited and grateful, holding my hands, thanking me for everything.
Wednesday morning, as I'm getting ready to pick her up, my phone rings. One thing I hate about caller I.D. is the gut punch of a recognized number. My stomach goes cold when I see it's her hospice center. I stare at the number on the phone and I don't want to pick up. My children hear me say that out loud, but I know I have to answer. I say hello, and the supervising nurse begins to tell me that my mother has been ill since 4 a.m. I hear my mother, so sick, in the background. I need the nurse to talk quickly, so I can hang up, and leave right then -- my heart is pounding with what I will find when I get there.
I am a thick headed, dense as a plank, silly daughter.
My first words to her hospice nurse when I walk into my mother's room and see her ill enough to not be dressed yet though it was almost 9 a.m., are, "She can't be sick. I still have her shopping list in my pocket for today -- right here, see?" From my front jeans pocket, I pull out the folded up white sheet of paper we've written out together, just yesterday. "See, this is what she wants to buy my son for back to school. And it's sunny out, we need to go out for ice cream after. We can't miss going out for ice cream when it's nice out. I need to take her for her ice cream..."
The nurse lets me keep talking.
"Mama," I bend down and speak into my mother's soft curls splayed against her pillow. With a desperation that strangles my throat I whisper, "Remember our dinner, we have to go for our dinner."
I hear the nurse click her pen to write, and imagine the notes she'd begin to take in her chart.
"Daughter in denial..."
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My mother has been semi-conscious since Wednesday morning. Surprisingly, this time sitting by her side isn't tense or frightening, but is a time of awe -- it feels unfamiliarly familiar. So much like the times my babies were born. My mother now and then opens her eyes, sees my face, and with tremulous hands, reaches for it, holding it and making the very sound my children made when they were born -- like a baby lamb.