My friend Dawn's mother passed away early this morning, around 3:00 a.m. with her daughter by her side. It was a long death, although not especially painful, if one discounts the emotional toil it's taken on the survivors.
Pat was a wonderful woman, vibrant, active, articulate and curious about everything. The past several years, since she was diagnosed with Parkinson's were especially challenging for her, as her motor functions slowly decayed, and she lost the ability to do many of the things she loved; golf, swimming, travel, playing bridge, attending concerts and the theatre. A neurological operation two years ago failed to halt the progress of the disease, and she spent the past seven months living with the indignities that followed the degredation of her body, while her mind continued to be active and alert up until the last few days.
She had been a practicing nurse for over 30 years; she knew, on a level most of us never will, exactly what was happening to her body, and she grew to resent the increasing dependency on the drugs and devices designed to prolong a life that for her was rapidly slipping away. How maddening must it be to be fully conscious of the gradual decay of ones own body, to feel and experience with each passing moment the loss of control, the slow, inexorable separation of the flesh from the mind. She occasionally expressed her frustration in small moments of exhasperation, when the muscles refused to move as commanded, but mostly she maintained a determined stoicism; perhaps thinking she could keep from those around her the pain she herself must have felt on a daily basis.
In the end, it's hard to say how much she was able to perceive of her situation, although I'm sure mentally she must have prepared herself, as best as one can, for the inevitability. She was kept comfortable and warm, in familiar surroundings, and free from pain in her final days; when I was with her for the last time on Friday evening, I can't say for certain she knew me - I would like to think that, even through the morphine haze she recognized me, but that's just my own desire speaking. I'll never know for sure, which really isn't the point anyway.
I knew her, and that was enough.
My friend is in pain, grieving her loss, and there's nothing I, or anyone else can do to give her any ease from that. But I'm proud of her for the strength of will and resolution of spirit she's shown over these past weeks, as she has faced this nearly single-handed, and mostly alone. We do what we can, but in the end we have no choice but to accept our powerlessness over the situation; we can only stand on the sidelines and offer comfort and small aid, for whatever it's worth, and hope it's enough.
And of course, even death isn't a finality; there are still arrangements to be made, memorials to be planned, obituaries to be written, forms to be signed. Life doesn't stop, it just pauses for a moment to listen for the next breath.
It's late now on Mother's Day; how hard it must be to say goodbye to your mother on today, of all days.
If you've haven't already, call yours now, if you can; don't take her for granted. Someday, you might not have the chance.
on 8:08 PM