Looking Down

Last night as I put my mother to bed, she lay back awkwardly on her pillow and said to me, “Now where are you staying?”

“I’m staying here.”


“Well, not here in the apartment. But down the hall in the guest room.”

“You’ll hear me if I call?”  Her face brightened and she looked expectantly at me.

“Well, I don’t think I will be that close. But I am right down the hall. I will see you in the morning.”

I turned off my dad’s light then came back around to her and turned off her bedside light  “Thank you for everything,” she said and closed her eyes.

I hope I don’t forget the way she looked at me and said, “You’ll hear me if I call?”  In an instant I was back in my bedroom as a child with the yellow hall light. shining through the cracked door.  Asking her the same question.

She looked so trustingly up at me with eyes that are still clear and blue.  She has short-term memory loss which leaves her asking most of the day, “Now what am I supposed to be doing?”  Or, when she receives the answer she has heard already and struggled to remember, “I’m confused.”  Last night when she sat at the foot of the bed, with her pajamas and her pull-ups in her lap she said the same in a plaintive way, “Now what am I doing with these?”  She only needs a prompt and she knows, maybe in her body memory, what to do. And she will do it.

Yesterday Dad’s doctor approved the referral to Hospice and started that process. All four of us sat in a line in the doctor’s office, Mom at the head and Dad, thin and almost asleep next to her. The doctor talked about DNR and DNI and Dad agreed to both by speaking quietly.  Mom had a very concerned look on her face, an apprehensive look, focussing on whoever was speaking as if we spoke a language she was only just learning.

She understands a lot. When explaining the DNR to her, she looked up at my sister and said, “What if he changes his mind after he signs the paper?”

“He can tell the paramedics or the doctor, Mom, they will do what he says. The paper is to protect him–so no one can do anything to him that he doesn’t want done.”

“I am very confused.” But the look on her face showed she recognized loss when she heard it. The paper meant that he would die and leave her alone.

She is so gracious and attentive and concerned to understand what is going on around her. All my life she has kept journals in spiral bound notebooks when she was at their cabin in the Adirondacks. Now she keeps one all the time on the table. Wednesday’s entry is two words in tiny, shaky, but still legible, script “Linda arrives”

She has a calendar my sister has printed out on an 8 1/2 by 11″ sheet of paper, with small boxes for each day.  And in each day in small laser print are the things that will happen. Yesterday, read “Mom/Dad  Bank  11:00;” followed by “Mom Hair Appt 1:30” and finally “Dad Doctor 3:30pm.”  She reads the lines over and over sitting at the table under the lamp and then asks me to read them to her and explain.  But the asking serves a purpose. Every so often she will look up at me or my sister and say clearly, “We signed papers today.  What were they?”

Yes, she and Dad signed the Health Care Proxy papers and the Power of Attorney papers allowing my sister to make decisions for them. If there is a “crisis” my sister can act clearly on their behalf. I don’t think  my Mom is concerned that my sister will make decisions for them. I think that deep down she understands all too well what is going on. And that the current of their lives is moving faster and that she is heading toward loss.

All my young life I looked up to her face, into those eyes. And as I got older I thought I did not see what I wanted or what I needed to see in her. It’s only now as the current of my own life speeds up and carries me that I look down and see her again through the eyes of love.

“You’ll hear me if I call?”– and her face brightens.  She only needs what I need, what every human being ever needs–to know she will not be alone in the dark.

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