In Her Time of Dying: Places

I’ve felt pretty good lately. I’m still kind of easily distracted, and my brain isn’t wanting to absorb a lot of information. I get easily frustrated when I’m trying to concentrate on answering an e-mail, or problem-solve my way through something because it’s like the tasks at hand are covered in something slippery, and I can’t get a good grasp on them. I’ll start thinking over the answer and feel so overwhelmed that I just have to stop and return to it later.

The other day I was driving and a thought popped into my head: “your mother is dead.”
I’ve forced myself to think this repeatedly and even say it out loud, but sometimes the thought still shocks me. This particular time the thought pushed its way into my brain and my stomach knotted up. It took my breath away for a second and then the moment passed.

I take the same route to work each morning. After dropping Nellie off at daycare I hop on the interstate because it’s the fastest route. The interstate also happens to pass the hospital where my mother died. It’s not directly visible but sometimes you can catch it out of the corner of your eye as you’re going along. It’s dark when I’m on the road to work, and this particular hospital is a Catholic hospital and has a cross that glows at night on the side of one of the buildings. I was driving along this morning, listening to music and thinking that I was finally starting to feel normal again, starting to feel like me. Right about the time this thought entered my head, I caught a glimpse of the glowing cross from the hospital and it felt like someone had punched me directly in the stomach. My heart started beating faster and I had to quickly avert my eyes as if looking at the place where she died would burn them right out of my head. It was a very strange feeling, having such a strong reaction to catching a glimpse of a place.

The unfortunate part of this is that Nellie’s pediatrician’s office is at that same hospital. Awesome.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt a strong aversion to a place because of the memories it brought forth of the awful experience of my mother’s death. The night she died, my brother Drew and I stepped out for dinner. We went to Mellow Mushroom, a place that has some of my favorite pizza. They had just built a second location out near the mall so we went there. We were there eating our shared Greek salad and waiting on our Philosopher’s Pie when we got the phone call that she had died; not thirty minutes after we left the hospital. We ended up eating the pizza on the drive back to the hospital. A few nights ago a friend invited me to have some pizza and I asked where she was going. She replied Mellow Mushroom and I felt panicky at the thought of going back there. I find myself wondering if I will ever be able to enjoy eating there again. The thought of eating a Philosopher’s Pie turns my stomach.

It’s interesting how we mark events with places. Happy events, traumatic events, major milestone events, etc. There are certain places that I think of fondly even now; the building by my best friend’s house where we got Nellie’s 3-d ultrasound done. The buffet down the road where we ate afterward. Big River Grille, where Josh and I had our first date. There are unfortunately several places that carry heavy, sad memories for me now.  City Cafe, where Ellen, Drew, and I ate Christmas Day because it was one of the few places open. That was the day we put mom in Hospice. We carried our Hospice paperwork and educational literature with us to the restaurant as we wandered around; lost and wounded. The Thai restaurant Drew and I had lunch at the day mom died. The hospital itself; a lurking behemoth of sorrow and pain.

It’s interesting how the memories we attach to these places can bring up such strong feelings. These places are just buildings; they can’t hurt us. But the power they hold over us is very real. Sometimes I wonder what it’d be like if I went into the hospital, took the elevator and walked to the Hospice ward. I wonder what it would feel like to go to her room. To see the place she died again. I wonder what sort of feelings the sights and sounds and smells would evoke. Sometimes the urge to actually do this overwhelms me though I know to do it so soon after her death would probably be a mistake.

I hope that in time I will be able to see the hospital without feeling that overwhelming sense of dread, of sadness, of fear. I hope that in time the power these places have over me will lessen and fade altogether. I hope that as I begin to heal and work through her death, they will once more become just buildings, no more harmless than any of the hundreds of others in the city. In time, maybe. Hopefully.

In Her Time of Dying: Dear Grief

Dear Grief,

They tell me that you are normal and necessary. They tell me that you won’t last as you are forever; that you will always be a part of me but will become softer and less surprising.

I’m here to tell you that I hate you. I hate what you’ve done to me. I hate the way you make me feel. I hate that it feels like you’ve stolen my brain. I’m a smart person. I’m a multi-tasker and a problem-solver. I am efficient, I am capable, and you have turned me into a complete mess; someone I don’t recognize. It’s become impossible for me to retain more than a few bits of information at a time. You’ve infiltrated my mind so thoroughly that when someone presents more than a few questions at once, or a task more complicated than a step or two, it makes me break down into tears because the sheer effort I have to put into it is overwhelming.

That’s not me, Grief. I’m not usually like that and it pisses me off that you’ve made me that way. I don’t like feeling out of control. I don’t like the way you hibernate inside of me, waiting for the right moment to stir from your slumber and wind your way around my heart and soul, squeezing just enough to make it hurt but not enough to kill me. You surprised me, Grief, because I didn’t think I’d feel you this strongly. I always assumed that the bad relationship I had with my mother would smother you somewhat; that your white-hot flame that scalded others who didn’t have such a bad relationship would just make me mildly uncomfortable. But I was wrong. Sometimes I think that my complicated relationship with her made you stronger and harder to quelch; that somehow the indifference, dislike, irritation, love, hurt, and pain that I felt for my mother combined into something that acted like oxygen to you, making you bigger and stronger. Hungrier.

I hate you. I don’t care if you are necessary and a part of it all. I don’t like feeling you and I want you to go away. I started talking to someone the other day,  a counselor that specializes in dealing with you. She’s going to help me weaken you and get you under control. With her help and the support and love of my husband, daughter, friends and family, your power over me will slowly fade. Your flames won’t burn and cause so much pain.

Your hold on me is temporary, Grief. I promise you that.

 

Urn Shopping 101

Did you know that Wal-Mart sells caskets & urns? I didn’t until today. A coworker mentioned it to me because she knows I’m urn shopping. I’m shopping for three urns, to be exact. We are splitting mom’s ashes three ways (how weird and morbid is that?). Did you also know that there are different sizes of urns that hold varying volumes of remains? Sorry for being kind of graphic; I know this isn’t a topic a lot of people like to think of but really, it needs to be something more openly discussed. I mean, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never shopped for ONE urn let alone three before. Not exactly like they offer an “Urn Shopping 101” class. Now enrolling: “Urn Shopping 101”, in between “Sewing for Dummies” and “Beginner’s Glass Blowing”.

We opted for the funeral home to divvy up the ashes, because the thought of that makes me want to barf. So oogy and weird. Let the professionals handle that.

That’s been my morning. How’s yours? This morbid post brought to you by Mommy Boots.

But seriously. Urns are fucking expensive. Ever see the Big Lebowski? Put me in a damn coffee can and scatter me somewhere when I die. I swear to god if my family spends $200 on a damned urn I will haunt them forever. YOU HEAR ME, FAMILY? COFFEE CAN. PREFERABLY FOLGERS. HAUNTING FOREVER. I don’t need an urn with my name engraved on it and doves flying or Jesus weeping or Jesus weeping over flying doves. I’ll be dead. It doesn’t matter. My wishes are to be scattered anyway, so why spend a ton of money on something decorative that my ashes will sit until they’re scattered?

Pet urns are cheaper than human urns. I might be looking at those as a viable option to put my mom’s remains in. She really did like cats, after all.

See? I still have a sense of humor. It’s been touched by a bit of the macabre, but it’s still there.

 

In Her Time of Dying: Grief and Other Things

It’s a brand new year, according to my calendar. It’s hard to believe that 2011 is over and 2012 has begun.

I commented on Twitter on New Year’s Eve (when I was a little intoxicated) how tired I was of saying so many sad and negative things. Of FEELING so many sad and negative things. Everyone responds pretty much the same way: “don’t apologize! We’re here for you!” which is awesome, but I still hate feeling so much sadness. And it’s like I can’t rein it in; I have to share it and vocalize it, and that drives me nuts. I’ve never been one to mope and groan and vent my woes to the world. I try to keep it to myself, because I just am not a big believer on sharing my negativity and misery with the world. But this feels different. It’s like I have this overwhelming urge to tell every person I meet the pain I’m in, the things I’ve seen. I don’t actually do that, of course, but I still have the urge when someone asks me how I’m doing to just blurt out the events of the past week and a half while they stand there, uncomfortable and blinking.

I was watching a preview for the movie The Descendants, which looks good but at the same time, had me rolling my eyes. I guess in the movie a mother gets into an accident that leaves her comatose, leaving her two children and husband having to make decisions about turning off her life support. I watched the preview of the movie, complete with its touchy feel-y scenes with tears and emotional soundtrack. Hugs, and running across the beach, and emotional revelations and whatnot. All I could think was, “that’s not how it is. That’s not how loss, and making those decisions feels. There is no soundtrack to accompany you, no warm fuzzy moments of family togetherness and bonding. It’s just death, and heartbreak. It doesn’t look like that.”

It’s odd to have had the experience where I know what real death looks like. I wasn’t there at the end, but I was there in the last half hour. Real death is terrifying, unsettling, and something I wonder if I’ll ever get out of my head.

Hi, my name is Natalie and I’m here to be a total downer on your day. Ugh. Sorry.

I got really drunk on New Year’s Eve. It felt similar to when my due date came with the first baby and I got crazy-drunk and cried all night. Except unlike the due date incident, there was no feeling of relief with this one. When I got that drunk on green bean’s due date, when I awoke the next morning there was a feeling that I was okay, that I had begun healing. That something lodged in my heart had been dug out; and that I was beginning to get better. There was no feeling of that this time. The grief is still with me, lurking behind good days and moments, waiting to slink out from the shadows and wrap itself around me.

I went back and read my mom’s old LiveJournal entries from years ago and it made me so sad. She was so unhappy and (sorry, mom) crazy. I kept reading entry after entry and shaking my head. Her mental illness is splashed all over the words of those digital pages. I felt such immense pity and sadness for her it was overwhelming. At the end of her life, she was a physical mess. She only had half her fingers. She had lymph-edema in her legs. Many of her teeth were cracked and missing. Her skin was jaundiced. I saw a photo of her as a baby; maybe one year old or so and it made me sob. She was just like any healthy baby; smiling, chubby, whole. I wanted to reach into that picture and protect that child from all of the heartache, pain, and sorrow that she was going to have to endure in her short life.

I had a really good day on Saturday with Josh and Nellie. It was gorgeous outside. We took a long walk downtown and I actually felt good. Josh asked me how I was doing that day and I told him honestly: I feel okay. Fine, almost. I asked him if that was weird, seeing as how it had only been three days since mom’s death. He told me of course not; that’s the funny thing about grief. It does that lurking thing. Some days you will be consumed by it, unable to think of anything else. Other days you will feel as though nothing happened.

Oh, grief. U so crazy.

I’m working today, though I’m not sure for how long. As long as I feel up to it, I guess. I never thought I’d be in a place where just working seemed like an insurmountable effort. I can’t even explain the feeling, but the thought of doing mundane things and answering e-mails and questions feels so hard.

I’m calling the grief counselor tomorrow. I’m ready to work through this shit.

 

In Her Time of Dying: Aftermath

December 30th, 2011

I’m finding a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that all of this began just a little over a week ago. I cannot comprehend that it’s only been nine days since my mom was first admitted to the hospital and coded for the first time. I feel as if I’ve been living this experience for a year.

I’m taking today off of work and spending it by myself. My brother left for Milwaukee this morning after he and I had breakfast together. I’m so happy that he’s going to get to be home with his fiancée for New Year’s Eve, and that they can ring in a new year together. I miss him. I don’t know if I could have done this without him. He and I were together through all of the hard years growing up. He and I were together when all of this truly started in the summer of 2008 and we were together to see it finished. It feels in a way that several things in our lives have come full circle in all of this. When we visited the hospital and had to go through the emergency room entrance because the patient entrance was closed, Drew asked me if I remembered sitting in that exact emergency room with mom the summer of 2008 and I told him of course I did. It seemed poetic somehow that her journey ended where it began. The morning that I got Nellie’s Christmas gift from mom was the day she died. You can call it a coincidence; just another Christmas present that was slightly delayed but I feel like it’s more than that. I feel like it was her goodbye to Nellie when she was no longer to vocally convey it herself.

I find myself feeling okay most of the day, but melancholy and detached by the time evening comes around. I’m having a hard time forgetting the night she died. Forgetting how she looked in her last hour. I will write about the night she died, and will probably be pretty detailed about the things I saw. But not yet.

The day she died I left work around noon to eat lunch with Drew. I sat at a red light waiting for it to turn, feeling sad and heavy. It felt like my heart weighed a thousand pounds and was trying to make its way out of my chest through my feet. I sat there behind the wheel, shoulders sunk, feeling as though I was drowning under the weight of sorrow when my favorite Ani DiFranco song came on: “Little Plastic Castles”. The cheery, upbeat combination of horns and drums surrounded me and the contrast of their joyful sounds versus my inner pain felt surreal; like a dream. The song’s tone and chords seemed so out-of-place with my emotions that at the time I couldn’t even fathom that one could be in such a place so full of happiness and creativity to create such music.

We went to the crematorium yesterday to get everything in order. I gave answers as the director asked questions for her death certificate. He asked if any of us wanted to witness the cremation (a resounding NO). We gave a credit card number and, as easily and efficiently as if we were ordering a new couch for our apartment, the transaction was complete. We even got a receipt.

Everything comes down to business. Even death.

I have to go shopping for a “vessel” (as the funeral director put it) to put mom’s ashes in. True to my penchant for laughing at inappropriate times and finding funny things where funny things maybe should not be, all I can think of is the Big Lebowski.

I want to be alone. I don’t want to be alone. Part of me is afraid to be alone. I feel so weird. I’m not necessarily sad she is gone. I don’t really miss her being here, because we had such a hard relationship and I haven’t enjoyed being around my mother in over a decade. I feel sad because her life was so difficult and full of sadness. She was young, and she had so many bad things happen to her. She alienated everyone around her. Hers is a tragic story; one that breaks my heart. I also think that for the first time, I’m mourning for her tragic life and for the mother that I truly will never have. I always knew that she could never be what I needed or wanted her to be but now that she’s gone, it really never will happen. I found myself feeling very childlike yesterday when I took a nap; I found myself thinking, “I want my mommy”. I realized I’ve been thinking that for years. It’s something that I never got, and never will. Last night Nellie was having a hard time getting to sleep. I kneeled beside her bed and stroked her hair. I told her I knew that mama had been gone a lot lately, but that she was back now and things would get back to normal. I just kept repeating, “mama’s here. Mama’s here.” And I just felt so fucking sad.

I try to focus on the positive things she experienced. She had two awesome (I might be biased) kids. She took wonderful vacations with her family and saw beautiful things. She played in a band with her sister. She got to see her youngest child get married. She was at the hospital for the birth of her first grandchild, and was one of the first people to hold her. I asked Joshua if I was ever going to get the image of her dying out of my head. I cannot stop thinking about it. He told me to try to replace it with an image of her in happier years and that eventually it would fade. I want it gone now. I don’t want it in my head anymore.

This is really hard. I am very aware that my grieving process is going to take a long time, and the thought of it makes me feel exhausted. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to be feeling these things. I want them to go away. The thought of getting back to doing normal things after I’ve seen the things I’ve seen seems far away. Thinking about sitting at my desk and writing e-mails, answering questions and phone calls, and doing my normal tasks seems impossible.

I took a picture of myself after I’d gotten showered and put some makeup on. I looked somewhat normal again after days of throwing clothes on and not caring what I looked like.

I looked normal, except for my eyes.

My eyes look different. Not the color, or the shape, but what’s behind them makes them look different. I’m never going to be the same again after this.

They just look different.

In Her Time of Dying: A Change.

December 28th, 2011 ; Morning

I am back at work today. “Back” at work is really a relative term; I am here, and I am also not here. When my alarm clock went off at 5:45 A.M. this morning, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I wanted to ask my husband to take our daughter to daycare and go on to work so I could lay there. Instead, I pushed myself out of the warm comfort of my covers and into the shower. I went through the motions of my normal morning routine and found myself getting back into the groove of it once I started drying my hair.

It seems like a million years ago that I last did this routine before I was thrown into a blender and poured back out again. Getting Nellie ready, packing her bag for daycare, fixing my coffee and driving the normal route to get Josh to work felt alien; like it was something normal people did in a different dimension. Normal people whose lives hadn’t been flipped upside down in just seven short days. Normal people who hadn’t spent the last week in and out of the hospital surrounded by chaos and imminent death. Doing these mundane things felt both strange and comforting. As I’ve been shuffling about in this whole ordeal, I’ve felt like a ghost of a person drifting amongst the living. When people ask the courtesy question: “hi, how are you?” I pause for a second before answering. I want to tell them what I’ve been through in the past week, but it’s not quite socially acceptable when the clerk at a gas station asks to unload the burden of your dysfunctional relationship with your mother who is dying in the hospice unit you admitted her to on Christmas day, is it? So I pause and answer honestly: “I’m doing okay”.

I’m feeling those walls I mentioned yesterday – the emotional ones I’ve been building and fortifying for the past fifteen years – beginning to weaken a little. The kindness, love, and support that I’ve been surrounded by has chipped away little blocks here and there. I’ve found myself accepting and returning gratitude more easily than I have before. I’ve always had a hard time conveying and expressing my thankfulness and appreciation. I have a hard time telling people I love them. In the past few days the words have fallen easily from my mouth. I sometimes think it’s because I simply don’t have any energy to put forth into keeping my fortress up.

This experience is changing me. I can feel the change and yet I cannot put my finger on what exactly is shifting and evolving inside of me. I simply know that it is happening, and I accept and welcome it.

Afternoon

My bosses bought us lunch yesterday and had a coworker deliver it to the hospital. Their support and love has been overwhelming. We ate in mom’s room with our food on our laps. We didn’t talk much. I sat there eating my fajitas and kept thinking that it seemed wrong somehow that we were eating such delicious food in front of a dying woman. I keep thinking things like, “she’ll never eat Mexican food again” or “she’ll never shit in a toilet again” (seriously, that one crossed my mind while I was in the bathroom the other day). Knowing that death is coming makes you think of those things, I guess.

I’d look over and see the output from her catheter; there wasn’t much there but it was a reddish/coppery color that made my stomach turn. I kept looking at that fucking thing, the last of the urine my mother would produce and I wanted to be sick. I wished that we’d gone out of the room to eat. The sound of her breathing (shallow but gasping, rattle-y and sick) and that container of piss made me lose my appetite and want to vomit. I ate every bit of my food, however, because I apparently am a bit of an emotional eater. I never really realized this until this week’s events began to unfold.

I talked to my brother, who stayed overnight. Her vitals are declining. The nurses offered a vague guess of maybe a day.. Maybe a little more. Her time is winding down. I just want this waiting to be over. I don’t want to do this anymore, and I don’t think she does, either. I’m going to the hospital soon to meet my brother for lunch. The thought of being in that room with her and her shallow, gasping breathing makes me anxious and scared.

Early Evening

I went to the hospital for a few minutes to pick Drew up. They were in the middle of giving mom a sponge bath. I went in because she was agitated and making a lot of noise. It was really upsetting to see her upset like that, and I wasn’t entirely happy with the way the nurses handled her. They were not hospice nurses, but normal hospital nurses. They didn’t have the deliberate, gentle, slow touches that we’ve come to trust from the hospice nurses. The whole experience freaked me out really badly.

Drew and I had lunch and I decided to come home and just sit in the stillness until it was time to get Josh and Nellie. A package had come in the mail and when I got there, and opened it I saw that it was my mother’s Christmas gift to Nellie. It came with a note that said, “To my Nellie Rose. Love always, Grandma Sue-Sue”.

I looked at it for a minute and then broke down into tears for about five minutes. I slowly lowered myself to the floor and sobbed. I eventually calmed down, then burst into tears again. She got Nellie one of those Twilight Turtle night lights and I think Nellie will love it.

Once my crying jag had passed, I had the urge to track down my parents’ wedding photo album and look through it. I didn’t find it, though I do know it’s in my apartment somewhere. I don’t know why I felt compelled to do that.

Mom is running a fever. One of the hospice nurses that I trust most came in to talk to us about needing to bring it down. She suggested a suppository, and from the experience mom went through earlier in the day I was really hesitant. Fortunately the hospice nurse offered to do it herself, and she was so gentle with her, mom didn’t even stir.

The nurses and staff here are truly unique and special. I feel blessed to have met the people we’ve met.

 

In Her Time of Dying: Reflections on the Day

December 27th, 2011

We came up with a loose plan of action for funeral/cremation arrangements. I called several places locally to get rates, and am shocked at the cost of death. One place I called had a rate of nearly $3,500 for a cremation alone. No memorial service, no burial, no minister – just converting my mother’s body to ashes and sticking her in a case. It’s almost disgusting how outrageous the prices are. One can’t help but feel that the death industry preys on grieving people and takes advantage by charging high prices that mourning families don’t know any better but to pay.

Anyway. My brother and I stepped out for a little while for a coffee break and to talk with extended family members in regards to the upcoming plans. It has been essential to both of us to get away from the unit; to interact with families who are not going through the stages of grief and to feel somewhat normal. We talked about wedding plans, – I failed to mention that the day my brother came down here he proposed to his girlfriend! – had coffee, joked, and then got down to the business of calling funeral homes and our family members.

I am angry, annoyed, and agitated that my mother was in so much denial about her health that she avoided making these types of decisions and plans for herself while she was able. It’s not like the subject wasn’t broached; both my brother and I suggested getting her plans started even before she fell ill and my brother in particular was met with vehement hostility. Now, he and I and her partner Ellen are left scrambling to make plans by what we think her final wishes were. We have no idea what that is, so all we can do it guess based on what we knew of her. It’s a little easier for Ellen and my brother because they knew her better than I. Ellen was with her for the last nine years of her life, and Drew (brother) had more good years in his childhood than I did. I got about eight years before our family unit began to disintegrate and I literally have to dig and delve to find good memories of my mom that aren’t tainted and shadowed by bad ones.

As we walked back through the hospital we talked, we rounded that corner I’ve spoken so much about and the hospice unit doors came into sight, I found myself chilled by the cold reality of our situation once more. I wonder if it will ever feel less shocking? If after a nice break, the return to the hospice unit won’t feel quite so heavy?

I miss my husband and my daughter. I’ve been going home each night to sleep, because I can’t stay here overnight. That is my limit. I have to be home in my bed with them and I’ve felt some guilt about that, but at the same time I just cannot stay here. I’m going back to work tomorrow (not sure how useful I will be) after almost a week in crisis mode and it’s going to be very strange to not be around respirators, oxygen masks, and the feeling of death engulfing me in a strange and morbid embrace. My coworkers and bosses have been amazing, offering support, lunch, coffee, and the most important and helpful; schedule flexibility and freeing me from the burden of having to worry about my hours and pay.

Josh (my husband) has been feeling helpless, I know. He hasn’t been here much with me, instead he’s been caring for our curly-headed tot and honestly that is where I need him. Nellie knows something is up and misses me. I know she does. I would be considerably more stressed and worried if he were not there and she was worrying about his absence as well. I feel very strongly that I need her daddy there. I may feel differently if my brother has to go home to Milwaukee before all of this is over, but for now he and I have each other to lean on… I still go home each night and vent, talk, and sometimes cry to Josh. He has been an amazing support, whether he realizes it or not.

I know I’ve already posted once today but I had the opportunity to kind of sit and reflect with my thoughts the events of this day, and I felt compelled to post again. I’m not sure what the evening brings.. I’ve been keeping the ringer on my phone up and expecting THAT call each and every night. I am surprised with each dawn that comes and my mother is still alive. I know that soon, I will wake and she won’t be here.

We’ll deal with that when we come to it.

In Her Time of Dying

One of the most powerful urges I’ve experienced during this whirlwind that began when I received a frantic phone call last Wednesday evening was the urge to write. I wrote a short post on Christmas when we first admitted mom to Hospice and didn’t write again until today. I toyed with the idea of not posting that first entry, but I decided to share it because it is how I felt when I first got here. I want to chronicle the evolution of my feelings… My blog has never really experienced nor contained anything this heavy. Not even my miscarriage was this heavy. So if thoughts of death, dying, and details (not gory details, but some details of my mother’s physical state) bother you feel free to skip this. I will not be offended. But perhaps you know someone who is also going through this. Perhaps that person is you. And maybe reading this will make you or someone else not feel quite so alone in what you’re experiencing. I’ve decided to call this chronicle In Her Time of Dying.

December 25th, 2011

I step out of the elevator, turn the corner and reach the doors that I have to walk through. I pause as I read the sign talking about how family and friends are welcome, but to be quiet and respectful within.

Dying people need quiet and respect.

I push the heavy double doors open and step inside. I gaze down the long hallway; eying the doors that hold people whose time is running out inside. I take my first step towards her room, my footfalls echoing on the hardwood floor.

I hate it here. It is secluded, peaceful and clean and the nurses are sweet. But still I hate it here. I am afraid. I  am uncomfortable. This is a place of finality; a place of whispered apologies, forgiveness.  A place of tears and memories shared.

I didn’t have quite as big of a problem in the first unit, the critical care unit, because in that waiting room people were waiting to see what was going to happen. Waiting for their loved ones to get better. Here, we are all only waiting for one thing:

Death.

The air is heavy with the promise of it. Here, it is guaranteed. In the rest of the hospital people have babies, mend broken legs, have surgeries but here in the hospice unit, there is only one thing that happens here. The faces of the families who wander the hallways are all the same: tired, grief-striken, confused, numb.

I reach her room and enter and I am gripped with a sudden urge to turn and flee back the way I came. This is the closest I have ever been to death and a dying person and I want to run away and pretend this is not happening. I do not run. Instead, venture into the room and stand beside the bed where my mother lies dying.

I look down at her, discomfort and anxiety filling me from head to toe. We haven’t had the best relationship; my mother and I and I would actually venture to say that it has been a bad relationship. I harbor a lot of bad, resentful, angry feelings toward her that I’m struggling to let go because they don’t matter anymore.

I hate it here.

Dec 27th, 2011

I’ve come to feel slightly more comfortable with the concept of this place. We’ve met a lot of really nice people. Very supportive people and staff. The nurses, the counselors, the chaplins are all amazing folks. We are at a Catholic hospital, which worried me at first considering we aren’t even remotely Christian/Catholic. But everyone – with the exception of one nurse who thought it would be a good idea to get into my mother’s face last night when she thought that the end had come and asked her if she had accepted Jesus Christ into her heart as her personal Lord and Savior – has been not pushy or evangelical at all.

My brother, Ellen and I have been talking about what to do after mom dies. It’s not an upsetting conversation so much as it is a weird one. Talking about cremation, burial, eulogies, and other things of that unpleasant nature while the person you’re talking about is still alive in the other room is very surreal and strange.

Mom’s breathing has changed. I watched her chest today moving in and out; it was like it was caving in every time she inhaled. She’s working hard to breathe. Part of that is because we’ve turned her oxygen off completely. She’s been pulling her mask off herself almost since she first got to the hospital. It is the one thing she’s been able to control and has been very clear about, and since she can no longer communicate we made the decision for her to leave it off. Her skin is a dusky gray combined with the yellowish orange of jaundice. She twitches and flails occasionally, which the hospice nurses said was normal and a part of the body’s preparation for death.

Every noise, every beep, I think is the end. Just when I feel like I’ve come to terms with the actual process of her dying, a false alarm happens and I feel like I’m going to panic. I’m not sure where the root of the feeling is; when thinking of everything else I feel very ambivalent and numb but when I think that the actual moment of her death is nigh, my pulse quickens and I feel like I want to throw up. I am scared, I am panicky, and I think it is because I don’t know how I’m going to feel when it does happen. I am so very skilled at stuffing and masking my emotions that when this woman who has caused me so much misery, pain, and anxiety is no longer alive to poison me with her toxicity, I’m not sure what my emotions will be or how powerfully they will come. I am afraid to feel them.

I took a long walk around the hospital today, wandering nowhere in particular to clear my head and stretch my bones. I strolled slowly, without a real destination and observed the different feelings of the wings I walked through. I prowled the hallways of the critical care unit, where this journey began and remembered the feeling of fear and uncertainty I felt our entire stay there. I visited the surgery waiting room, where there was a similar air of anxiety and questions waiting to be answered hanging in the air. I wish this hospital were a place where babies were born. I would have liked to have passed through the waiting rooms filled with proud grandparents and relatives waiting to greet a brand new life… That would have been a breath of fresh air before I returned to the place where people are waiting to meet death. My feet carried me to a coffee shop, and back again down the hallway leading to the hospice unit. As I rounded the corner and saw the double doors I noticed that the air  changes once you reach this part of the hospital. It hums around you with a quiet respect and dignity; it is not necessarily heavier but it is more solemn. It’s a feeling of finality; the closing of a chapter on the lives of each and every person who has someone in this unit.

I wondered as I wandered if “hospice” was written all over my face. I wondered if the lost, numb, haunted, resigned, confused glaze over my eyes was recognizable to the hospital staff.

I have a lot of work to do, emotionally. We met with a grief counselor today and I liked her a lot. I wonder if this experience might be the push I need to finally be ready to seek my own personal therapy to fight my inner demons and try and shake off some of the ghosts of my past that still haunt me. My mother has always held such a power of me in the sense that I made a silent, somewhat subconscious vow to myself that she would never see me overly emotional. No tears. No joy. No love. No fear. She had betrayed and violated my sense of trust so completely, and so many times over the years that she no longer held the right to see me at my weakest; my most vulnerable. I suppose in a way I was always afraid that if she did catch me with my guard down; she would seize the opportunity and sink her claws into me, injecting her poison deep into my veins.

My hope is that her passing will weaken those walls enough that with some therapy, I can finally send them tumbling and be free of the poisonous power she held over me.

I have a long road ahead. First, I have to get through today. Then tomorrow… And so on.