So, last night my older children were going to come get me and take me to the movies–we all wanted to see The Shape of Water, and for some reason the grown kids thought Mom would be the best grownup to see it with.
Right when we were gathering things to leave, Mate got a phone call. His mother had called an ambulance that morning and asked to be brought to the hospital. Mate was a little hurt–he’d just gone to visit her on Sunday, and she’d looked very frail, her health not great. He’d taken the kids to wish her a happy holiday, and some baby food and plain bread, because her stomach had been a little tetchy. He wanted to help. Why hadn’t she called him?
Well, we asked her–she said she’d felt too horrible to actually walk through the ER. She knew the ambulance would bypass that, and then she’d asked her sister to not call Mate until she thought he got off work.
Such a humble, sane line of reasoning.
We made sure she was okay–secure for the night, as it were. She was going in for a CT Scan on a mass in her abdomen, and trying to loosen it so it would pass. We would see her in the morning.
Before we left I went to kiss her cheek.
She’d never been a big woman–5’2″, small boned, enormous hazel eyes–she’d always been so simple. So unassuming. She’d spent the last three years since her mother’s death making her life as spare as possible–she wasn’t going to get much on social security, right?
But as I kissed her cheek I smushed her a little (God, I’m clumsy) and I pulled back and apologized, horrified.
“No, that’s okay.” She grimaced and adjusted herself more comfortably. “Your hands are so warm.”
I was wearing my mitts–like always.
I took them off my giant ham-fists and put them on her hands–her tiny, tiny hands.
We got home around nine and told the kids that she seemed to be holding stable. I started a pair of mitts for an absurdly small pair of hands while we watched Troll Hunters until 11:30 at night.
We got a call at 12:10–she was doing much worse, and she was asking for Mate.
We called Chicken to come watch the children. They were upset–and I told them what I tell anybody who worries about these things: Did you tell Grandma you loved her before you left?
“That’s all you can do, every day, with anybody you love. Tell them you love them. Hug them. Know that they knew when you parted.”
They’ll never know it’s how I’m not rendered completely dysfunctional whenever there’s a public act of violence, and I have to drop them off at school.
When we got back to the floor, we had a choice to make–balls-out surgery, full stop invasive procedures, intubation, crash cart, bells and whistles, EXTREME MEASURES RESUSCITATION, or…
Or keep her comfortable.
She had an ischemic bowel blockage–and had been suffering with it for days. She was going into sepsis, and even if they could remove it, her organs were initiating shutdown.
Her vessel–her teeny, tiny, delicate vessel was done.
That was a bad moment.
But after the decision was made, we sat in the quiet of the room while the ICU nurse monitored her vitals, and watched her slip away.
I worked on the mitts for part of it.
Mostly, I just held Mate’s hand.
This morning we went up to the newly refurbished house she’d just moved into. It was once the bear trap I couldn’t gnaw my way free of–but now it was lovely (if nut-shriveling cold.) Clean, bare, neat as a pin, The new flooring couldn’t hide the fact that no, they still hadn’t put a foundation under it, but other than that, it was a lovely space.
She’d been there about ten days.
We looked and looked–all of her paperwork was nicely ordered, in boxes. We saw paperwork for the work done on the house, paperwork for the service work she did with the church, paperwork for the rescue cats, her medical problems, her work with genealogy and calligraphy–all in order. But we couldn’t find a single slip of paper indicating where she wanted her tiny body to go.
I called my stepmom, and she gave me ideas for where to look–she’s done this before. We were exhausted–we’d slept maybe three hours of shitty, shitty sleep, our grown daughter between us needing solace. But still, I was grateful.
My stepmom, the one who’d given me common sense and practicality, who had raised me to believe in the sacred power of the DNR, who had taught me how to give the elderly and the dying respect and dignity, and to be kind to their fragile bodies while their sturdy souls ventured on, was still here to guide me.
I’m so very, very grateful.
We even searched her computer, but in the end, all we found was a surrender request for the two rescue cats hiding behind the washing machine.
“They were supposed to be barn cats,” it read. “But they were wounded and now live in the washroom. I am the only one they will let touch them. They are invisible cats.”
It was so very, very much my mother in law.
Practical. Kind. A touch of sarcastic humor.
We made sure the cats were secure and came home, stopping for takeout for all our kids on the way.
As we were getting out of the car, Mate suddenly laughed. (This is not as odd as it sounds–it’s how we cope.)
“Heh. Invisible cats.”
We laughed softly again.
When I got home, before we both crashed to start our investigations again tomorrow, Chicken showed me the envelope she’d addressed for the mitts I’d finished. A friend of mine has a tiny teenaged daughter.
With delicate, birdlike hands.
Hug all your people tonight. Be grateful for every one of them. Be sure to tell them you love them as they venture out the door. Our bodies are fragile, even if our souls are strong. Be good to your bodies, take care of your souls, nurture all the love in your life.
When I die, I want to be cremated. I only want extreme measures if my body is healthy and ready for the fight. And I want music playing–my family knows my favorites. At the end there, last night, as my husband’s mother was breathing her last, I got tired of the incessant beeping, and Mate and I had already said all the things we could think to say. I sang at first–hymns, although my pagan self couldn’t remember many. Finally I pulled up Simple Gifts on my phone–because the melody is beautiful, and with the faith that sustained her in her last years, I thought she might enjoy it.
I hope so.
I know she will be missed.