Mother weighs less than 90 pounds. She hasn’t walked in over a year, and her leg muscles are drawn into a near-fetal position. The skin on her haunches is so thin it breaks open, and her care providers and I fear an infection.
It’s been heartbreaking to walk with her through the valley of the shadow of her death. To be honest, I’m amazed she’s still here. Did I tell you, mother has dementia?
For the last few weeks, mother hasn’t eaten more than 20 percent of her food; food that’s minced so she doesn’t choke because of her difficulty swallowing. For someone in her condition, choking would most likely result in pneumonia… and a painful death. Her voice is weak, and her words are sometimes hard to make out. Yesterday she asked me about the people she saw on the ceiling: a man and a little boy, standing behind him, and a “mystery dog.”
Today the Hospice pastor reminded me of Psalm 139:16. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” If you believe in God, then only He knows when she will die. If it were up to me, I would have ended her suffering long ago.
The mother I role reversed with, when I was 12, would have succumbed before now, but this mother… This fragile woman is hanging onto life like a mother tiger, fighting for her cubs.
A week ago I told her it was okay for her to let go, and go with God. “This isn’t a quality of life either of us want for you,” I said.
With a laser-like focus I haven’t seen in years, she looked at me and asked, “What are you trying to tell me?”
“God loves you, mother,” I said. “If you were with God, your body would be whole, and you wouldn’t be frightened or depressed or confused anymore.”
Once more, with clarity, she asked, “What exactly does that mean?”
“You’re nearing the end of your journey,” I said. “The end of your life.”
For the next few minutes I squeezed water into her mouth with a paper towel I’d soaked in water. She raised her hand for me to stop and looked at me like she’d emerged from a fog.
“I’m still processing that I’m dying,” she said.
“Are you afraid of dying?” I asked her.
“No,” she said, still focused on my face. “But I’m worried about you.”
I haven’t heard mother process new input like that since long before James died. Nearly five years. I stroked her forehead and held her hand and smiled as big as the sun. A smile she would believe. “I’m healthy and happy, and I’m blessed, mother. There’s nothing more you can do for me, here,” I said. “You’ve given me everything I need. Thank you.”
On some level, mother knows something’s wrong. While I always have an answer for her repeated “Where’s James” questions, because of her dementia, I haven’t told her of his death. I couldn’t bear the thought of explaining, over and over again, what happened, and I didn’t want to take the chance that after one of our visits, she might think I was the one who died.
I sometimes wonder if mother’s still here to teach me something. The gravity of this thought weighs on me. I pray I honor her and am there for her and that her last days of struggle are not in vain.