*Originally Posted on 11/19/2013
My mother’s yellow roses are wilted now. Edges of curled brown buds barely cling to their coffee-colored vines. They bend ever so slightly to the left or to the right from evening temperatures turning oh-so-cold. Within a day or two, they’ll have to be cut down in final preparation for next spring. Yes, gentle spring when life begins anew.
Early this morning, I opened my patio door to breathe in a gust of fresh fall air. It slammed me hard and quick. High in the sky was a still bright moon, spectacular in sight. Then, clouds moved in to shadow it with a thin veil of grey, giving it an almost ghostly appearance.
Three years ago today was the day before my mother’s last. It was the most painful one for her living on this earth. The worst for her loved ones to bear. The hospice nurse told me to gather my siblings and so I had. After they arrived, I anticipated scenes from a movie, I guess. The ones where sisters and brothers take turns having private time with their dying mother. It was not to be. In the same manner that a new parent recognizes the cry of their newborn, caretakers know the difference in their patient’s signals and signs.
It was too difficult for my mother to speak near the end, and so she did not try. We had our own way of communicating without saying a word. She lay on her side, trying to lessen the pain, I suspect. There, her slender hands were open to me. A slight inward movement meant, “Come closer, I need something.” Perhaps it was an extra bed sheet or slight sip of water? An outward turn meant, “No more, I’ve had enough.” Occasionally, she moved her hands back and forth. “Please don’t touch me,” they silently said. “My body hurts me so.” A hand rising abruptly meant, “NO! Do not let anyone come near me.”
My mother’s cooling touch guided me towards granting her last wishes. As arduous as it was for loved ones to understand, she couldn’t bear to be seen in such a deplorable condition. She wanted peace, to be left alone. Without time for explanation, I became the designated gate-keeper, of sorts. It was a role I did not choose. Rather, it was chosen for me.
I don’t remember how I became my mother’s caretaker. My father was of course her, “Number One,” leaving my middle sister with other roles to play. I was simply there to keep charts, dispense medicine and give the proper answers to intuitive questions. I had done it for many years while raising chronically ill children. I was good in a crisis and could pocket away emotions if only for a minute…..much like a doctor or a nurse must do.
The time spent with my mother as a caretaker was a privilege, allowing me to discover a lifetime through wordless gestures. It was the very last thing I was able to do for her.
The very last thing……