Friday, July 31, 2009
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
Hey, August! You suck.
It’s like I have a nice, tidy calendar in my brain. It’s fresh and white with numbers and the days of the week, as you would expect. It’s peppered with birthday parties, doctor’s appointments, beach trips – the usual. The problem is that as we meander along through the year, I have to avert my eyes. I don’t want to see August. It’s different from the other months. It pulses violently with my heartbeat. It’s a seething monster with sharp teeth just waiting to get me.
I guess you would need to know how I spent my summer vacation last year to truly understand my utter disdain for this month. I spent 27 days in August of 2008 by my mother’s side, watching her slowly die. It seems like one hundred years ago and yesterday all at the same time.
August began deep in the throes of nursing home hell. Some of her last days would be spent amongst senior citizens that had no recollection of lunch, but could tell you every detail of their childhood. She was surrounded by the cries of the forgotten who, unlike her, didn’t have relatives keeping them company all day. There was no one to help them eat or tell them they loved them or to keep the underpaid employees from stealing their last ounce of dignity. She was bed-ridden, so there I sat beside her, usually watching the Food Network or the Travel Channel and explaining to her over and over and over why I couldn’t let her come home with me. Excruciating, really.
I think the most surreal part of the summer was her move to the hospice house on August 20th. It’s a cool place if you can get past the fact that your loved one is dying on the other side of the room. You are painfully aware that any day could be the day that death finds its way back into your life. It’s real. It’s nauseating. It’s the reason they make hard liquor. There will be no miraculous recovery at this point, no drug that was just discovered to cure this awful disease. I tried my best to explain to her where we were going, but she didn’t really understand. She was never fully coherent again.
The last August Sunday of her life found me sitting in her room with my estranged brother watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Strange, I know. We stared at the very nice plasma television and ignored each other. There was no way either of us would have let our guard down long enough to acknowledge this horrible situation. The two of us – Titans of Tough with an impenetrable force field that kept our emotions at bay, and our mom was lying there between us, slowly slipping away. I can laugh as I look back now because if my mom had known what was playing on her television, she would have said in no uncertain terms, “Turn off that crap”. I’m sure of it.
She kept the doctors guessing. She seemed to be lingering long past her allotted time here on Earth, and they couldn’t predict her next move. After her doctor left the room, the nurse came to me and said softly, “Have you told her it’s okay to leave?” She told me that sometimes, at the end, a person just needs to know it’s time to go. So when we were alone, I bent down to her ear and told her so. Those were some of the hardest words I’ve ever choked out of my mouth. I wanted to vomit.
I walked into her room early on the morning of August 27th. The nurse was sitting by her bed holding her hand. She looked at me and said, “It’s going to be today”. I knew what she meant, of course, so I set about making things right the best I could. I gave her an impromptu manicure. She most certainly wouldn’t want to go through eternity with jagged, unkempt nails. I called my aunts, my husband, my sister, my brother. And waited.
I was her caretaker for the last twenty years, but for some reason, I couldn’t bear to look at her. I didn’t want to watch her take her last breaths. I didn’t want to touch her. I didn’t want that day to be my reality. I sat on the couch looking out the window as my aunt and siblings held their vigil by the bed. As she exhaled for the last time, they told me she smiled. Peace at last for her I hope.
I still pick up the phone to call her from work sometimes. I still think, “I can’t wait to hear what my Mama has to say about that”. She still gets mail here. It’s a slap in the face every time.
So that’s why August sucks. I don’t know how many years I’ll feel this way. Probably forever if I was guessing. I’m really bad about holding a grudge. I’m going to put on my sunglasses and trudge through the best I can. Oh September, please find me soon.