I am sitting at a picnic table in front of an ice cream parlor in my home town. A quarter of a mile in one direction is the house I grew up in. I remember walking with my older brother from our apartment across town to this house in early summer 1956. We carried lunch bags for ourselves and for our mother who was diligently cleaning the house in preparation for the big move. I remember excitement in her voice and on her face. This would be the family home for over thirty years. She was only thirty-four.
A quarter of a mile in the opposite direction is the local hospital where my mother, now ninety-one, has been for most of two weeks. She is suffering from congestive heart failure and other ailments. Every time my mother has a mini-stroke (TIA) she makes it clear to me that she hopes it will be “something more.” She is not shy about wanting to die. She feels her life is complete. The only problem is that her life is not over. This is frustrating for her.
We have talked many times about her wish to die. She explains that dying doesn’t frighten her, but that how she will die does. A devout Christian all her life, she believes that heaven awaits her.
I tell her I understand her desires; that I agree with her wishes about life ending. Nevertheless, it is painful to sit with my brother in the hospital room listening to our mother explain to the psychiatrist that “there is no point to living” and that she is “ready to go.” I have worked in mental health all my life and I know he is assessing her for depression and cognitive functioning. Her short term and long term memory are better than mine. Her thinking is crisp and clear. She is not suicidal. There is no doubt that she is depressed, but I am convinced that it is, in part at least, because she does not have control over this final chapter of her life.
Much to her disappointment, she improves enough to be discharged. Not to her home, though, but to an assisted living facility. I am surprised by how well she makes this transition. I am surprised that there is little longing to go home.
Her mini-strokes increase in frequency and with each one, she hopes for the end. Yet, on the other hand, she is eager to have her hair done and to finally put on some make-up and wear clothes instead of hospital gowns. She is specific about what outfits she wants us to bring to “the Place,” her name for assisted living. She even makes a gift suggestion for her birthday which will be here in a couple of months.
She is ambivalent. And why wouldn’t she be? Being alive, being in this world is an amazing gift. Inside my ninety-one year old mother there is still a hint of that thirty-four year old woman who once was so excited about the possibilities of life unfolding right before her very eyes.
I had the privilege of being at my father’s side when he died. I hope that will be the case when my mother dies so that her final steps will not be lonely ones. But there is no way to predict what will come or when. We wait. We hope.
Seaburn is a novelist. His latest novel is Chimney Bluffs. Click on his picture above to learn more about his books.