On Saturday hospice took over my mother’s case at the assisted living facility in the small community where she now resides, a few miles south of us. I was pleased. She needs the extra care, and I think they will provide it for her; that is good. But the gravity of the situation does not escape me; I have no illusions. My guess is that she has days to live. We will know more at the close of this week, they say.
I sat by her bedside yesterday evening, watching her breathe through her O2 mask, frustrated that it was fogging up her glasses so she could not read (one of the few joys she still has). We talked about what was going on with her, and all the nursing attention she was getting all of a sudden. I was not sure at first whether or not she understood the gravity of the situation. Later, it became apparent that she was quite aware.
It is interesting to me that in her final days she does not seem concerned with record keeping, crossing i’s and dotting t’s (the meticulous and painstaking character traits she has always been governed by), and keeping track of everything. Although . . . she did notice I had moved the walking cane that she has not come even close to using since she went in the hospital four months ago. She “doesn’t miss a trick,” as they say. She seems resigned to these final days. I am amazed at her sense of peace about it all. It is obvious she understands that the material things she is leaving behind are – meaningless now.
At one point I asked her if she wanted to sing, or tell jokes. She said, “I can’t sing.” Then within a couple of seconds she said, “Ragtime Cowboy Joe” and smiled slightly (an old humorous song she used to sing to us as kids). I had forgotten about this old tune through the years. But rest assured – I won’t forget it now. Ever.
The coming days will be hard for me, I know. I wake in the middle of the night, and my thoughts go to mother, her pain, the years she gave us, the life she gave us. I remember when I turned 30 she called me on the phone to wish me a happy birthday, but her words were, “We have an anniversary to celebrate, today.” I said, ” I know what day it is for me, mother, but what day is it for you?” She responded, “Well, I did have something to do with it, you know!” We laughed. I had never even considered that before.
As time went by last night she said to me, “I’m sorry for being such an interruption in your life lately.” I assured her that we knew what we were doing when we moved her here, that we wanted to play this role in her life, and that I had never regretted it once. She said, “Well, soon your life back can go back to normal.”
Oh, then, what I would give to never have normal again! But I do not get to choose, do I? I am not ready for what is soon to happen; I do not want to let her go. Just one more talk, mother. Or one more verse of a song together – you taught me so many: Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Three Little Fishies, Mares Eat Oats, and . . . Ragtime Cowboy Joe.
He always sings, raggedy music to the cattle
As he swings, back and forward in the saddle
On a horse, a horse that’s syncopated, gaited,
There’s such a funny meter to the roar of his repeater.
How they run, when they hear this fellow’s gun,
Because the western folks all know,
Why he’s a high-faluting scooting,
Shooting son of a gun from Arizona
Ragtime Cowboy, you’re talking ’bout your cowboy,
Ragtime Cowboy Joe.