Friday, September 17, 2010

Aloneness, Day Fourteen of Hospice

I dawned on me early this morning after another restless night how very, very alone my mother was during the final days before her own mother's death.  I found her account of it last night and posted part of it here.  From the Tuesday night stroke until the Friday afternoon frantic phone calls, she went through this absolutely alone.

I assume my dad was out of town.  He had not yet retired, and traveled extensively for his work.  She clearly did not phone either me or my sister so neither of us knew what was happening.  I know I was ill, and was also caring for a two year old and a six month old, so my hands were full.  My sister was busy with career challenges, and I'm betting mother thought the same thing about both of us:  she didn't want to pull us away from our activities to help her.  My brother had long since moved to California and although there was much friendly and warm correspondence between his wife and my mother, she would not have called on them for help either.

She also didn't phone friends, neighbors, or her church until that last day. As I reflect on her life, I become more aware of her need to be very much independent of others.  

My mother kept a gigantic part of herself deeply hidden.  I remember asking her a couple of years ago what she wanted to eat, as my husband and I were planning a special family gathering and wanted very much for her wishes to be honored.  It took me twenty minutes of patient (and probably not so patient) questioning before she could even mention offer a special food request that was unique to her.  It was always, "I know that so and so likes this, and you like that" type of answer.  I kept asking, "But what you YOU want?"  I'm not sure she really knew--she'd spent much of her life trying to figure out what everyone else wanted and in the process may have lost touch with her own preferences.

I've barely started to read her letters, but it is already clear that they are primarily about others.  Only rarely does she write of her own experiences, her own feelings, and how what happened around her affected her.

There's a powerful strength in this.  There is also a unique aloneness in this determination to keep people distanced emotionally.  And perhaps to keep own emotions distant from herself as well.  

Yesterday, I wrote a draft of her obituary.  I sought to capture her life in the confines of a short newspaper column.  In the writing, I realized again how little I really knew her in the most intimate sense of the word.  

I think the most basic of all human needs is to be both fully known and fully loved.  I also know that few of us are actually willing to be fully known because we live with the fear that says, "If you really did know me, you could not possibly love me."  So, we choose protection and invulnerability in activity, in accomplishments and addictions, in distractions, in work and hobbies, in anything that will keep our surfaces somewhat intact so the swirling chaos underneath can stay hidden.

To some degree, this will protect us from the pain of vulnerability.  But at some point, each of us will indeed die. And then someone will go through all our stuff.  That stuff, or perhaps even lack of stuff, alone reveals so much.  I'm just pondering how much we miss of real life and supportive relationships by this need to hide our true selves.  

As I write this blog, detailing my own experience of walking through this valley of the shadow of death, I have sought vulnerability.  I'm touched to tears by the comments I'm getting in return, mostly by email.  I also admit my own fears at so revealing my intimate and personal thoughts here.  It's easier to stay hidden, covered, protected, invulnerable.  But it is my prayer that my own journey here will at some point help others.  

So, I take yet one more deep breath, and keep going.

And, speaking of breathing, Mother passed a very, very peaceful night, thank goodness.  She continues in her deep sleep, almost completely unable to be roused at all now (she had about two minutes of a slightly awake state after her bath yesterday).  The supplemental oxygen and the frequent administration of morphine continue to relieve the worst of the sleep apnea, but I also noticed that she is perceptibly slowing her breathing pattern again now.  She takes a breath, and then waits four seconds before starting the next one.  I assume those four seconds will turn to six and eight and even longer over the next few hours and days.  I keep remembering that her mother died at 5:30 on a Friday, and wonder what will happen at 5:30 today.

1 comment:

charlotte g said...

I was thinking yesterday about our perceptions of one another, how we all want to read others and be read truly. I was thinking that as deeply as my sons love me, there is much they don't know about me, and vice versa. And that seems appropriate to me. What we do know is that we love each other. You have never doubted your mother's love, or she yours. It really doesn't get better. More interesting, certainly, but not better. You are blessed. And so has she been.