What day was it on the calendar?
I did not know.
I only know I was speaking with my mother, pushing her along in the wheelchair along the Marina path. The sky was bright, the boats were anchored along the dock, she said she was hungry and wanted a steak.
It was last Monday, August 18th and Linda brought her a burger from In N’ Out. My mother said it was delicious.
The next night she asked for pizza.
The steroids that she had gone back on seemed to be making her hungrier, putting food for life back into the body of a woman in Stage 4 cancer.
Linda came and said mother is looking better. Vital signs were good. Blood pressure 102/59, pulse 62, temperature 98.6.
I was back on Thursday, August 21st.
Caregiver Bertha, a Guatemalan woman who is a fireball of energy and love, cooking up soups, cleaning windows, massaging oil into my mother, rolling her out of bed into the wheelchair, said my mother had been up all night screaming, “Help! Help! Help!”
I blamed the steroids. They were keeping her up.
My mother told me she was dying. She said this was it.
Bertha laughed and said “Miss Lou you are not dying. Your face has color. This is not death!”
My mother said that Anisha was in the other room. I said Anisha is gone. She said she saw her. She said it over and over again. We were conversing, but the conversation was repetition. I was speaking to her, as I had for the last half century, but the words were going into a mind going into death.
My mother said I was sick. I told her I was not. “Why are you sick?” she asked. She said something about a concussion.
On Friday, my sister-in-law Pri visited and spoke with my mother. Later I came over and found my mother asleep. When she awoke, her eyes were watery, and she asked for her sister Millie. “Millie, Millie, Millie, Millie, Millie…” And I dialed the phone, 90-year-old Millie in Chicago answered, and on speaker she spoke to my mother, “Lou I love you. You are my favorite sister.”
The nurse from Skirball came, cheery, on her last call of the day, before she went off work for the weekend. As she had, all along, the hospice nurse offered empathy and most of all, pharmaceuticals. She had no explanation for my mother’s descent into half-life. She wanted to make sure my mother was “comfortable” in her “transition”, the words as soft and false and phony and amorphous as the hospice treatment, a kind of strange medicine offering prayers from amateur rabbis, talk therapy from retired therapists, and weekly visits from drug dispensing nurses pouring morphine and Lorazepam into the mouths of the dying.
My mother asked me to close the drapes in the room. She said the light was blinding her. She said her head hurt. She said she ached all over. I pulled the drapes shut, and we sat in the dark, which felt ominous, a portent of death, shutting out light.
On Saturday, August 23rd, I went down to the apartment to welcome a new caregiver, Marta, who would be there in the last days of my mother’s life. Bertha stayed, until 3 O’Clock, training the new woman.
A blonde, middle-aged female rabbi came to the apartment, ludicrously dressed, to my eyes, in a doily lace yarmulke, offering exuberant compliments about the 8th floor view. She sat down next to my mother and asked if she was ready to go. She said it was Ok to go. My mother was now dead to spirit, but alive, incoherent, the silly, improvised, bedside portable Judaism lite blew over her like the breeze.
The rabbi left, her utterances to the all-mighty were no match for the wonders and miracles of morphine. True peace and acceptance were swallowed every four hours.
“I give your mother La Morfina. She sleep well,” Bertha said.
The patron saint of cancer.
And I returned on Sunday, August 24, 2014 to her apartment. The front door was open and a wind blew through the living room, rustling the newspapers and sucking the drapes into the open sliding doors.
Danny and I sat next to her, one on each side of her bed.
“Do you know who I am?” Danny asked.
“Danny,” she said.
“Good!” he said.
She said my name and then fell back into her world. And whatever she said next had no meaning. They were only words, coming out, weakly.
“Clicker, clicker, clicker…” referring to the TV remote.