I had asked My Boyfriend to not join me for hospital visits as I knew my Mom would not like for him see her in that condition. So later that day, I went back alone where I told my Mom about our day. “We got burritos from that place by the grocery store, you know it right?” And then silently reprimanded myself for asking a question when she couldn’t answer. “So anyway, I got a burrito and when I was halfway through, I saw there was a lint ball in it! A LINT BALL! How does that even happen? I mean, I can understand a hair or a bug, but a lint ball?”I shook my head in disgust. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Then I told her how we’d taken My Dad, who’d come up for the day, to see our rental house that afternoon and how he’d loved it. “I took some pictures,” I said. “I can’t wait to show them to you.” And I thought I may have seen her nod.
But maybe not.
That night I returned from the hospital and My Boyfriend said, “What do you want to do now?”
And I said, “Clean.”
One of the (many) things I love about My Boyfriend is that he gets shit done. He just does. I put on some music and we both started cleaning, me in the bathroom, him in the kitchen, and we worked hard and we worked long. As time went by and I could see the end of the chores, I said to him, “Please stop. Please.”
“Why?” he asked, tying off a bag of garbage.
“Because I don’t want to have nothing to do. I don’t want to rest,” I said. “Please just watch a movie or something.” And he nodded and then kissed me on the forehead. I proceeded to do the laundry, her linens, dishtowels. I dusted the house, I mopped the floors, cleaned out the refrigerator.
Over the course of the next few days, My Boyfriend and I got into a routine. He would go to work in the morning and I would go to the hospital. “But isn’t there a chance?” I’d whimper to the doctor and he’d say something , which I can’t remember because I was only hearing what I wanted to hear which was, “There’s always a chance…”
But I know now, that was not what he was saying.
And I’d leave the hospital and go back to my Mom’s and clean. My Boyfriend would make dinner and I’d find myself pouring things from bowl to bowl, “This needs to be in something bigger,” I’d say. Or I’d use two utensils instead of one to serve something. Or plate things on more plates than necessary. I just wanted more dishes to wash. More to do. More to do.
During the evenings, when I’d have to admit there was no more cleaning to be done, My Boyfriend would retire to my old bedroom, where he’d set up an air mattress for us because I couldn’t bear to sleep in my Mom’s bed. I’d stay up all night reading, reloading my Kindle over and over. In the early morning light, when I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, I’d creep off to bed with the NYC sweatshirt My Boyfriend and I had bought my Mom for Christmas when he was visiting in October. I’d carried it around with me constantly since my arrival, like a toddler with her favorite blanket. I’d get into bed and pull it tightly under my chin. “How can this be happening?” I’d whisper to My Boyfriend when inevitably he’d wake up from my tossing and turning. “I’m so sorry, Tracey,” he’d say and curl his arms around me and pull me to him. And I’d close my eyes and feel the tears slide down my cheeks and pool into my ears.
My Dad was there during a lot of this time but I’m not going to get into that, because that is not my story to tell.
But there was one afternoon, when the three of us, My Boyfriend, My Dad and I went to lunch. When I tried to look at the menu I realized I’d lost my short range vision. I could not read the words no matter how hard I tried. “I can’t see this,” I said to My Boyfriend. “If there’s a burger, can you please order it for me? With cheddar and pickles.”
We then went to the grocery store and I realized I’d lost the capacity to easily find words. “I think we needed… that cleaning thing…what’s it called? ” And I rubbed my arm with my hand.
“Soap, you mean?” My Boyfriend had asked.
“Right,” I said nodding. “And that…stuff we put in coffee?”
“Half and half,” he said gently and pulled me into a hug.
And I’d nodded and then shaken my head to rid myself of the thoughts that my body was truly starting to shut down due to the stress and exhaustion.
One morning, I arrived at the hospital and one of the nurses was in my Mom’s room, unwrapping a hairbrush. He looked up when he saw me. “Her hair got messed up when I turned her over, so I thought I would fix it for her. ” I felt my ‘thank you’ hitch in my throat. Because it was such a small but incredibly kind and thoughtful thing to do. I lowered my head and took a deep, shuddering breath.
Three days after I’d been home, her condition had not improved, and I asked for the doctor. I said to him, “If, and I know it’s a big if, if she pulled through what would her life be like?”
He was very, very diplomatic in his answer. But I soon realized with a sinking heart, that I had already been going against my Mom’s wishes. She had always said, if she couldn’t be in her beloved house, taking care of herself, able to write in her journal in the garden, able to watch the birds, able to visit family and friends the way she had, to communicate with ease, then she wanted to be let go. She certainly did not want to be hooked up to a bunch of machines in order to survive.
I knew then I had been doing all this, walking through these days, these hours, I had been doing this for me. And the truth was, I had no right to dictate my Mom’s life. She had already said what she’d wanted.
“Okay,” I breathed. “But not right now,” I countered quickly. “Tomorrow. Tomorrow morning.”
“If it was me, if it was one of my loved ones,” the doctor said in a moment of candor. “I would do the same.”
“Thank you,” I said. And he left and I pulled a chair next to my Mom’s bed. I then spent a long time looking out the window of her room. It was a gorgeous view, with trees and fluttering, singing birds in the foreground and the mountains surrounding the valley in the background. I thought to myself, “This is a beautiful place.”
That night, I stayed up all night and read her last wishes over and over and over. I thought reading her words would make me feel incredibly sad. And it did, but I also felt incredibly grateful. Because although I was ultimately the one to make the decision – she had already made the decision for me.
One of her last loving gifts to me.