Every time I saw my Mother, I knew it could be for the last time.
I guess that statement is always true, for all of us, everywhere. But our goodbyes are usually not underscored by such tremulous thoughts.
But with my Mother, I thought it every time.
In fact, I prayed for it.
I remember one day, twenty-five years earlier. I picked up the phone and heard these words:
Hallie, I do not want any extraordinary measures to keep me alive.
Not even a hello!
She was healthy then. She was also clear and determined and firm. I am doing a Living Will and I do not want any extraordinary measures to keep me alive. I want you and your sister to know and I am writing it here so there will be no doubt.
And there it was, on the bottom of her typed Living Will, written in her clear, cursive hand:
I believe in quality of life, not quantity of years.
But there were no extraordinary measures. There were, however, extraordinary genes keeping generations in our extraordinary family living to extraordinary old age.
I visited those ancestors. Or at least I stood by their graves. I stood by the graves of her parents and siblings and I asked them to take her: She is ready. She is tired. Your youngest–your “dearest, sweetest Pico”– wants to go home.
I thought that when the moment came, she would finally have her wish.
And I thought that when the moment came, I would feel relief;
Relief that those beautiful almond-shaped hazel eyes would no longer be shrouded in confusion;
Relief that my once dignified, smart, sparkling mother would never again hit a nurse…
Or throw her food…
Or scream obscenities.
For the record, I had never heard my Mother even murmur an obscene word under her breath. Never.
But the nursing staff was blunt: Oh, she knows them, all right!
She would not want this. She was 95. She believed in quality of life, not quantity of years.
She even wrote it!
When the moment came, I expected relief.
I was in for quite a surprise.
How did I not know that this loss would be harrowing?
That despite her condition, her wishes, and her Living Will, I would not be able to grasp what had happened.
It was simple: my Mother had died. I was completely unprepared for the paroxysm of grief that engulfed me.
Grief; that word had little meaning for me.
Does it mean you can’t taste food…think in complete sentences…sleep?
Does it mean that the things that you have always loved, like the Sunday paper or a World Series game, are suddenly annoying intrusions?
Do ordinary conversations, with a friendly store clerk or taxi cab driver, seem to demand superhuman amounts of energy, stamina and concentration?
And as you slowly, gingerly, try to put one foot in front of the other, does the slightest curveball–from a lovely, familiar scent to an angry fist-shaking motorist–deliver an unexpected knock-out punch?
Be careful what you wish for.