Of Course, We All Say “Good-bye” Somehow
July 7, 2011 Leave a comment
Note: The old gal took her leave of the stage circa July 4th evening time. Not going to insinuate about her patriotism, or that of her contemporaries now, Mr Adams or Mr Jefferson*. Damnit, Grammy, you would.
About four weeks ago a call came in bright and early one Saturday morning. And Lo grammy did awake in hospice and find that her right arm had ceased to respond. In a panic she phoned her son at 6:35 a.m. and wailed, “I’m sick. I’ve had a stroke. I can’t move my arm. Help. I need help.” And the son left, not uncynically. Mocking his mother to his wife and how she’s just lonely and not a little bit demented from all the ravages of repeated chemo and metastasizing death.
Her right arm hung limp and lifeless and unresponsive, he reported from the assisted living facility, to his chagrin, I’m sure.
Then, later, in her sofa chair, asleep. A blue-eyed pale puddle of human. Slumped over on her right side, pulled down by the dead weight and the cancer that just this past night had grown enough to obstruct the nerve in her right shoulder. Slumped asleep and might as well be… it would be more fair… if she were…
She flutters awake. Deciding, now in the presence of family, that she needed to go to the bathroom. Commenting she’d been needing to get up and go for a while. But, had so far been unable.
She struggles to lift herself without her right arm and fumbles back into the sofa chair. Falls back down. Again up halfway and down. Again, again. Again.
Mom, ever the nurse – as dad and I stand there horrified – hooks grammy under her good arm – her emaciated limb’s excess skin flowing over the support of her family. Dad’s shock has left and he’s got her other arm. They’re lifting her up to stand so maybe she can make it to the toilet. Once on her feet, she grasps her walker one-handed and complains about the slippery carpeted flooring. Excusing why she hadn’t made it up earlier to go to the bathroom and chose instead to congeal in the sofa chair, slumped over around her cancerous right side.
Whatever messages are leaving her brain at this point don’t make it to her feet uninterrupted. Most likely the cancer snags snippets of what for eight and a half decades was precisely the message to move those feet to walk. Instead, she’s sure she’s walking and all she does is stamp her feet. Up an inch and down, obliterating little invisible ant-hills. Up. Down. Up. Down. Staying right where she is.
“The floor is too slippery to walk on,” she says. Now we understand.
This macabre dance goes on for an eternity of seconds before she collapses shapelessly back into her sofa chair. Agape, we stare at the rapidly dissolving grandmother and mother in front of us. Unsure how to proceed.
And we ferry away as the nurse comes in what seems like way too many minutes after buzzing her. She’s there to speedily plop grammy on the wheelchair. To then plop her on the toilet where she’ll plop out nourishments that have kept her in perfect congealing health. Or maybe it’s un-congeal – at this point in the degenerative process. It certainly seemed so earlier, as she sat in the sofa straining her head up and to the left to view us against the dredging weight of the cancer and dead limb. Her pale, swollen, bluish flesh pouring its formless shape to fill the sofa chair.
On the way out the door from this insanely brief visit, horrified, I leaned in to kiss her just left of the lips like every time I’ve said goodbye to her over the years. In the same corner of her lips as always before. For the first time, it felt like love in that kiss. Not just a meaningless gesture: a fluid motion of a kiss to the cheek. Instead, unashamed and immersed in all this humanity, right there out in the open…
All these changes took place in the span of 24 hours. Total degeneration back to near fetal levels of functioning: no walking, hardly any speech, cognitively withering, hasn’t heard too well in months, couldn’t write, could hardly read for just as long. Just fear of death and pain, fear of loss. A desire not to let go yet. But there she was, congealing in her sofa chair, dragged down by the cancer, head cocked up and to the left to view me. And all I could give was a loving goodbye on the lips of the shell of the blue-eyed, vengefully Catholic woman who so long ago would gracefully hand me my ass at board games. Scrabble was her favorite, I think.
Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and a few hours before John Adams.