"Am I dead yet?” asks my mom, and at first I can’t tell whether she’s joking.
“That’s what the people at church want to know,” she says, but it’s not true: they want to know how she’s feeling, whether she’s up and around, when she’s coming back to church, but I think she fears that she’s not going back any time soon or maybe ever.
Mostly what she does these days is sleep. Mostly what I’m doing is watching her sleep, working quietly nearby, reading student papers or assembling a syllabus for a fall class, but every time she wakes up we go through the same routine:
“How are you feeling, Mom?”
“I’m fine. How are you feeling?"
“Great! Can I get you anything? Gatorade, Jello, bowl of soup?”
“Not now. How about you? Can I get you anything?”
Her impulse is to be up and hopping, fixing a meal or fetching a glass of cranberry juice because she knows how much I like it, but right now her body is not cooperating. Simply sitting up and asking the question wears her out. She might take a sip of juice or swallow a pill, but then she’s lying down again and soon she’s asleep.
I came here to help but there’s not much I can do. I sit and watch so my dad can step out to church or to his own doctor’s appointments, or I run to the grocery store to fetch milk and juice and hope to happen upon something Mom might want to eat. She drinks a little Gatorade, swallows some Jello, occasionally takes a tiny bite out of a banana, but that’s not enough to sustain a healthy body, much less an ailing one. Now her pants are so loose they could fit look two of her and she wobbles when she reaches for the cup, but she can’t make herself eat or drink more. “Maybe later,” she says, but later she can manage only one more sip.
Saying I feel helpless sounds like a cliché but it’s true: I’ve never felt so helpless, not just because there’s so little I’m capable of doing but because my mom is so unwilling to accept any kind of help. She refused the services of a visiting nurse even though their insurance would cover it; she doesn’t want me to help her dress even though she lacks the strength to pull up her pants. And so I mostly sit and do what I can: read papers. Work on syllabi. Review a textbook I may want to use for a class I’m teaching next spring (if it doesn’t get cancelled). And I wait—for the next time Mom picks up her head and says, “How are you doing, honey? Anything I can do for you?”
No thanks, Mom. Anything I can do for you?