Saturday, May 21, 2016

At some point it will all add up to something-or-other

Cocoa Beach
The road that rolled past so swiftly two weeks ago seems to be stuck in slow motion today as we feel our way home through a fog of exhaustion. We buried my mother on Thursday with a bittersweet funeral marked by warm hugs and kind words, a lovely event following two grueling weeks of waiting and watching punctuated by flurries of activity. I can't quite make all the events line up in order--Which was the Day of the Lizards? When did I walk the beach? How did Dad talk that traffic cop out of giving me a ticket?--but instead I'm left with disconnected snippets that don't add up.

How many times did I have to move my car? Twice a day the hospice nurses performed the Musical Cars dance out in the driveway, shifting vehicles around to make room for visitors, so I finally got tired of moving my car and parked across the street, which is where the traffic cop would have given me a ticket if my dad hadn't gone out there to plead extenuating circumstances. I was in the shower at the time so couldn't plead my own case. At such a difficult time you wouldn't think the minor issue of parking would take such prominence, but even in times of suffering, the laws of physics (and parking) still apply.

brown anoles
And so do the laws of attraction. I kept going out on the front stoop to make cell-phone calls and I kept seeing these nondescript brown anole lizards darting around like crazy, but occasionally one would stand still and puff out its brilliant orange throat sac. If this was a mating display, it certainly worked--I caught a pair in flagrante delicto more than once.

I walked the beach twice, I think, once by myself and once with my husband, who flew down after I'd been in Florida more than a week. I had driven down there alone powered by sheer adrenaline, but since then my superpowers had been sorely taxed so I was delighted when my husband arrived at midnight Monday. (Not much traffic at the airport that late.) Before the funeral we took a day trip to see his brother and walk the beach at Cocoa, where the previous week I'd seen skimmers gliding above the water while dipping their beaks into the waves to catch some in-flight breakfast.  Salt air and waves breaking, pelicans flying past in formation--walking the beach provides welcome relief from crowded rooms full of pain and suffering.

But not just pain and suffering. I laughed with an uncle I haven't seen in decades, chatted with my very creative niece, admired my nephew's ability to gather loving words from his cousins and share them at the funeral. I even enjoyed talking with the hospice nurses, who treated my mother as gently as they would their own, offering kindness beyond the call of duty. 

Their duties may have appeared slight--giving sponge-baths and drugs, shifting Mom's swollen limbs to a more comfortable position--but I've never seen anyone keep watch so intently, an exhausting job in itself. They noticed small changes in color and breathing, and I'll always be grateful for the hospice nurse who told me, "She's taking last breaths."

That was Sunday afternoon, just after my uncle left. I'd been embroiled all afternoon in a silent Circle-of-Life drama: back in Ohio, my granddaughter was celebrating her third birthday but her mother, my extremely pregnant daughter, had been admitted to the Emergency Room for IV fluids following a bad bout with some intestinal virus. I was sitting in Florida trying to chat lightly with my aunt and uncle, listening to my mother's labored breathing, keeping my daughter's difficulties to myself so as not to alarm my father.

And then a whole lot of things happened at once: My aunt and uncle left. I spoke to my granddaughter on the phone, wished her happy birthday. My father needed my help with some computer problem. My son-in-law texted to tell me that my daughter had been released and would be fine. The hospice nurse said "Last breaths." My father's pastor arrived. His daughter handed me a hot pan of lasagna. The phone rang. People started yammering all around me. And somewhere in that welter of activity, my mother died.

Since then, my brain feels broken. Events flit past like billboards on a highway when you're traveling 70 miles an hour. Sometimes they convey important messages but more often not. How many South of the Border billboards did we see yesterday? And why would someone post a gigantic billboard asking only "Who is John Galt?"? And what's with all the cans of beans on billboards in South Carolina? None of this matters but I can't stop trying to make sense of it all.

Now we're pausing at my brother's house in North Carolina before making the final drive back to Ohio tomorrow. At some point all the events of the past week will form themselves into a coherent narrative, but by that time I'll be well on my way to the next adventure--welcoming the new grandson, who could arrive any day now. One journey ends while another begins, but all I can do right now is watch the billboards go by.



Contingent Cassandra said...

I'm sorry. And I'm glad that your mother had good care, and you were able to spend time with her, and that your daughter and the new grandson are doing well, and you'll get to meet him soon, and that you don't have to drive back alone. I think it does, indeed, take a while for memories to assemble into a coherent narrative, and then, of course, the narrative shifts, and different people have different narratives (in general, and at different times). My father died a few months ago, in circumstances that were both similar (good hospice care at home) and different (what sound like more complicated family relationships), and my brother and I are still sharing different narratives, about the last few months and about the half-century or so that we've both been members of our family, and even the decades before that. I think the good news is that we can have different narratives while still appreciating the other's point of view.

You and your family will be in my prayers in the coming weeks and months.

penn said...

I echo Cassandra -- she said it so well, as did you in your post. Thanks for sharing your life with us. I'll hold you all in my prayers.

Bev said...

I can't tell you how much I have appreciated all the support of friends and family. There's nothing like a death to remind us that we are all in this together.