Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Something Left to Lose.
Her doctor has said that three months will be a long time for her to live. She has already gone a long way away from us. Some days she will not talk to anyone, sometimes she cannot hold a cup, keep her balance, focus her eyes. Other times she becomes something like her old, feisty self. She checked herself out of her palliative care room at the hospital last week and went back to her seniors' residence. She is 'doing better', her brother says, the last little while. I think she is angry and the anger is carrying her - she does not want to be a helpless lump in a hospital bed any longer than she has to be. She does not want her daughters' anxious hovering, trying to do for her what little she can still do for herself. She doesn't want anyone's sympathy or pity. She's still the fighter she has always been, even when so much else is lost.
Her daughters are trying so hard to help. I remember my mother's last illness and how hard I fought, coaxing a little food into her, planning to make her hair look better, blinding myself to how fast she was fading. One night my husband said to me 'She's dying, Mary. You have to face it.' How stunning a blow those words were as I did have to realise that I was failing. I couldn't keep her. Now I watch my friend's daughters, her brother, her mother (so fragile herself) trying to come to terms with the same hard truth. I see her daughters fighting, as I fought, to bring her back, just a little, to comb her hair, get her attention, support her. I remember the bewilderment. The stubborn denial. The pain.
The words of 'Bobby McGee' keep running through my head. 'Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.' I've learned that when the person you love has gone, when you have nothing left to lose, the pain is different and finally it too fades to a dry, sealed scar. You are free of concern, of obligation; you also lose the connection although not the love. But it isn't the same love. It's a bowl of pot pourri, not the scented, living rose. I already know that survivors feel guilt, anger, regret. For many years I fought to remember my living vital mother, not the pitiful little ghost she became before she was finally gone.
I love it that my friend is fighting. She may drive her family nuts, she may do things that hurt all of us, but it is so like her. I want to shake her and tell her to let up on her daughters, her brother. At the same time, I want to cheer. She's still herself, aggravating though that self may be.
My friend has always been there for me for more than forty-five years now. Looking after my kids, going with me on escapades, always ready for lunch full of delicious gossip and highly sugared dessert. A provider of advice, of sympathy, of camaraderie, of fun. Vivid, colourful, opinionated, a blazing bonfire at which to warm my hands.
I'm already cold. But I will fight to remember her outrageous hats, her warmth, her real self, to hold her in my heart. And I will try to be there when she needs me until the end.