Monday, October 19, 2009

What I Think About When I Hear Glenn Miller

The last time I saw my Mother she was already underground. She hated everyone and hated herself for hating everyone. Towards the end she would write me these letters about how I didn't brush my teeth right, or how I never put the bottle of ketchup back in the fridge. The letters were about the childhood she gave me. I like to think they were her anger at how short that time was. It was only fourteen years before I got a job and started helping to pay the bills.

I hated her too, or I hated what she had become. It is hard to love someone who is filled with bile and rage. None of the nurses in the hospice wanted to treat her, or even get near her bed. She would scream out at them, yell at them for stealing things she never owned, or even wanted. The hospital called me when she bit a nurse who was changing her i.v. bags. My mother was yelling at her because the nurse allegedly stole her water pick. My mother didn't even floss. She had never owned a water pick, let alone an electric toothbrush.

The doctors barely touched her. Towards the end they only graphed her downward spiral. The charts were filled with vitals and statistics, all shrinking and decreasing, as if the woman I knew, the mother I loved had already left and the remains were evaporating. The only evidence was the charts. They wrote everything down on the clipboard that hung from the foot of her bed, and they wrote it in duplicate on the clipboard that hung on her door. Other than that they told me how slowly she was dying every time I asked.

When the hospice called me for the last time, to tell me mother wasn't going to make it through the night, I tried not to go.

Let me explain.

She wasn't always like that. I remember when I was little and she would put her favorite records on, and we would dance together in the living room. We'd flip the coffee table over onto the couch, and then she'd go and choose a Glenn Miller record, and put it on the turntable. She taught me how to swing dance, how to foxtrot and keep a steady jazz square going. She would turn me and spin me, and then we'd slow dance. She'd hold me close like only a mother could.
Sometimes she would cry and tell me she loved me, and that nothing else mattered. At the time it confused me, why was she crying, we were dancing and having fun. As a child I never made the connection between tears and laughter. At the time, I didn't understand that you could recognize how quickly the most beautiful moments in your life flash by, and how even when you are in those moments you can mourn their passing.

Her illness took all of that warmth away. She lost that part of herself that made her care about moments and people in her life. She'd been in the hospital for the better part of the year by the time we moved her to the hospice. She called me names, and told me how disappointed she was in me. She told me I was a mistake, told me that the day I was born was the worst day of her life. How I wasn't worth the nine months of effort, and the eight hours of painful labor.

When the hospice called, I was listening to music alone in my own empty living room. It wasn't Glenn Miller, I don't even remember what it was. I only remember the silence between the notes, and the how wrong it felt for the singer to mourn their unrequited love. The voice on the phone sounded worried and practiced, and finally relieved when I told her I was coming. I wondered how many times a day that person had to make that call, and how many times no one came to watch their next of kin die. I thought about how horrible it would be to die alone knowing that there was someone out there who once loved you, but couldn't bring themselves to hold you at the end.

I made every stop I could. I was hoping that the nurses telling my mother I was coming would be enough, and she could die in peace, knowing that I still loved what was left of her. I was hoping I would come and find her lying on her bed, looking like she was asleep and at peace, and that maybe I could hold her limp figure and cry, and wish away all the years we spent apart.

When I entered her room she was crying weakly in the dark. Every breath was a sob that took all her strength. It took all of her strength to cry. I sat next to her bed and reached out to take her hand, and stroke her hair, but she pulled her hand from mine. She cowered on the other side of the bed. I sat with my hands outstretched for the better part of an hour before she started to struggle to breath. She stopped sobbing and started gurgling and coughing. Five minutes later she was dead. She didn't get any last words. There were no whispered promises of love, not even any last promises of bile. My mother simply died, her face still wet with tears.

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