Hospital July 21, 2010Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
The chemo claimed her hair months ago, but it was only tonight that I saw clearly how much my mother looks like her father, A.J. as I last remember him, in some nursing or hospital bed before he died, as if somewhere inside I lapsed into past tense, that even as she lay in the hospital bed I placed her among the passed. My aunt and older sisters tell me she looks like Aunt Tee at the end of her life, but I don’t remember Aunt Tee. When she was passing I was too young to be taken to visit the dying. I only remember my grandfather.
In my mother’s sepsis dementia she keeps raising her head from the pillow, looking at me and turning away, putting her head back on the pillow and closing her eyes. I leave my hat on so she might recognize me. The last truly lucid thing she said Saturday, as we stood in the ER hallway waiting for her papers, was: ‘I might need one of your hats to cover up my bald head…” and the rest was lost in the noise of the jostling nurses station and her increasing difficulty speaking. I don’t know if she turns away now because she recognizes me and does not wish to us to be here like this, or if she wakes every half minute and sees the hospital room and lays her head down hoping to see something else, or if she turns away from the ghost of her husband haunting my face, unready to go yet.
She cannot speak, so I cannot know.
She had a brief recovery on Tuesday, greeting her brother-in-law (but not her sister or my middle sister) when they all entered the room. Based on the positive reports of some improvement, I relented to my wife’s desire to let the children come see her. Although she had about worn herself out with visitors and was lapsing back into twilight when they arrived, she managed to tell the nurse, “these are my grandchildren.” I had resisted their visit, wanting them to keep their living memories of their grandmother/ I was glad they were able to see her while she was responsive and recognized them, while she could graciously accept a dutiful kiss on her bald head.
By the time I arrived that night, she was again unresponsive.
My sister thinks she does not recognize us when she opens her eyes but I think she does, or at least manages to recognize a familiar voice. The Dominican nun who lives across the hall in mother’s apartment building came by to visit the other night. My mother is a Dominican girl through and through, educated by Dominican’s her entire life: St. Anthony Grammar School, Dominican High School and College, and she spent her life an officer of her college alumnae association. She and her Dominican friends would visit the remaining sisters from the college in their retirement home across the lake. As Sister Jamie speaks to her, mother stretches herself as if to sit up and opens her eyes wide, but she cannot reply.
In her macular degeneration blindness compounded by dementia she likely cannot see well enough to recognize us except by voice. My eldest sister thinks she lifts her head and turns to look not at us but at the window, in her near blindness to look toward the one thing she can most likely see, the light she can just make out pouring in the window. And perhaps that is what she wants, what she is waiting for: the light.