As she begins to die, your mother tells you not to let them find her wandering the halls naked. This breaks your heart because she knows her doctor did find her naked, having fallen trying to get out of bed, several nights before. She’s now to the point where she knows that her lucidity sometimes fades, something the doctors call “sundown syndrome.” She gets restless and irrational and downright nasty at times, trying to take off her gown and telling you she has to get out of bed and go.
Your job is to restrain her because she’s too weak to go anywhere. Each of your sisters tries to battle her will in their own way, but mainly they tell her “no.” You know she’s never liked “no” so you try a different tack. “It’s cold in here, Mom, so you need to keep your gown on,” you say. She looks confused but it stops her. She repeats, “It’s cold.” And leaves her gown on. Until, literally, two minutes later when the conversation and wrestling begin again. This goes on for hours and that night, your body aches from holding her hands and bending over the bed. You are not sure your strategy is much better than your sisters’ but at least it avoids the nastiness. Lucid or not, your mother will not be told what to do.
She tells you many things in a very coherent 24 hours, with a rapidity that denotes she knows her capacity for long periods of lucidity is fading. She tells you where to find her granddaughter’s wedding gift, one she bought months ago, for the wedding she will not get to attend in just a few short months. She tells you to give it to her now because it will be too hard for this granddaughter to open it when she’s gone. She tells you that her books are precious and that they must go only to those who will love them as much as she has. She tells you who to call and what to say. And you take it all down and rush home to get it all in.
You hear her saying such flowery things to your sisters and you wonder why you get only instructions. But that is one of the lessons here. Death does not change what is; it just makes it more so. And you’ve not had a flowery relationship.
At the tender age of twenty-one, you were pegged by your mother, who put you and your sister down as her power of attorney for healthcare (the one to “pull the plug” if the situation arose). You were horrified and asked why she picked you, as you were so much younger than the rest of your sisters. “Because you’re strong enough to do it,” she said. “A few of them would be so devastated they’d keep me alive forever. You won’t. It’ll hurt but you’ll do it because you know it’s what I wanted.”
In some odd way, you know this is your mother giving you a compliment. You have clashed mightily with her throughout your life because of your similarity, this strength she referred to, and yet you know she respects you for it because she sees it comes from her. Despite her insistence on control, you have been the one most out of her locus of control. You love her but you would have it no other way. She seems almost relieved when you are there because she does not feel the need to comfort you; she has absolute faith that you will be a rock in the midst of what’s to come. So now, in her hospital room, you get the instructions and you try to just love. You accept what is and try not to resent what is not because it’s so lacking in grace. And grace is all you feel you’ve got to count on now.