I have not written for several weeks. I apologize for being so out of touch. You see, my mom is dying and it is not an easy death. A fall in June resulted in a broken hip, which, in turn, tipped her into the middle stages of dementia. The first fall has been followed by a second fall tied to orthostatic hypotension. For those unfamiliar with this condition, it translates into my mother’s blood pressure taking a nose dive upon standing, resulting in dizziness and weakness that often leads to serious falls. The most recent fall was her tenth fall in the last year.
The season in which we find ourselves is a tender one as my siblings and I wrestle with providing an appropriate level of care, while at the same time honoring my mother’s desire to not extend her life. It has resulted in very direct conversations between me, my husband and our daughter in terms of our end of life wishes.
I think the hardest thing for me is the paradoxical reality that the medical profession’s call to heal does not always translate into dignity of death. My mother who journeyed with her own mother through Alzheimer’s Disease was emphatic that she did not want her life prolonged unnecessarily, yet that is what we seem to have unintentionally done. While she has both a living will and a do not resuscitate order, she has not been blessed with an easy death.
All of this prompts, of course, questions about life and death. I am deeply touched by the dreams my mother has been having over the last two months. Dreams of her mother and father and extended family waiting for her at the gate. Dreams of my father, who died in 1991, saying it is time for her to come now. I grieve at her distress that she does not know the way. The other day, she was very upset about “missing the train.” Some would say she is not in her right mind, yet I find her most lucid in these moments, as she seeks to find a way to cross the threshold between life and death. It is a privilege to make this journey with her.
So often, the poet provides the best support in threshold times. One of my favorite poets is Julia Esquivel. Her collection of poems, Threatened with Resurrection, speaks to me on a deep level:
I am no longer afraid of death,
I know well
Its dark corders
Leading to life.
I am afraid rather of that life
Which does not come out of death
Which cramps our hands
And retards our earth.
I am afraid of my fear
And even more of the fear of others,
Who do not know where they are going,
Who continue clinging
To what they consider to be life
Which we know to be death.
I live each day to kill death;
I died each day to beget life,
And in this dying unto death,
I die a thousand times and
Am reborn another thousand
Through that love
From my people,
Which nourishes hope!
This I pray: a holy death for my mother. This I know: death precedes resurrection, there is no other way. Perhaps our resistance to death is why we find ourselves in such challenging times. We do not know how to let go, in order to let come.