Life as an Extreme Sport

Cue Scene, Stepping Sideways

I’ve stepped sideways, an aware out of body experience. I’m still aware, still feeling the tears trickle down my face silently, but I see the scene as though it were a movie. I think the disconnect came from the music – we’ve been playing James Gallway since the hospice nurse left.

I got up off the couch a few minutes go, my attempt at a nap dissolving into hopeless failure. I grab my soda, book, and blanket. Cue scene:

The woman is tall, pale, dark circles under her eyes. She’s wearing bright and happy flannel Eeyore pajamas that seem to have done a swap with her – Eeyore is smiling, she’s the one with the gloomy frown.

She walks into the kitchen a bit stiff, pops a couple of pills from the bottles, and grabs a donut hole. She bounds quickly down the short flight of stairs, ready to tell her waiting family that they should have bought more donut holes when a lifted finger and alarmed look from her sister stops her cold.

She freezes in place, taking in the room. Her fater is to her left, sister across the room from him, and between them is a hospital bed. A hospital bed occupied by their dying mother. Curled to one side of her mother is the cat, a soft round ball of possessive watchfulness.

The tall woman walks quickly across the room, to the easy chair directly across from her mother. Tears almost immediately begin their silent course down her face.

Her mother is gaunt, pale, eyes sunken. Her shock of short white grey hair is pushed permanently back and off her forehead, a fashion that would be so contemporary if it wasn’t because of all the hands smoothing he rhair back as they comfort themselves kissing her goodbye.

The younger sister, in her sweats and Bryn Mawr top, is slowly but steadily tending to their mother. She dutifully checks the pulse rate, the O2 saturation, the pain levels and dispenses the bolus as needed. She wipes their mother’s forehead with a damp cloth tracing the hollow curve of the cheek. Gently, gently, she swabs the inside of the mouth with a sponge soaked in water – the only way they can get her any water without starting a line, and they are all in agreement there – no lines.

The father just sits back and watches this, accustomed to the girls and their medical knowledge trumping his. His eyes are closed, but he’s listening – you can see it in his smiles and frowns.

Capturing a Moment

We’ve triangulated around Mom’s hospital bed, Tracy in the place of care, Dad across from them, me at the foot of the bed. I’ve just come downstairs, almost bounding, but was hushed by Tracy as I lifted the curtain to come in. Tracy was watching a portable pulse-ox machine intently. Dad’s eyes are closed, tired resignation all over his face.

I froze in my tracks and immediately my gaze goes to her chest – I hold my breath. Is she? Did she? She shudders then, a deep and wracking noise. Dad shudders slightly in time.

I walked, then, quietly to where I am at the foot of the bed. Small bit of sedatives aside, the tears start falling, tracing quietly down my cheeks. And then the weirdest thing happened – just, my self, I shifted sideways and suddenly saw the entire tableau in front of me differentl. The sisters, reconciled of their differences, the older respecting and honouring the younger’s talents, following her lead and letting te family baby be in control. The tired father, watching his daughters with pride, his wife with deepest sorrow.

With clinical precision, I noted my mother’s shrunken, gaunt body, the pendant of St. Peregrine still on, watching her heart beat, still strong, through the paper thin tissue of her chest.

The detachment continuing, I look around the room – I see the pale beige flowered wallpaper, the honey chair rail, the new light and ceiling fan above Mom’s bed, the gathered chairs, one empty of any visitors we can see but, but with a stuffed animal holding the space as a proxy. I see the pool table shoved against the wall, covered in family photos and medical equipment and a new flat screen TV, video and DVD player tucked behind. The sewing machine turned into a table for more photos, lamps, and a wall of plants Mom has nurtured over the yeras, as she nurtured us.

A thought like that, I think, should send me sobbing. Instead, a lone tear trickles down my face, and I am almost bemused.

What the hell – my logical detachment thinks – is wrong with me? I go through the possibilities, even as my brain notes the perfect warm coffee colour to the drapes that separate the room from the rest of the house, the tasteful touches, from homey blankets to small religious statuary and icons covering both Catholicisn and Buddhism.

Could I have taken too much of the sedatives? Too much pain killers? No – normal amounts, normal times, what else? I had eaten, but that’s a good thing. Maybe, I think as my gaze shifts back around the room and another tear silently escapes, I’ve gone into shock?

And then, as my eyes cross the curtains again, they catch glimpse and it hits me – the music, some instrumental music provided by James Gallway – is playing The Wind Beneath My Wings, and it is the final detail, the little necessary touch, to make me feel as though I am in the end scenes of some dramatic movie.

I almost laugh, getting strange looks from both Dad and Tracy.

The song shifts to Angel of Music and I curl up in the easy chair, pull the blanket over myself, and watch my dying mother struggle to – I don’t know if she is struggling to live or to die, but she is struggling.

I watch her, slowly, tears continuing to fall until I drift off into a light sleep, her face burned on my mind.

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