All those years to prove how much I care
I didn’t know it, but you were always there
Till September when you slipped away
In the middle of my life on the longest day
Now I hear you say
I’ll be watching you from above
Cause long after life, there is love
Baby I’ll be watching you from above
Long after life, there is love.
Roseanne Cash - from "I Was Watching You" - written for her father, Johnny
Something told me I needed to go. The plan was for me to go down on Thursday after work, and spend the following week with Mom. But, as soon as I read brother Jim's e-mail about the turn of events in Pawleys Island on Sunday night, I knew I needed to go. We all talked - my siblings and I - on the phone Monday morning, and all agreed it would be a good idea if I went down.
It took a couple of hours to juggle things around, and I was on the road. That trip has never gone as fast as it did yesterday. Ever. There was virtually no traffic, no slowdowns, all the way, not even coming out of the D.C. area - on Labor Day. This just doesn't happen. 8 hours door to door. It usually takes 9 or 10, with the traffic, on a non-holiday.
I do tunes when I travel. I flip around on the Sirius/XM channels, switch to the IPod, pop in a CD, just keep mixing it up as I go. Several songs really nailed me - Jackson Browne's "For a Dancer", James Taylor's "Enough to Be On Your Way", and a few others. It rained off and on all through the Carolinas - both inside and outside of the car. I didn't understand why I was being so emotional. After all, they'd said it could just be a bad infection that had caused this turn. She was moved into the hospice house while I was on my way. It was a good rain - a washing rain. It felt right.
I got there at 9. When I first walked into her room, I thought I was too late. She didn't look like she was breathing, and she had that look - I'd seen it on my Dad, and on my Father-in-Law. As I moved closer to the bed, I saw that she was still breathing. She was doing some serious sleeping, though. I didn't want to disturb her. I could tell that she was doing some real work in that sleep.
The nurse came in to give her her medicine. Mom woke up - sort of. She tried to form words, but they just weren't coming. I said, "Hi, Mom, it's Pete. I'm here, now. It's o.k. I'm here to help you do whatever you want to do." She closed her eyes, and opened them again, and nodded, just a little bit. I took that as, "Well, it's about time you got here!" No, really, I was pretty sure she knew it was me.
We spent the better part of the next hour working on taking the medicine. It was quite a job. Her mouth just was not working too well. But she kept trying. She finally took it all. She wanted to keep talking, so we kept talking. It was a bit like playing charades, and we both loved games, so we did that for awhile. She seemed to want water, but couldn't really swallow it. She'd make motions like she wanted water, then when I would hold the cup to her lips, she'd shake it off. Then I remembered - Dad loved to suck on ice chips when he was where she was. I got the nurse to bring a cup of ice chips, and we did ice chips for the next two hours. She was clearly digging the hell out of those ice chips. There was a much deeper communication going on between each chip going from the cup to her mouth. I could feel it, and just kept making sure that I was there for it. I did not understand it, but I knew - it wasn't about me and my understanding. This was her moment. I was just the lucky one who got to share it with her. This was the most beautiful conversation I think I've ever had. Ice chips.
At one point, I said, "Hey, Mom - if you're up to it, maybe we could go to the beach tomorrow." This caused the most animated reaction I had gotten from her. She made a sound that sounded like "Huhhh?!?!", opened her eyes a little wider, cocked her head, and I'm pretty sure smiled. That's what I felt, anyway.
The nurse had asked if I planned to stay the night. There was a chair that opened into a bed, in the corner by the foot of her bed. I hadn't planned on staying - but, the more we "talked", the more I knew - I was staying. After a few hours, it felt like we'd said everything there was to say. The last part of the conversation was, she was trying to show me something with her hands. We played charades for a little while, trying to figure it out, until I got it - I thought - she kept putting her hands together, and holding them up, ever so slightly. "You want to pray?" She brought her lips together. I took that as "Of course - what the hell do you think I've been trying to say for the past 10 minutes?"
So, we prayed for few minutes. It felt like we were done, so I crawled off to get some sleep. I was thinking, it is definitely just a matter of days, now. I was thinking about how Dorothy and I might figure out "shifts", so one of us is always here with her, through the week.
I woke up at 7, and the nurse came in to take her vitals. It took her awhile to get the blood pressure reading. Mom didn't wake up. She was still breathing regularly at that point. The nurse said to hit the nurse's station button when Mom woke up, so they could give her her morning meds. I ran out to my car to get my toothpaste, and was getting ready to take a shower, when I noticed the pauses in her breaths. There were long pauses between her exhales and her inhales. I remembered that from Dad, too. This was when he would count, "1, 2, 3", and look around. He was talking practically right to the end, and on one of these long pauses, everyone in the room was watching him, thinking the same thing, when he said, "I'm coming back" as he took a breath in. This went on for days, with Dad.
But Mom never like to mess around. When she was ready to do something, she just liked to do it. I went over and sat beside her, and took her hand. I silently counted with her during the pauses a couple of times. I didn't do it out loud - I didn't want to piss her off. I could see that pissing her off. But, I felt like she might need a little encouragement to do what she needed to do. I just tried to let her know, silently, that she was o.k. and could do it.
At about 8 o'clock, she drew her last breath. She let it out. I was still holding her hand. I couldn't tell by her hand, but she never took the next breath in. After about a minute, I rang the nurses, they came in, and confirmed what I knew, but couldn't admit to myself, just yet. "She's gone."
There will never be another one like her. This Rosemary was one of a kind. I miss her terribly already, and it hasn't even been a full day. But, it has been a really long day. The longest.