Death is around my mother now like an energetic cocoon waiting to merge with her physical body and dissolve its solidity into an expansive freedom.
It doesn’t stand by the door the way it does during childbirth. It is more a curious observer there, wondering if mother or child will pass beyond the edge of reality and need a companion to guide their spirit home. No, it is not that kind of death that awaits my mother. That kind of death comes for an otherwise healthy body. Its occasion is sudden, accidental or unexpected.
The death that waits for my mother is slow and subtle. Each day it sucks away minuscule amounts of desire, until her once-active body can no longer will itself to turn the pages of the latest mystery novel arriving in the mail.
The slender hands that once fashioned silky strands of childrens hair into intricate french braids, now struggles to hold a comb or press the spring that fastens her silver hair clip.
The morning reunions she enjoyed with friends at her favorite breakfast café, have been replaced with bottles of painkiller and a glimpse at the newspaper before returning to bed.
This was the woman who danced, sang heart-felt blues at the upright piano and raced around the globe in search of adventure and inspiration. She has no desire to die. Her grasp on life has always been full and present, holding as much of it in each hand as she could manage.
But now she swallows anti-depressants so she can stomach her reality, the reality of having life’s brilliant dance move farther and farther from her feet. I am not living. I am only existing, she admitted with sadness and resignation. My mother does not believe in complaining, finding fault or dwelling on the negative. She has never referred to herself as old, and continued wearing prom dresses into her eighties.
Death has not claimed her yet, but has moved close enough to examine her breath, weaken her heart and shrivel her body. Her mouth is flung wide in sleep, her breathing open and labored. I know she is fighting. She is thumbing her nose at death and saying, You will not close my mouth or steal my connection to life. Witness the strength of my breathing. Witness the power of my will.
But death does not come at her like a warrior or an avalanche. Death is patient and quiet. Death has time and the confidence that comes from assured victory. It moves slowly, taking back a tablespoon of vitality here, a cup of life force there. It has already stolen the radiance from her smile and precious memories from her heart.
Can she hear death whispering? It is coming closer every day. It’s okay to sleep, death assures her. Let your bed comfort you now. The world is too fast and too noisy. Enjoy the softness of your sheets, the twilight haven of your room. Feel your chest move up and down. There is nothing else that’s important. Just watch your breath move in and out. Begin to surrender. Begin to think about letting go. I have you. As soon as you’re ready, I have you. There is nothing to fear.
One day soon my mother will free herself, like a ship coming untethered from the shore, and we will have her no more.