Saturday, September 02, 2006

Facing the Unknown

I hear Bea early in the morning but do not get up. When I go in at 7, I can tell from the odor that she has had a bowel movement, part of this experience of life on earth. I remove the comforter that kept her toasty during the night and replace it with two blankets, to provide a gentle cooling down of her body prior to changing the brief. Bea seems subdued. Her mind has not been idle, however. I wait patiently and take her hand. It is even colder than usual.

BEA: “I was thinking … that it is time… for me to die.”

Her face is solemn. She is speaking in a hushed tone, almost a whisper. Words of comfort spring into my head.

ME: “We love you.”

BEA: “How are you related to me?”

ME: “I’m your daughter.”

BEA: “I was lucky to get you as a daughter. Do I have any other children?”

ME: “Nick. My brother.”

BEA: “Oh.”

Bea is thinking hard again. There is something more she wants to communicate. I sit there, studying her face. The skin on her cheekbones seems sleeker, younger. Her pupils are pinpoints of black in a sea of light blue.

BEA: “I don’t know how to express it. I’m going to die soon. I’ve become aware of it …”

ME: “It’s all right to die. You’ve lived almost a full century.”

BEA: “I don’t want to die.”

ME: “I know. But dying may not be as bad as you think. You just leave your body behind. That’s what I believe anyway. You are such a strong life force, I do not think your spirit is going to disappear. It will always be with me anyway. In memory, at least ...”

When you care for an elderly parent, you have the opportunity to get close to something profound, closer, in fact, than I personally have ever been, except perhaps while giving birth. The elderly are like infants, totally helpless, but they can speak and do express what they are experiencing. Anyone who chooses a nursing home is not going to know this closeness because he or she will not necessarily be there to listen. Like quality time for a child, the moment has to be just right. What a gift to hold Bea’s hand as she faces the unknown! The mystery of it is awe-inspiring.

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