My mother and father have visited me quite a bit since I was discharged in late November from hospital to home hospice/palliative care. They’ve seen my ups and downs, moments when I can hardly keep my eyes open from the fatigue or times when the pain is overwhelming, and other times when I greet them at the door, proud that I have the energy to do so.
At the end of some of those visits, Mom has often slipped me some money instructing me only to buy some telephone cards. That way, she and Dad wouldn’t worry about waking me when I should otherwise be resting. I could call them instead using the phone card. While visits are always better, the truth is that the 2-hour drive between their home and my home has been difficult during this long and cold winter. Phone cards and regular conversations minimize the distance and worries about car travel for them (I really can’t make the trip, no matter how much I would like to do so).
On a recent visit, when I was feeling especially weak and in pain, Mom whispered in my ear, as she hugged me and said good-bye, how her deepest wish was that I would recover, that God would provide a miracle, a miracle in which we would follow the natural order of things; namely, that she the parent would pre-decease me the child. In effect, she was wishing for her own death and for my life.
I get it. I’m a parent too. Like her, I would never want one of my children to die before me.
To her, I’ll always be her Donny, the first-born and eldest child. Mom has experienced the out-of-order death of a child twice before. I think anticipating a third death weighed heavy on her heart.
But life and luck sometimes continue to trip us up and kick us when we’re down.
A couple days ago, Mom fell while leaving their house to go for a ride in the car. She broke her hip, a clean break and one that would normally be amenable to a plate-and-pin mending procedure.
Things were looking good. Then today we discover that she will not be getting that surgery after all. For a variety of reasons, she will not be recovering from her fall. Instead, it appears almost certain that she will predecease me after all. Her medical team will do all they can to keep her pain free, but there isn’t much more they can do for her. She is dying.
But she is responsive. She is loved and she knows it. That is something we share with one another. Although circumstances should be different for both of us, there are two certainties, the physical certainty of death and the emotional certainty of our love for one another. Whatever the timing and however nasty and unfair it might seem, love takes away much of the sting of death’s tragic inevitability.