I had a chill while reading to the girls tonight. So cold. After putting them to bed, I padded downstairs to do dishes and watch the Colbert Report. While fumbling with the remote, the house phone rang. It was the evening nurse, and she wanted to confirm if my mother had a change to her Healthcare Directive. I immediately assumed the worst. I confirmed that she was a DNR as of today and was entering hospice tomorrow. I asked if she arrested and the nurse said no. She said I had to come in and sign an internal DNR form for the nursing home, but it could wait until the morning. Thanking the nurse, I returned to the tube.
I couldn’t focus on the tube, so I space off. And I thought of my mom. Was it a c.y.a. call? An impetus to rouse my attention? Then, I instantly knew what I had to do. I rushed to the nursing home.
In my haste, I passed it. I mean, I was just there this afternoon. How could I blow by? I parked a 1/2 block away and found their front door was locked without an attendant. I phoned hospice asking for help, and (that’ll have to come out later). I managed to loose my car keys, that had just been in my hand. Then I found them.
I resolutely prayed for intervention. Prayed someone would come by the front door and see me lurking. I began to rattle the door. A maintenance guy came pretty quickly. He let me in. I told him I’d just gotten a call from my mother’s nurse. He said no one told me you were coming. But he let me in and followed me to the 1st floor.
Mom had been placed on oxygen. Her breathing: shallow, fast and her mouth hung slack as she panted in air. I kissed her. Staff came in after me and assured the maintenance man I was a relative. She was cleaned before me and I pulled up a chair.
She’d been asleep before they cleaned her. Now, her eyes were open. The bedside console held her prayer cards, youth dew, glasses and a neat, ruby-red rosary with a complete prayer book tucked inside its pouch. It was leather bound and worn by time. I fumbled jocularity. And then, I touched her arm.
Where our skin connected, I felt heat cement them. Her eyes had been everywhere. But as I began The Joyful Mysteries, her eyes settled upon mine. By the 2nd mystery I could feel a warm wrap around my shoulder. My voice spoke for us both. She kept eye contact throughout the prayers. And with each announcement of mystery, I sang a song. But it was on amazing grace that she puffed her checks. I sang a kiddush. I sang, Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam….
We prayed to my patron saint, St. Joseph. The prayers for the sick and dying were all there, right in her tiny, rosary companion. Her eyes seemed bright. I held her gaze and told her how beautiful she is…. and how her gift of joy and wisdom to so many is a testament to how fantastic she is. By now we were holding hands. I told her that one of my most precious memories of her will be masses at St. James. By the Homily, she would be holding my hand. And I said, “your hands were so silky, strong and warm. I would feel your love radiate to me. And it made me so happy. And now, you glow. Look at you.”
Her eyes seemed ready to close. So I told of the book the girls read with me, about a fictional “black sheep” of a family being reincarnated as a tomcat: How he made amends, retired to a pet hotel in Boca Raton and ate pickled herring everyday. Then I ventured, “I guess, if you wanna’ show off and be reincarnated again as a human you can. But your boundless charity and caregiving make you a saint already. I think you’re other-worldly. You’re capable of a higher state of grace.”
I kissed her hand. She squeezed mine. And left.
What a gift! What a miraculous time of grace and love.