My mother often wound up in hospital during last decade of her life. She had good health insurance and a good many ailments, and she generally outstayed two or three hospital roommates.
One afternoon she got a new roommate, her third. But not for long, I thought. Because this one was about to die. The tiny grey-haired woman, whom I’ll call Mrs. Anderson, was sleeping far distant sleep of almost-dead. I have never seen a person more clearly under shadow of death. She had left this planet in her mind, and her body was about to follow.
An aide brought her dinner and tried to shake her awake. Her oxygen tubes and IV tubes rattled, but she gave no response: he might as well have shaken a doll.
When I came back next morning, my mother had no breakfast platter, as she was scheduled for a test that required an empty stomach. Mrs. Anderson had acquired a breakfast platter and a daughter who was trying to get her to eat from it. But Mrs. Anderson’s eyelids didn’t even flicker. She was still far from us, waiting in anteroom of heaven.
Finally daughter disappeared. Maybe she’s Catholic, I thought, and she’s gone for a priest to administer last rites.
Turned out she’d done no such thing.
She’d gone to airport and brought back her two sisters. And now there were three of them, all tall, slender, and blonde, all with a family likeness. And all attempting to resurrect their mother from almost-dead.
“Mom? It’s Deb. I flew clear from El Paso, just as soon as I heard.”
“It’s Connie. I’ve come to be with you. I love you, Mom. Please, please just open your eyes and look at me.”
“Just look at me. Please. Please.” Her voice was shaking.
Mrs. Anderson’s eyes flickered just for a moment, then closed again.
One of daughters disappeared. She returned an hour later laden with food. She had obviously hit a grocery store and hit it hard. Now they had their own grocery store. I wished my mother could have something from it, for lunchtime had come and gone, she had received no lunch tray, and orderlies still hadn’t come to take her to her test.
The Anderson daughters continued to struggle. “Mom? How about some mandarin oranges? You know you love mandarin oranges. Num num. Or a doughnut? Just one bite? It’s chocolate frosted.” No response. Her eyelids didn’t flicker.
Why don’t they leave poor woman to die in peace? I thought.
“We need you, Mom. We love you. You can get well.” But Mrs. Anderson was far from us. The shadow of death lay over her, thick and dark.
Silence fell. I glanced over at her. One of her daughters had climbed into bed with her. She was snuggled up like a snuggly spoon, cradling her mother’s back in her young, warm bosom. One arm was over her mother, holding her close. She was willing her warm, loving life into her mother’s almost dead bones.