When I sat down to write this morning, I was torn. I got seven bike rides in last week and had plenty to think about as I traversed the hills, vineyards, and the chaparral of San Diego’s North County. Still, it was a week of rolling contrasts
Though much of my riding time was spent thinking about the beauty of my surroundings, I also spent time thinking about mothers giving birth in subways 10,000 miles from here. I thought about cancer patients held up in bank vaults without their necessary drugs — a lack of water and electricity notwithstanding. I thought about soldiers willing to aim artillery at buildings containing sick people, children, and the aged. Most of my riding time though, was consumed with thoughts of my mother.
In the early morning of March 6, Willie Etta Cohen passed away. She’d been in a nursing facility for the last five weeks of her life. Through most of that, I was hopeful she’d return home, even if for hospice, so she could pass in her comfortable bed — in the place she called home for the last six years.
By late February though, her sleeping increased, her appetite vanquished, and her eyes stayed closed most of the time. I knew she wouldn’t be coming home. I’d work each morning and spend my afternoons at her bedside until visiting hours expired. She’d sleep for most of that time, occasionally waking for smalltalk, to hold hands, and sometimes just stare at each other with that familiar love that doesn’t require words. She was weak though, and fading.
Monday afternoon, February 28, I had difficulty waking her when I arrived. Her breathing was slightly labored, and the shape of her face had changed from days prior. The lines of her cheekbones stood out — a sign of not eating for several days prior. She’d wake up for a moment here and there, I’d tell her I love her, kiss on the cheek, and let her know it was okay to go back to sleep. She looked peaceful.
The following day I returned and she was no different. Again, I sat by her bed, reminding her that all of her grandchildren loved her very much — mentioning each grandchild by name. I told her that her sisters loved her, that her nieces and nephews loved her, that all of her friends loved her, and that her two sons loved her. When I left Tuesday evening, I felt it might be for the last time.
After work on Wednesday, March 2, while driving to her facility, a doctor called to let me know her breathing was labored and he felt she was in pain. He wanted to administer morphine. I gave him permission, explaining that I would be there in just a few minutes. He said, candidly, that’s probably a good thing.
When I arrived, she was in a deep sleep — the morphine had already been given. I sat by her bedside, took her hand, and I thanked her for every day she’d ever given me, every sacrifice she’d ever made, and every ounce of love. I didn’t expect her to make it through the evening. When visiting hours expired, the nurse told me I could stay. Her breathing seemed less labored and I had a sense she’d make it through the night. I whispered in her ear that I’d be back the following day.
Two more days came and went like that. Her breathing would get labored, morphine would be administered, and she’d find a deep sleep. At that point, her cloudy eyes had no life. She would never speak again. It was clear she’d already gone and only her body remained. There was no sign of a person inside. Like I did the night before, I thanked her for every day she’d given me, kissed her on the cheek, and walked away thinking she’d pass during the night.
Early on Saturday morning, March 5, a nurse called and suggested I come up. When I asked how much time he thought she had, he told me he couldn’t say, but followed that up with…
“I’m making this phone call for a reason…“
I arrived just after 8am. She was no different than she’d been the previous evening. All that stood between her and God was the clock on the wall. I remained with her until after dark when, once again, I made the decision to return home. This time though, I knew I was going to say goodbye for the last time.
Again I thanked her for every day she’d ever given me. I thanked he for every apple-cinnamon coffeecake she left on the cutting board for my brother and I after school. I thanked her for all the snickerdoodle cookies, the chicken in Madeira cream sauce I always got on my birthday, the spaghetti and sausage that she made better than anyone. Lastly, I thanked her for believing in me at times when nobody else would.
I ran my fingers through her fine hair, kissed her cheek one final time, and whispered I love you in her right ear. I swallowed the largest lump I’ve ever felt in my throat, turned, and walked away. Some time between 3am and 4am Sunday morning her body let go.
I know this was long, and if you’ve made it this far I thank you for taking the time. What I really want to share with you is this…
In those last five days, my mother’s life evaporated. Her eyes were cloudy, her skin was pale, and pardon me for being blunt, but she looked deceased but still breathing. In a way I can’t explain though, she never looked more beautiful to me than in those final days.
I know my mother was young once, that she was middle-aged, and in time would grow to be an older person. In the end though, my mother got to be a baby again — something most people never get to. That’s as complete a lifecycle is one could ask for. And on the last day of her life, she was beautiful.
This is what I think about what when I ride — and I probably always will… Jhciacb