Hospice

I need to tell you about my Memaw.  

I’m not sure why, but I have to write it down. This is not the first time I’ve written about her – and it won’t be the last.

My Memaw is a wispy woman with eyes that shine clear blue despite her deteriorating health. A few weeks ago, she had a stroke and ended up in the West Alabama Hospice facility. Hospice is for the dying. It’s not  a place where you go to get well again. It’s meant to give you a comfortable end, regardless of the kind of beginning or middle your life has led you through. Most patients in hospice are no longer able to understand how the facility gives them a peaceful death, but I suppose it’s a nice gesture.

I remember the paintings on the walls. Many were abstract, the ones I could never appreciate. I’m sure if I ever end up there, I’d still hate them. There were fountains, a gazebo, and a chapel, all meant for the loved ones of the dying. Hospice is there to comfort not only the dying, but also those that are left behind.

The nurses were friendly. Their training must have taught them to smile like they care. To me, it only looks like pity, something I never welcome. Visiting her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I remember there were a few times I’d walk in and see loved ones scattered on the chairs outside of a room, each taking their turn saying goodbye — the women, openly crying, the men, stoic.

My Memaw could barely open her eyes. She was able to say goodbye. I was able to say goodbye, tell her I loved her. I came to terms with losing her. I could let her go. I knew that if she lived, she would just end up back at the nursing home, where she was miserable and incapable of taking care of herself. So I let her go. I could respect Death just this once, telling Him it was okay to take her from us.

My dad once asked me if I knew why everyone is scared of death. I replied that it must be the uncertainty of what follows after.

He replied, “That’s true, Maury. But really it’s that no matter what, you do it alone.”

Death is scary because in the end, no matter who you are surrounded by, no one can come with you.

But my Memaw didn’t die that day. She lived. Today, I visited her. She couldn’t move her head to turn and look at me. She couldn’t even move her eyes to look at me. She can’t eat real food and she has to be turned over every hour onto her side. I am angry and grappling with the guilt of wondering whether I wanted her to die or fight. I told her I loved her. I tried to understand the words she can only whisper and mumble. I told her I knew it was frustrating for her. I told her I knew she was still in there; it was just harder to get the thoughts out now.

I wish I could end this on a hopeful note. I wish I could say something inspiring and wrap all this up nicely, so you can get along with your day and not be sad when you read this. I’m not going to do that though. This is life. It’s not neat and tidy. Usually, it punches you in the stomach repeatedly, and then lets you rest for a bit before resuming its shit-storm on your life. 

So, I just grab an umbrella and keep going.