Tuesday, June 11, 2013

F-word 2.0: The Graveyard Shift

Originally posted on Posterous, May 31, 2012

Stephen King may be a master at delivering ordinary things that have somehow been transmuted into the unspeakable, but he missed one biggie: a nursing home at 2 a.m. The muted colors (so peaceful during the day) blend into creepy indistinctness at night, and sounds that aren't nearly so noticeable at during the busy daylight hours (various creakings and moanings; near-silent footsteps; someone screechy-sobbing down a distant hallway) become arrestingly, conspicuously, sinister at 2 a.m.

Why the macabre mood?

Some (probably) well-intentioned, but thoroughly misguided, person seems to have given me a subscription to the Death of the Month Club. In October, it was my father. In March, my mother-in-law; in April, my aunt. We're nearly into June now, and my mother's been seriously working on not getting it over with for the last four weeks.

Like everyone else's, my life is already crammed to bursting with work, family, and a bazillion more-trivial things. But, as Emily Dickinson put it, 'because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me', although I heartily wish he'd go stop for someone else. So many people gone, and in such swift succession, leaves my heart an empty house—windows shattered, door swinging crazily from one hinge—abruptly vacated by occupants I loved.

Seems to me there must be as many ways to go about dying as there are people who do it. For some, it seems to be as easy as walking from one room into another. It was that simple for my father, who went at home, in his favorite chair, in his sleep, with a stomachful of cake and ice cream. (Sign me up!) Others, like my aunt, make up their minds, and depart with the same grim determination with which they made the decision to go.

For others still, it's a protracted, ugly mess that pulverizes everyone in the vicinity emotionally and physically. This is the slough in which my mother is stuck. Terrified of death, 80 years worth of Christianity has been no comfort to her. She's so worried about what to say to God, when she gets there, that she wants her hand held constantly. She simply can't cope with the fact that her body is failing, shutting down.  Nights, her mind roams free, into nightmare territory: there's a huge black man standing in the corner, she says. He's got blue stuff in his eyes. I'm to get the rake from the closet, and chase him away with it. Needless to say, there's no man, no rake, and no closet.

For a week and a half, she ate nothing, and is so diminished she looks like a mad scientist's biological experiment. In plain terms, she's dying. And she's too frightened to talk about, or face, that fact.

It's a Catch-22, and not just for mom. Though it's our natural end, talking about death is frantically bad form. "Funeral" seems to be the new 'f' word. Astonishingly pointless, this attitude: refusing to think about it won't make death go away, any more than willful ignorance will halt any other inevitability. The bottom crust is the end of the pie, and nothing's going to change that.

Keep your mouth shut, though, and people will tell you you're not dealing with it. You're emotionally repressed, or (my favorite) you're in denial. Fact is, you just get tired of giving an honest answer to a question and then watching the concerned person who asked sidle off, stage left, oozing witless discomfiture.

We have no proof of heaven, only of hell—this is it, for all parties concerned.

(End note: we finally lost Mother in the small hours of New Year's Day, 2013.)

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