Dying and being born

My mother is dying.

We’re all dying,

But she is actively dying

Lying completely still in the

Hospital bed in my parents’ room

At home.

We stopped transferring her to the

Wheelchair the day after


Perhaps her last act of sitting up

Was dozing through the Thanksgiving meal,

The waist strap on her wheelchair keeping her from

Keeling sideways onto the floor.

In bed now,

She lies with her face turned slightly toward the window,

For the light?

Or because she had a mild stroke on the right side,

And she now lists that way?

We don’t know.

Anyway, her face tilts toward the gray winter light.


The hospice workers and nurses–

Don’t give a prognosis,

But days or weeks

Are more likely than months now.

They will say that.

Be ready,

Is the implication.

And I think I am.

It’s been nearly seven years

Since the first symptoms.

But no matter how prepared you think you are,

It’s still a shock,

The hospice chaplain says.

And I believe her.

I’ve never done this before.

What do I know?

It’s not like in the movies

Where you sit gazing into the

Dying person’s face.

You can’t do that for hours on end.

I sit in the recliner next to her bed and

Read my book,

Or work on the laptop,

And look up between chapters or emails

To see if her eyes are open.

If they are,

I might lean across the bed to get my face into her line of vision.

I might smile, and say,

“Hi Mom. Are you awake? Hi.”

It’s rare now for her eyes to focus on mine,

Or for a smile to flicker.

That’s another thing that’s not like the movies:

The dying person staring off into the distance,

Past your shoulder,

At the sky,

Or God.

She’s just not looking at anything.

There’s no focus point that

I can gather.

They say at the end,

The dying person withdraws,

That their focus is inward.

Maybe that’s it.

It’s impossible to speculate,

Or even accurately describe.

I guess I’ll know myself someday.

And by then, I won’t be able to tell you about it.

It’s peaceful, her room.

Their bedroom for 25 years.

Nurses and home health aides pass in and out.

They speak quietly and gently.

Some are more efficient than others;

Some work hard;

Some sit on the couch and text.

But they are all gentle, quiet women.

The room has the same beige carpet and

Floral-striped wallpaper it’s always had.

It’s warm and quiet,

And I rock in the recliner.

I’m 18 weeks pregnant,

And rocking quietly,

I can feel the first flutters and pops of the baby’s movement.

It’s all very circle-of-life.

And yes,

It’s a comfort to everyone

That I’m actively pregnant

As my mother is actively dying.

My two pregnancies will likely have

Book-ended mom’s


It was when I was pregnant with my son,

Six years ago,

And living overseas,

That my parents came for a visit,

And I first noticed it:

She kept leaving books behind at restaurants,

And once she nearly stepped into traffic,

Not noticing the light.

“Does Mom seem more forgetful to you?”

I asked my dad,

And he said,


They were starting to notice things.

Now, more than six years later,

That grandbaby watches cartoons in the next room

While I sit in the dying room.

She is unlikely to see this baby,

Due in May.

Dad told her I’m pregnant

A few weeks ago,

And he thinks she understood.

She grew animated,

And smiled, he said.

That seems so impossible now,

Just weeks later.

She is calm.

She doesn’t seem afraid.

Maybe that’s a final blessing of a disease that

Destroys the brain–

Maybe she’s not conscious anymore of

What’s happening.

I imagine that,

Like her new grandchild,

She feels tactile sensations

Like warmth,

And hears muffled sounds;

She grows closer everyday to the

Next stage,

And has no awareness of

What’s coming

Or what’s gone before.


The first memory of Mom

[We’re going to try something, the psychologist said.

Tell me your


Memory of your mother.]

It’s my earliest


Of her.

It’s at our old house,

The dark brown house.

It’s a summer morning.

My mother


Is in the garden in the

Back yard.

And I come out the

Back door,

And I run

Toward her.

I’m probably about four years old.

I am barefoot,

And the grass is

Wet with dew.

The sun is bright and warm.

The sky is completely


The air is still morning-cool

But you can feel it will soon get hot.

I’m laughing

And running past the

Apple trees

Toward Mom,

Who is in the garden.

She is wearing jeans, and a blue t-shirt,

And a bandana triangled around her

Ears and face.

She stands up,

She rises

Out of the garden,

And is smiling at me,

As I run

Toward her.

The sun,

The sky,

The warm air,

The grass,

The trees,

The smell of soil,

It’s all

Awash with


It is


All of it.



[Do you get to her?

Do you reach her?]

I don’t have a

Memory of

Reaching her.

[But what would happen next,

If you could create?]

She would step out of the


She would walk toward me

In the grass

And catch me up in her


We would both be


In the sunshine and air,

Under the leaves of the

Apple tree.

[What would happen next?]

I would say,

“I love you,


[What else?]

Then my


Would be there, too.

And my


It would be the four of us,

And maybe our old collie dog,

There in the summer yard.

[And then what?]

Then her brothers would

Be there.

And their wives.

My cousins.

Her grandson, my son.

Her parents would be

Off to the side,

Next to the house,

In the shadow,

Out of the sun.

They would be watching,

And smiling,

And waving to her.

[Anyone else?]

Her students,


We would all be there,

Crowded into the yard,

Surrounding her.

[What would happen?]

We would

Gather her up

With our hands,

All of us touching her,

And we would

Lift her toward the

Sun and


And she would lay back on our hands,

And she would be



In the

Warm sunshine.


Good for you

For weeping.


My mother’s brain

My mother is dying.

I mean,

We’re all dying,

But her

Brain is



She has dementia,

Let me describe it to you:

[After five minutes of sitting and thinking of how to


My mother’s behavior and words,


Not being

Able to:]

It’s so hard to show.

The words

She mumbles

And the actions of her


(Still manicured, my father sees to that)

Are so


I can’t

Recall them


I would almost have to

Film her

And transcribe

What she says,

And describe her

Actions as I’m watching

To show you how she is.

My brain,

It would seem,

Likes events and words to

Make sense.

And almost nothing

My mother does

Or says

Makes sense.

Her failing brain

Confounds my


My memories of her,

Even from a few days ago.

Me and her,

We’re all tossed together

In some weird



You can’t


Get pulled in

When you’re around her.

Listening to the mumbling,

Watching the fumbling hands,

You start to wonder,

“Is this normal?

Has it always been like this?”

Next time,

I will try to

Describe her Alzheimer’s.

This time,

My brain feels too