WriteInIsrael is writing from Cleveland on this Shabbat and Christmas Eve Day, when all the drivers in the city act as if they learned how to drive in Israel. No kindness on the road. A woman visiting her one-hundred-year old mother at the same facility where my mother lives told me, It’s the holiday rush. Last minute shopping. Wish the nastiness on the roads in Israel were seasonal.
But that’s not what I want to write about now. That’s just local resistance to the real topic that’s on my mind at the end of this Gregorian year. As the year draws to an end so does my mother’s life. I came to Cleveland in a flurry fearing I would not get to see my mother alive, but I’m leaving tomorrow knowing I have said my good-byes and done my part “to release her into dying” (hospice jargon).
Part of me, the part that should have been born in the 1840’s instead of the 1940’s wants to stay with my mother 24/7 so I can minister to her every unverbalized need. That’s also the part that imagines my mother living and dying in my house, that imagined brick house somewhere in northeastern Ohio, not far from my sister’s and brother’s. But having been born into the generation that was commanded to leave home at eighteen, I now reside on the other side of the world from my mother and sister and brother. I rely on the excellent, trained caregivers who know just how to get her from a standing position to prone.
I’ve sat with my mother for several hours a day for the past five days, sometimes just watching her sleep, trying to decipher the words she mumbles like sick and oy. As the hospice nurse told me so convincingly, She’s in there somewhere. Sometimes we get a flicker of her.
The hospice nurse seems to know a lot about dying, though she hasn’t done it herself yet. She says dying mirrors the birth process: your body changes, you know it will end, you don’t know exactly when, but when that happens, there will be a dramatic change. That comparison comforted me for about a day or two. Also her telling me that my mother will never be alone even if nobody is in the room when she dies. I thought she would say something about Jesus in the next sentence (not a Jewish facility), but she didn’t and I appreciated her ecumenical take on death. Everyone chooses, she said, when they die, that is, when they end their journey. I didn’t tell her that one of the reasons I wanted to leave America at twenty-one was because I couldn’t make choices in supermarkets and department stores. I’ve progressed somewhat in that respect and maybe by the time I hit ninety-one, like my mom, I too will be able to decide when to die.
The hospice massage therapist is a blonde woman who floats in on a cloud of love. She comes with her own three-legged stool so she can sit wherever there is a little bit of room. Massaging those at the end of life is my calling she explains and I imagine beyond her warm generous smile there is a world of sorrow and pain, but I don’t ask. She has entered my life as a surrogate angel. She is the one who will hold my mother’s hand when I return to Israel. She is the one who will place her hand on my mother’s foot and if my mother should balk, she is the one who will sit next to her quietly, radiating love like a bulb gives off light, listening to my mother’s moans, putting her gentle hand on my mother’s gray hair.
I am fortunate to have such wonderful women in place for my mother. They have assuaged my guilt. Almost. I can only hope that their lovingkindness will accompany me as well on my journey back to Israel and that within days of my return I will still be able to recall with nuclear vividness those small flickers of my mother I’ve been blessed to experience these past few days, her squeezing my hand, her eyes in mine.