I've just started reading Atul Gawande's Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End--the book purchase prompted by a particularly long siege of pain, physical, and its companion, the psycho/emotional whiplash. Pain, mine and others, makes me consider the question of quality of life. I've a couple of friends with whom that conversation happens regularly.
This post today though is prompted by the twelfth anniversary of my mother's death--February 10, 2006. My sister and I had moved into my parents' home for a couple weeks before my mother died to help my father with her care. My father would call out from the other side of the house in the night, "Girls!" and we would come running to their room to help my mother get into the bathroom. I can remember following my sister through the living room running as fast as our middle-aged legs woken from fitful sleep would take us. At one point, we, the three of us, could no longer manage to get her safely out of bed. Rarely was my mother angry with me or anyone else, but she was extremely upset with me after we had to tell her she could not get out of bed anymore and that it was "for her own good." She was someone who never gave up. We had taken from her, or cancer had, the last act of independence. Later that night, I went to her room to check on her, and I'll never forget her tone as she asked me why I was there. Thankfully, those were not the last words we exchanged.
I could talk about my mother endlessly--her joie de vivre, her dignity and courage, her smile, one of the most constant and loving things I've ever known.
My mother wanted to be home to die, and she wanted hospice. Our experience with hospice was not what I would have hoped for and not as much support as I would have thought there would be, but there is one woman whose "work" and compassion is "faith-restoring." Her name is Shelley Solarz. I don't recall what her title was, but if I were to give her one, it would assuredly be savior. Her task was to help my mother bathe, and later to bathe her. Who could have possibly known that what she did for my mother accounted for some of the kindest final acts of my mother's life. She understood the idea of "quality of life" in the face of dying.
I celebrate my mother in my thoughts today, and I celebrate those in my life who make life worth living.
--For Shelly Solarz, the Bather
My mother relished clean.
Her druthers, fresh linens daily—
thread count rising.
She never missed a shower
or a chance to wash a load of clothes.
Likely we were the most laundered
family on Bloomer Drive—pants and shirts
and socks, barely worn, spun with Tide.
Tags snipped. New garments agitated
in the machine before they touched
our skin. Guests’ towels
plucked from the rod--
shower steam barely vaporized.
When cancer pressed in
her fierce independence
fell to the floor with the towel.
Then the Bather came. My mother longed
to climb in the tub to shower.
The Bather made this ritual happen.
My mother let her--
this Bather to the Queen of Sheba.
Too soon the Bather shouldered
bottles of water
to wash my mother’s silvered hair in bed,
to sponge her failing flesh.
I sat on a chair as the sun
elbowed its way into the room
followed the rhythm
of the Bather’s hands. In reverence.
A waft of cherry blossoms in winter.
My mother’s body stiff, absorbed
in holding on.
I witnessed her soften, melt
into Egyptian cotton.
first published in The Blue Heron Review
The Revival Tour
Poet Bloggers 2018
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