Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Comfort and Company of Strangers

 NPR host Scott Simon shared his mother's final days with the world. (Politico)

Three years ago, actually three years ago to this day, I walked out of the church of my childhood and thought, “I never have to go through this again.”

I didn’t mean Mass, although I’ve managed to avoid that since then. I was walking out of the church after my mother’s funeral and thought, “Both of my parents are gone. I never have to go through this grief again.”

It was a strange feeling of relief and it brought me a little momentary comfort. The problem was it turned out not to be true.

I used to feel a sense of relief about it. Now I just hurt for what awaits my friends and cousins.

Mother asks, "Will this go on forever?" She means pain, dread. "No." She says, "But we'll go on forever. You & me." Yes.

I thought of that experience while I read the touching tweets from National Public Radio host Scott Simon as he told the world the details from his mother’s deathbed in the past few days. He was, essentially, live tweeting the end of his mother's life the way one might live tweet a basketball game or the Oscars. On the one hand it seems odd and creepy. But if you have gone through this, you know you have so many thoughts to sort through when, ironically, life comes at you fast and furious as a life around you ends.

Simon seemingly has had to go through much of this alone. I can’t even imagine. There are six of us. And there are children. And there are spouses. And we were there.

My mother’s end came quickly. A slow road to quickly, but what was expected to be a temporary stay in a nursing home became the last place she slept. We promised her we’d never leave her alone and we never did, and none of us were ever alone with her for her final three days.

And if you think they don’t know what is going on around them, you are seriously mistaken.

I know end might be near as this is only day of my adulthood I've seen my mother and she hasn't asked, "Why that shirt?"

My mom was in and out of consciousness the last two days of her life. As she slept, I had a conversation with one of my sisters about something someone close to me had done that I thought was particularly appalling. It was something recent and raw and something I had kept from my mom because I didn’t want her to feel bad for me.

It didn’t matter. You apparently can’t keep a mom from protecting her children even when she is unconscious. Later that day I heard her mutter in her sleep the name of the person who I had told my sister about, saying over and over again, “X isn’t good to Jane. X isn’t good to Jane.”

I tried to protect her from feeling bad one last time. I failed miserably.

I am getting a life's lesson about grace from my mother in the ICU. We never stop learning from our mothers, do we?

Yet the company in the room clearly made a difference for her, even when we thought it might not.

“It’s too quiet,” my mom said in a moment of lucidity two days before she died. My siblings and I enjoy each other’s company immensely. It was clear it was OK to have a good time in Mom’s room if we wanted to. In fact, it seemed to be her preference.

That’s good, because in a weird way, we did. Little by little the whole family rolled in and my mom woke up clear as day and saw her grandchildren, two of which came from across the country. The joy on her face will stay with me forever.

We gathered up enough chairs to have a dozen or more in a horseshoe around my mother’s bed. At 1 in the morning we sat and dished and chatted and giggled, even as Mom lay unconscious. I had left my bottle of water on the opposite end of the horseshoe and asked my brother to pass it to me. Like a beer purchase at a baseball game, the bottle of water went one by one through a row made up of my entire family.

Like at a baseball game, I gave my brother a dollar and passed it back one by one among my family. My brother took the dollar, pulled out four quarters and passed them back to me.

Oh, to have gone through this alone, I cannot imagine.

I am not sure my mother understands Twitter or why I tell her millions of people love her--but she says she's ver touched.

Via social media, Scott Simon captured the beauty and the pain wrapped together in one of the hardest moments life can give us. He found some company, too, in the more than a million people who are following him. It wasn’t exploitative, it was painfully real.

And it didn’t have a happy ending. His mother died Monday night.

The heavens over Chicago have opened and Patricia Lyons Simon Newman has stepped onstage.

She will make the face of heaven shine so fine that all the world will be in love with night.

I wasn’t there when my mom passed. I feel awful about that, but I couldn’t have known it would be at that moment. It’s not like TV or the movies when someone just benevolently tells you, “It’s time,” and everyone gathers like the Whos down in Whoville.

This is what looms for so many that I know. I wish I could say it’s easy, but that would be a lie. I wish I could say you can prepare, but you can’t. I wish I could say you'll do everything right, but you won't. What I can say is there can be instances of incredible beauty that will stay with you longer than the pain of the moment.

Scott Simon showed 1,244,957 of his followers that over the course of a few days. Clearly, they showed it right back to him.

Thank you for all yr warm wishes and prayers. Such love drives the world.

Scott Simon can be found on Twitter at twitter.com/nprscottsimon