Saturday, February 2, 2013

Nursery Rhyme

Ladybird, ladybird,
Fly away home.

I was to meet my brother at a Starbucks before driving out to the hospice on Long Island. I say "a Starbucks," because what defines Starbucks better than its reassuring, relentless sameness, whether one is waiting at O'Hare, Heathrow, La Guardia, or Columbus Avenue and 86th Street? So many places to wait, and so many situations that call for waiting.

(Your mother's dying in hospice is one. As if that were a necessary reminder. Hospice by its definition is a Waiting Place, just as dying is a Waiting Time.)

So I ordered my usual (vanilla nonfat latte, for those who keep track), and found my brother, sitting off in a corner, waiting, of course. And I shoved myself into my seat. "I don't have much time," I warned, breathless with anxiety. I'd meant to leave for Long Island earlier, but instead in my brother's apartment I'd lingered, running a bath and soaking in it before deciding to shave my legs. Such a small decision. Such a large piece of avoidance.

Your house is on fire
And your children all gone.

The nurse had called the night before to tell us that my mother was running a high fever. This often meant that death was a matter of hours, not days. But, she continued, coughing delicately, of course fever is never an absolute indicator.

So kind of that nurse, to give me an out. I had just driven back from Long Island into Manhattan and was loathe to make the trip in reverse. It was dark, after eight pm. I was tired. I wanted to eat dinner and play with my little nephew and... There are always reasons.

All except one
And that's little Ann.

At Starbucks the next morning, my brother shrugged, sighed. "You don't need to rush," he said.

It was such an odd, indirect way for me to learn that my mother had died. I raised my eyebrows and stared at him. He nodded, and I cried. He did not cry, not then.

And she has crept under
The warming pan.

Still I got in my car and went to the hospice. I arrived perhaps an hour after my mother's time of death. She was uncannily pale, a waxy yellow-blue - the color of a bruise - and the veins in her hands were ropy, bulging. She was not, however, cold. Nor was she warm. Her body matched room temperature. I hugged it before burrowing my head into the once-comforting cavity between her breasts.

I hadn't hugged her in so long, and now there was no "her" left to hug. Just a body, its owner gone, flown away home, and I, Ann, who at the critical time had clambered down on hands and knees to creep under the warming pan.


Janet said...

I missed my stepfather's passing by an hour. I keep thinking, "I should have left earlier, not bothered to pack" My grandfather was in the hospital and we were all waiting for the end. My cousins took my grandmother down to get something to eat in the cafeteria. He passed away (my uncle was there) about 3 minutes before she got back. It happens. You can't possibly know, and there's nothing to feel guilty about.

Sarah said...

Hmm, Janet, it's not guilt I feel now. It's more that I need to tell it, to have it written down. It happened. It is a matter of fact. Not sure if that makes any sense.

Emily said...

The moment of death is rather an arbitrary time to be at someone's side. I feel like you give such a strong sense of that here.

alejna said...

Oh, Sarah. There is so much to say that I always struggle to find words to put in this little box. I'm glad that you don't feel guilt. You were there for her so much.

I am glad you shared your story. It was beautifully written, as always. I loved the interleaving of the nursery rhyme.

All Adither said...

Gorgeous writing, as always Sarah.

V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios said...

What a way to wrap words around such a profound experience. I love the way you framed it with the nursery rhyme and the insight it tells of you and your brother's relatioship.

Amanda said...


Mary Gilmour said...

Me too. I ran. It still hits me sometimes, how I messed up. But, no, it isn't guilt. For me, it's more like shame.
Ouch! You hit a scar there.

Stu said...

Jesus Christ, man, such courage to lay it all out like that. To own your feelings like that, to face yourself like that. That's bravery and confidence and it's inspiring. For real, I am moved by it. Profound.

moplans said...

This is beautifully written and very powerful.
Like Janet, I wondered if you felt guilty and was glad to read your comment. I feel honoured to have read what you shared here.

susan said...

So beautiful....and I'm so sorry. Thanks for sharing this.

Christine said...

Thank you for showing us this, for sharing your experience in such a touching way. xo

krista said...

i think we all have stories. very few can tell them as well as you can.

Janet said...

It does. I completely get that.

Marty Long said...

I find myself rather stuck on the way your brother told you.