A few years ago, at the height of the drama of taking care of my Mom, when we were in and out of the ER all the time and I was bone weary, I received an email from a woman who had taken care of her mother for 10 years. She spoke of dancing around the room the day her Mom died -- finally free from the burden of care and cut loose from a woman she had grown to hate. The email promised me that the day would come when I would be set free and have my own dance.
I did not respond to the email. Frankly, I was appalled. But, it also touched a place I recognized and I was appalled at that too. So I hit delete, and did what all caregivers do -- put one foot in front of the other and kept on caring.
The day or two before my mom died, they told me she was wasn't going to survive. I did not realize that they meant she would die in a day or two. I thought it would take months, so I went to work the day before she died, thinking that I would be in and out of the nursing home every day for months and so I needed to ration my time. Add that stunningly poor decision to the list of life's regrets.
But the next day I was there, sitting by her bed watching her breathe. I sat there thinking about the past, wondering about her life's decisions and mine, and wondering how long she would live. The hospice nurse told me that I should speak to my mom, tell her goodbye. I shook my head and asked to speak outside the room. Would this be weeks, months? I wanted to plan, to take care of the business that needed taking care of. There would be paperwork and things to do. I needed to make a list. Maybe I could work from home, which was near the nursing home. I could be there all the time and still work. Did the home have wi-fi I mused so I could keep up with the business of life and be there for my mom?
I wanted my mom to go back to being 75 and come out to the mall with me. I wanted her to die and end all of this. I wanted her to recover so we could talk one more time. I wanted her to see my son graduate from college. I wanted her to be happy. I wanted her to walk up a flight of stairs to our new kitchen and have dinner with us. I wanted a lot of things.
Finally, the nurse snapped me out of this reverie by saying your mom is dying now. You should say goodbye. I went back in and sat there silent. I didn't say goodbye. I thought I had said everything I needed to say already. And then she stopped breathing. The nurse looked at the doctor, who had just arrived, and shook her head. They told me she was gone. I looked at her and could see death.
I walked away, sat in the hallway. I kept thinking "so this is how this happens." "So this is over." I had so much more I wanted to say to her. I wanted so many things.
Since that day, I thought about that email. I'm not a saint. I understood the relief that woman felt. Taking care of someone is hard work and it is a burden. A burden I took on that I do not regret. But it took a toll and I get that. The guilt that comes with feeling that someone you love has become a burden is in itself another burden.
So now I'm "free." I haven't danced, and I haven't want to dance, since my mom died. But I have grown to understand that email writer a bit more. I wish I had her email address. I would tell her that I want her to be happy. I want her to walk out of her home every day and not want to dance in anger and relief, but dance because she is living a worthwhile life. I hope she is.