Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The hallway smells of urine. I really can't stand it, so I breathe out of my mouth. We go through two doors that require a 4-digit code. We step into a small room with 10 tables full of people waiting to be fed. The nurse on duty shuffles back and forth. The people mosey, saunter, or generally wander aimlessly. Some are talking to themselves; some are running into the walls; some are sleeping or staring straight ahead. There's a lot of things going on, but it's still sleepily quiet.

I look around the room, but I can't find her. Then it dawns on me: I'm looking for her, for my mother. I'm not looking for the person who sits directly in front of me, but there she is. Sitting in a wheelchair, she resembles a Nazi war camp survivor. Bruises adorn her arms and hands. I touch her right arm, and I can barely feel any skin that is still hanging on to the bone. I can fit my index finger and thumb all the way around her upper arm.

No solid hello will be in this greeting. She doesn't look at me, instead proceeding to get out of her wheelchair, dust off an invisible particle from the table, and then sit back down. She doesn't smile. During one of the 14 different conversations she's having out loud to people who exist only in her mind, she mentions men who are in the room and are actively trying to kill her. It's as if she is fighting a constant battle, and doesn't have the luxury to take a break.

I try to calm her down, but I can't get in a word edgewise. She will not stop talking. I try to make any sort of eye contact, and I say,

"Mom, it's okay. I'm here."

She makes a face, squinting her eyes. This was not the right thing to say. She starts shaking her head, looking as if she's about to cry. I put my hand on her shoulder. She immediately grabs my hand.

This woman of barely 80 lbs. is displaying a death grip I NEVER saw or experienced in 23 years of knowing her. I'm losing the blood to my fingers. I struggle - a pure, unadulterated attempt - to pry my hand loose. She's not having any of it. For five minutes, I can't get free. In the midst of complete sorrow, I almost laugh. This is phenomenal!

After 5 minutes, my hand tastes freedom. My mother, however, is far from it. The untold number of imaginary stories and scenarios are playing over and over in her head, and she tries to give them voice. She struggles with her words, sputtering them out like a 5-year old who's learning to use big words. She screams to nobody in particular, and cries to no avail.

I try to prevent the onslaught of raw emotion, but it hits me before I even know what's going on. I fall into complete idiocy, naively believing that, any minute now, Mom will snap out of it. She gave me birth, gave me life, raised me. Surely this is not how I will remember her. She'll snap out of it any second.

Another 5 minutes. No pure, person-to-person conversation ever happens. It's time to go. I long for the real and romanticized goodbyes that are shown in Hollywood movies and recounted by real people with real sorrow the world over. No such luck. My goodbye doesn't even phase her, and she continues to mutter under her breath and wipe the table clean again, and again, and again.

"Bye, Mom. I love you."

Again, the "mom" title doesn't help the situation. She frowns, still staring straight ahead.

"No, no. I don't have a baby. I promise, doctor. I promise."

I have no idea when this scene took place within the expanse of her shattered memory - or if it did at all - and I turn the other way, wishing I was anywhere but there. I don't look back. There will be no realization, no recognition. My mom is dead. Why must she still live?

I was asked by my candidacy committee, after telling of my mother's illness, where grace was in that situation. I answered that God was present in our suffering, and that we can be assured that our tears are colored with the presence of the divine. We are not alone, I said.

Of course, I'm sure my (almost) initial response, the first thing that came to my mind, is just as real and true and valid:

"Where is grace in this? I have no fucking clue."

I would hope and pray that God exists even when we say - and mean - things like that.


At 1:51 PM , Anonymous David B. said...

" God was present in our suffering, and that we can be assured that our tears are colored with the presence of the divine."

"I have no fucking clue."

Both profoundly true Jason.
I love you. I pray for you. Your mom. Your family.

I read your blog. I read these posts. I cannot convey what I feel without it sounding shallow, condescending or selfish.

But I feel.

Shalom Friend.

At 9:51 AM , Anonymous PL said...

No words, mijo, but tears and laughter. I hope you find grace in surprising moments; maybe she's sitting beside you, letting you drive her car. ;)


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