Choice took me by the hand and whispered, “Well? And I nodded and knew. Even if it is not for the last time, I have to go. I have to see her and share the choices we are both making, and to touch and kiss and tell her I love her. The trip was booked with ease. True, I travel business and am not at all apologetic for that but it was a big journey. One could even say a journey of a lifetime. After all it may soon be the end of a lifetime. A lifetime that spanned 87 years. Most of them good. Some of them I shared. Sixty years, less one day my father shared and I know she was the light of his life until he died.
My mother was a character and although I have already written much about her this last week has never been written about and it needs to be. The words are calling me to write them down. The challenges facing sisters in a small room where our mother lies, helpless and vulnerable. The joy of returning to see my granddaughter who had changed so much in such a short time that I actually thought perhaps she may have forgotten me. Perhaps she did but a smile of recognition crept over her face within a few sweet moments and we were once again known to each other again.
My lungs have carried me through this week with great effort. Those poor lungs of mine, who have known breathlessness since they were only four. Those resilient balloons that discovered at such an early age there was a memory stored within them and that they would have to heal perhaps over lifetimes. Perhaps this is the lifetime they will heal once and for all. Perhaps the time is coming, though its not here yet for my cough turned into that aching wheezing asthmatic hack and then into breathlessness and finally bone weariness. The effort to breathe can be too hard sometimes. Holding my breath when it all gets too hard is a blessing. I can relax for the length of a breath and just hope I can hold it for a few minutes. Of course the longest I have ever held a breath is one minute and 10 seconds and that was when my lings were in high spirits. Usually the respite is only about 10 to 15 seconds.
My lungs have introduced me to the widest range of medicines. As a little child I was given the most bitter tablet to suck. It was tiny, yellow and tasted foul. My mother would give it to me with a boiled lolly and I would lie in bed and suck the lolly dreading every time I had to swallow. It was called neoephedrine and I still shudder when I think of it. Then we went on to Aminophylline and finally a series of puffers that changed every year. There were times my life at home became so tough I confess I called on Asthma to visit me. I know. It’s sick but I used it as a way of getting some peace. My mother and I struggled on and off for years and asthma was my savior.
Dr. Harris was my doctor then and he would make house calls and tell mummy I needed to stay in bed. I loved that. She would buy me a magazine and a cherry ripe and I would snuggle down, breathe in a sweet breath of relief and life was wonderful. As I grew up I changed to Dr Arnold and he was the one who suggested one day I needed to go to hospital. The first time I went to hospital I remember thinking am I faking this? Will they discover I don’t really have asthma. You see I welcomed the struggle because the pay off was so good. So I wasn’t sure if I really ‘deserved’ to go to hospital. But once I was there heaven opened its doors and I felt the freshness of pure oxygen and I started to breathe long cool deep breaths. I felt my muscles release and my eyes start to close and I would drift off into a long needed deep sleep breathing in the sweetest, softest air imaginable.
Eventually we even bought our own nebulizer and I could manage the infrequent asthma episodes at home. That being said I was introduced to cortisone twenty years ago and this has been a blessing when I just can’t get that asthma under control. This week, however I had no nebulizer, and the pull and tug to help my daughter, be present for my mother, make very big decisions with sister, spend quality time with my children and drive a VW manual Caddie around Sydney was just the coaxing asthma needed to make my life just a little bit more difficult. Or maybe not.
Some people might say that I have a tendency to do too much. I know I would say that. So coming to Australia I had the best intentions do all of the above plus contact a dozen or so people and perhaps even have the time to share coffee or dinner with a few, all with effortless ease. Needless to say I overshot my expectations.
So who is this old friend Asthma and what purpose did it have this week, the week I am about to expand upon. After all, nothing is for no purpose. Everything we call into our lives has some significance. Even random events that I call ‘unconditional spontaneity’ have significance.
Gil was waiting for me at the airport. His big arms enveloping me and making me feel so safe and completely loved. We walked to his car and I was so grateful he had actually parked in the parking station. I have a thing about arriving home and having to find the person who is picking me up at some corner or in a 15 minute waiting spot. I know. I know it saves money but its just not the same. I want to see the face of the one I love as I walk down the ramp from baggage claim.
We drove straight to see mum. Everything looked grey and unchanged. The usual joy of coming home after a month away, was absent. I felt a heaviness in my chest. Mummy was lying on her back in her room of 7 years. Although it was barely 9 am Donna was already there. I would have to find a moment or two to be with mum alone but in the meantime I lean over her bed and say, “Hello Mama.” I stroke her forehead. I touch her temples and I look into her eyes. Donna feeds her more juice. I sit and watch. I am conscious that there is nothing to say or do except be here with my mum right now. I slip into that peaceful place of Now. Im here. That’s all that matters.
Over the week there were many decisions to make. Phone calls from Australia to Israel have been charged with emotion, upset, urgency and confusion. Now that I was back I could listen to what was being suggested and take my time to answer. No surgery. That was the first decision. I agreed to a spinal block and indeed we waited all week to be told the medical staff at the hospital were refusing to do it in the Home but would require her to go into hospital to do it under a general anesthetic. It never happened. I met Dr. R the palliative care doctor and together we discussed another plan. Pain patches and oral pain medication. Every day there was something new to see, to agree to, to sit with, to accept.
I think watching your mother die is the ultimate in acceptance. I remember as a child I wanted a different mother. I wanted a cookie baking, tuck-shop serving, stay at home kind of mum. I remember as a child I wanted my mother to accept me. True, I was argumentative. I was opinionated. I was critical and judgmental of everything that wasn’t to my liking and I made sure people knew what I believed, but I still wanted my mum to accept me. Easier said than done. I guess the struggle between us emerged out of our similarity. She too wanted to be accepted by me. If I complimented her, wrote her love letters, acknowledged her as the best mum in the world, then, for a while all would be fine, but I often slipped up. And so our journey together for the first 25 years or so was rocky.
After my first marriage crumbled and the remains were strewn over the Middle East where I traveled to find myself, I met a man who made me laugh. He knew many people of different cultures and they all loved him. The Arabs who sold car parts greeted him with wide smiles and slaps on the back. The Jews who came to him with Insurance problems trusted he would be fair and make sure they would be cared for. The Polish, the Rumanians, the Iraqis , the Immigrants from all over the world who needed his services who spoke with different accents but knew they were accepted and respected by this man trusted him and I reveled in watching this.
He never met anyone like me though. Passionate, explosive, introverted, studious, and constantly trying to bridge the gap between my mother and myself. In fact Nancy Fridays’ book of similar name was the book I was reading when I met him. I bought him the exact same book in Hebrew. Secretly I was saying, “read this book so that you understand me.’ I don’t think he ever read it. It made no difference. I married him anyway. We travelled separately and together. This trip back to Australia was without him.
Balancing the daughter, mother, sister, and grandmother in me, in a limited period of time is an interesting exercise. The key, I think , is to be true to your intentions and flexible enough to follow your heart as well. My intention to return to Australia was two-fold. To be with my sister and to make the necessary decisions to ensure my mother has a pain free journey in this last chapter and to be with her as much as possible. The truth is, I have said all I needed to say to her long ago. I have made eternal peace with her and accepted her unconditionally and so I didn’t really need to come and do that. What I did want was to hold her again.
When my father died early on October 14 I was left with a yearning that consumed me, to hold him once again. I couldn’t put my arms around him anymore. So I came back to Australia to hold my mum again. And each time I held her I felt grateful. I left complete. Well, as complete as a daughter can be knowing her mother is going to pass over and I wont be in the same country when it happens.
The struggle to find balance comes when the demands that come from outside, challenge my inner truth. I know, that’s life. And yet standing in the truth of my intentions in the face of others expectations was harder than I imagined. How can ones own child understand that although you are physically present, you are not only mother. I may be his or her mother but that is not all I am. Sometimes we have to choose. I am here as daughter today. I am here as wife. I am here as sister. I am here as grand-mother. We cannot be all things to all people all the time.
Balance, the key to harmony, often comes out of conflict. The gift of conflict is that it brings into focus what is important to each side. Then all we have to do listen, accept, and to understand with open heart.
Asthma creates or rather invites us to notice the disconnection from our essence. If we don’t breath we are not connected. When we take deep breaths we connect automatically to the spirit within. During the week I lost connection with my intention. I tried to be all things for all people and that caused me to loose contact with me. When I decided to stay with friends I began to heal almost immediately. It was not staying with my daughter that made me ill, it was allowing myself to feel the pressure of not being all things to all people that cause me stop breathing. As soon as I stopped trying as soon as I returned to being me, I began to breathe again. It’s a lesson. One that I continue to remind myself about in this life.
Be who I am.
There is no substitute for standing in the truth of who we are and although we may occasionally find ourselves caught up in the needs and wants and expectations of others, the cost of forgetting who we are and letting go of what is right for us has a price tag that will always be too high.
I have come to a place where I am quite certain I am not meant to be in Australia at this time. I am where I need to be. This is how the story unfolds. The story of my mother’s last chapter.
I woke up at 3 am. A dream I think. My sister phones me 10 minutes later. Im wide awake. Mum was found on the floor beside her bed. She had fallen out. I have a flash back of seeing my father lying on the floor of emergency having passed out and fallen to the floor. This image has been lasered into my psyche and always causes me to cringe with the deepest sorrow. She’s OK. She’s not in pain at the moment.
She has been moved to the nursing ward. Iris. Room 474. I just called. She arrived two hours ago. She lies on her back. Eyes mainly closed. Drifting between worlds. I stroke her brow and bend over her. I kiss her forehead. I’m with you mama. Here in Israel, in the dark of night and the light of day, I’m with you. God speed sweet mama. In your own time mama. In your own time.