Sweet sadness

My dad died several years ago; my mom more recently. As mentioned here previously, she had a stroke and couldn’t care for herself. While in the hospital and rehabilitation facility she suffered a urinary tract infection which set back her rehab. The government was about to cut off benefits for further rehab since her time had expired. We, her family, pushed for further coverage for rehab since she had been held back by her UTI, through no fault of her own. Her doctor was ready to appeal to MediCare for continued benefits, but my mom really wanted to go home. It’s not that she didn’t want rehab, but she was tired of being in hospitals, at the mercy of strangers. At one point she pleaded with me, “Please, take me home.”

Take me home? What does that mean specifically? It was obvious she couldn’t go to her own home and resume life as she knew it before. It seemed to me she was asking me to take her to my home. And how could I say no? Her eyes were pleading with me.

The night I first heard the news of the stroke, I had a premonition that it was the beginning of a long period of hardship. I told my boss about it, and she said the same thing had happened with her mother. She had lived for two years in her home before passing away. It was tough but she was glad she did it.

I didn’t want to do it but I had to. How could I say no? How could I live with myself? We talked all the time about how we loved each other, my mom and my sister and my mom’s boyfriend of 20-plus years. What was all this talk of love if we wouldn’t let her into our homes in her time of dire need?

As it turned out, the boyfriend (platonic) and me split time having her in our homes. This of course involved arranging for caregivers, but since her money wouldn’t last forever, we tried to minimize the amount we paid to caregivers, by caring for her ourselves. So I learned to change her diaper, fed her and sat for endless hours in front of the TV with her. There were some very good times during this period. I had learned before that human beings can adjust to anything. You think you can’t stand something but when it happens to you, you find that you can.

It wasn’t the life she wanted, or was used to, but it was the life she had, and there were times when she took pleasure and felt gratitude for the simplest of comforts. Like the bed being adjusted just so, and the blankets and pillows like she wanted them, and some food that she enjoyed, and something interesting or entertaining on the TV, and a fresh diaper on.

She passed away about six months ago, and as one can imagine, it was both bitter and sweet. Good in that the long ordeal was over, both for her and for me, and for the boyfriend, who by the way was a friend in the truest sense. He showed that he really loved her when he claimed that he did; it wasn’t just words. But very, very sad. A point came where she declared herself “ready to die,” and it absolutely broke my heart, in a way that surprised me. She had said many times, prior to the stroke, that she was ready to die, since there was nothing in this world that she wanted more than to be with her Lord, Jesus Christ, in whom she believed fervently and joyfully.

But when she spoke those words, “I’m ready to die,” I broke into tears. Life was really so hard to bear that she was ready to surrender it. What could be sadder?

Since her passing I’ve looked at life differently. My wife and I are going to die, she sooner than I in all likelihood, since she’s a decade older than I am. God, how precious is each moment with her now! Praise God she’s well, strong and healthy, but I don’t know how long it will last. I don’t know how long I’ll last. Either of us might find himself the victim of a stroke, paralyzed, unable to care for ourselves, having trouble expressing ourselves, finding ourselves living a different mental life, not quite ourselves, not seeing others the way we used to, through no fault of our own.

I’m absolutely, fully ready to care for my wife for as long as it takes, fulfilling whatever she needs from me. It’s the absolute least that I owe her. But God, it hurts to think about it. Either I’ll lose her or she’ll lose me. Tears upon tears, sorrow of sorrows. But God, it’s a good sorrow, sorrow arising from love. It’s the tenderest, sweetest sorrow I can imagine. I thank God for showing me that I can do it. I didn’t want to do it for my mom, it was hard as hell sometimes; she wasn’t herself, and wasn’t always grateful. But God! I did it. I can’t believe it. We didn’t abandon her to a nursing home but let her die among friends and loved ones. Now I know I can do it for one who is dearer to me even than a mother.

Oh the mystery! To keep your life is to lose it, but to surrender it is to gain it. The mercy! To have my mother, so dear to me, pass away, and to have no regrets. I’m no hero, I simply knew that to say no would be worse. I couldn’t have lived with myself. I took on one suffering to avoid a worse. But how did I know it? How did I have such a conscience? That’s the grace, the thing I could never have given myself. Catholic guilt? God damn right.

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