Sunday, May 04, 2008

I never contemplated writing an entry like this. I understand why people do -- getting the words out is good therapy sometimes -- but I couldn't see doing it myself. I thought it would feel too self-indulgent.

Then again, for better or worse, I have always been my own therapist. And it's Sunday afternoon... and Bradykins is out of town so I'm alone... and if I play another game of Web Sudoku I'll probably scream. So maybe it's all right to be self-indulgent.

This morning I learned that, barring a non-medical miracle, my mother will probably die within the next 24 hours. Certainly within the next 72. This is not a shock, really. More than fifty years after being diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, she has already beaten the early odds. For the past six years her health has been extremely precarious, with a mounting list of serious ailments, including major respiratory problems, most likely the result of prolonged steroid treatments for the Crohn's. The family has been braced for this day for quite some time.

She entered the hospital yet again the other day and, this time, made an informed decision to not go through the increasingly complex routine. No respirator... no draining of fluid from her lungs... no monitors... nothing but morphine for the pain and oxygen to help her breathe. She was given a DNR wrist band and moved into a 'transition' ward, which is a nice enough euphemism, I guess. This morning the doctor examined her and gave her husband the shortened timeline.

Her three children all agree that she made the right decision. I cannot imagine the emotional pain she felt when she consciously made the decision that it was time for her to die, but I know it pales compared to the physical pain she has endured... pain that would only get worse, never better.

I may disappear for a few days, but just to keep my head together. I won't be rushing home to Rochester. After a few dozen phone calls over the weekend -- and you know I am taking this seriously, because I hate the telephone -- my brother, sister and I decided that nothing would be accomplished by gathering around the deathbed. We'll get together at a later date to celebrate her life. In the meantime, we can take a measure of solace in knowing that the entire family was able to gather in late March, when her health and mental awareness were quite good. I think we all would prefer to remember that day, not the day that will come early this week.

As you may recall, I have recently been tracking my family tree. There is order in the chart, as generations come and go. It's a reminder that the cumulative effect of many lives, intertwined, is vast. The lives lived, the people loved, the children nourished and raised to adulthood... that's what 'family' looks like on paper.

Real life isn't as orderly, of course. And it's all too brief.

Still, at some point this week I'll probably log on to my family tree to add the date of death for Barbara Ann Fisher Byrnes Nixon, 1937-2008.

And I will mourn, in my own way, but also remember those better days. Because the measure of a life should be in the joy and happiness it brought, not how it ended.