After a month of my mom’s eternal-seeming stay in the hospital psychiatric unit, I was able to snag a pass for her to get out for a three-hour jaunt around town today. She’s free to come and go with me daily for walks outdoors on the hospital grounds, but this was our first journey off site since she was admitted in early July.
So we drive out into the sunny “real” world. Mom admires the flowers along the way, makes me stop for frozen custard, and then, with vanilla goo smeared all over her face, looks over and asks with wide eyes, “Is this the afterlife, or am I still living?”
I tell her she’s still alive.
She looks back at me like I’ve just spoiled Christmas.
“Let’s get on with this,” she says, matter of factly. “Take me to the mausoleum.”
She’s completely calm and no-nonsense about this.
Somehow you don’t imagine statements like these could ever be endearing or funny, but after an inner gasp, I find it to be both. She is still looking at me intently, as if I’m hiding the key that will grant her efficient passage out of this world.
“So are you going to cremate me or what?”
I try to not hit the car in front of me, then inform her that I don’t have that power, not to mention that it isn’t on my agenda for our short trip today.
She scans my face again, realizing she isn’t getting anywhere with her agenda to vacate the world, and says, “Well,” (long pause) “there’s always tomorrow.”
We look at each other and break into the same goofy smile.
Five minutes later she’s asking me whether she’s dead again. I tell her no, and she asks me whether that means we’re in heaven or hell. I tell her I haven’t figured that out yet, but probably somewhere in between. She scans my face to see if she can trust that answer, and gets distracted by a med flight helicopter before drawing any conclusion. Once it passes, her thoughts have moved on too.
“You’ve done a good job with me,” she says matter-of-factly, out of the blue. “You’ve worked hard, you didn’t give up, and I love you.”
This makes me silently cry. Not many caregiving children ever get to hear that. I don’t take it lightly that despite all her misery and endless complaints the last few years when she’s had to surrender the management of her life to her children, she’s openly acknowledging and commending my overall effort.
When we get back to the hospital and arrive up on her floor, the nurses ask how her trip was. Grinning up from her wheelchair, Mom responds, “It was good to get out, but I tried to die twice, and I’m pretty sure I’m still here.”
Up there in the psych unit, they’re used to hearing all kinds of things, so they don’t bat an eye.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mom’s will to die is not new- it’s come up numerous times when she’s having a really crappy week, and usually involves her asking me to summon Dr. Kevorkian, who she insists is still alive and busy at work, helping desperate people end their pain.
But this is a new transition with her talking about death not out of depression or anguish or pain, but with some humor and what seems like a purer anticipation. She’s detached, ready, and eager to move on. She’s curious too.
It’s interesting and refreshing and logical to me that she feels so nonchalant about death right now. Though I can’t help her speed up the process like she wants me to, the fact that she’s letting go helps me feel better about all the things I can’t fix. It also scares me, because she might go on living for 10 years, waiting for her passing.
Nonetheless, today I’m appreciating that she keeps surprising me. One thing I can count on is that pretty much nothing with Carol Jean turns out the way I thought it might be.