Death’s Waiting Room
My mother is 81. She won’t make it to 82. She has cancer. The hospice she went to last Thursday is a lovely place—thoughtfully laid out on a single floor with three wings so that each private room has an outside window with a view of the Florida sunshine (on most days). The staff is professional, helpful to visitors and attentive to the patients. Sometimes the nurses become emotionally attached to them. I saw one break down and cry outside a patient’s room yesterday, but after a short break, she was back at work tending to needs of others who have not yet succumbed to the inevitable. I told her later that I could not do what she does. She said she tries to focus on that fact that she can offer some relief from discomfort and pain, but that yes, sometimes it’s hard to maintain the detachment necessary to go on. There are times when her nurse persona is trumped by her more basic human one. She’s been there eight years, watching the patients come in, getting to know them a little, and helping as much as she can for their brief stay because, despite the warm atmosphere, this is Death’s waiting room. It’s a depressing place.
No, I couldn’t do it.
I’ll be going back there in a little while. Between the morphine and the disease, I’m not sure how much my mom is aware of, but there are brief moments when she opens her eyes in a face that has transformed from the beautiful and active woman she once was to something more like a desiccated E.T., and she smiles. She’s still in there behind the pain and the drugs. All I can do is wait with her.