My father went out golfing this morning. He's not a very good golfer, or at least, not as good as my mother is, but it's good for him to get out of the house and get some fresh air. He was up around 6:00 am. I got up around 9:00 having stayed up too late last night after running and calling my wife back in California.
I looked into to check on my mom a few times in the morning but she was sleeping pretty heavily and I didn't have the heart to wake her up. I had a brief conversation with my older brother Shawn, but we didn't talk about anything serious.
Around 10:00 am my father called to check-in and suggested I get her up. It was her first good night's sleep having come back from the hospital and she obviously needed the rest. Shawn and his son Brendon went out to play a little tennis, so I was able to have some quiet time along with my mother, something I felt was important.
I put on the CD I had burned her, various reggae songs by Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley his son, Jimmy Cliff and others. I picked songs that were upbeat and positive and my mother seemed to appreciate it. She hummed along and was dancing a bit in the kitchen.
"I like the beat," she said. "Who is this?"
"His name is Bob Marley," I say.
"Is he that really old singer?"
"Ah, no actually he's dead." Pause. "He died of cancer a long time ago." Pause. "He was pretty young."
In fact, Bob Marley died of brain cancer at 36 in Miami. But there's no reason my mom would be familiar with Bob Marley.
"He was quite famous," I say. "Probably the most famous guy to come out of Jamaica." Pause. "He smoked a lot of marijuana." I'm not sure why I said this. As if I can give my mother a 5 minute crash course in everything she needs to know about Bob Marley. But she likes his music and that was really the point of it.
"It feels so good to feel good," she says.
She was happy to be out of the hospital and I can't blame her. As nice as the hospital staff was, hospitals are always noisy and, truth be told, depressing.
My mother was clear that she knew her time was limited. She said she wished she had travelled more and it made me sad that it was the kind of statement many people make in their lives, but always with the assumption that they would have time to make changes later on. But she wouldn't. She was literally out of time.
I asked her if she'd like to try to get out to the beach, which was something my parents liked to do on an occasional weekend trip to New Smyrna Beach or Daytona Beach, a couple of hours away. I knew it would be hard to do now and it would only become more difficult in the coming weeks. Would they bring the oxygen system with them? At what point would it simply be too exhausting to even think about a day trip? Maybe she was already at that point.
We talked a bit about where my father would live after she was gone. It sounds like a tougher conversation than it really was, but my mom approached the topic matter-of-factly. The substance of the discussion wasn't as important as knowing that they had talked about it. I knew she was making her peace with things.
I told her I was glad that she was so strong and doing so well. I told her it made it easier for my dad.
"He's such a worry wart," she said. And she smiled. "It feels so good to feel good," she said again. Yes it does.
The doorbell rang and my mom went to get it. It was a Fedex delivery for Mary Urlocker. My mom accepted the package. It's the prescription drugs the nurse had ordered yesterday.
We talked a bit more and then there was another interruption, this time a visit from another nurse from the hospice.
"Hi, Mary, I'm Helen," she says.
My mother, verbally perplexed says, "Hi, I'm Helen" and then she corrects herself immediately. "I mean I'm Mary." And then she laughs. "Now the first thing you're going to write is that the patient is confused!" It's good to hear her laugh nonetheless.
I started packing my luggage into my rental car for the four hour drive to Miami for my return flight while the nurse talked non-stop without taking a breath. My mother was a nurse and so they bond. My mother nods along, but I sensed that she might not have been taking it all in.
I felt rushed, and I hadn't said everything I wanted to say to my mom. I didn't think it would be the last time I would see her, but I knew I would regret not saying what needed to be said, so I asked the nurse if I could say my goodbyes.
My mom stepped away from the kitchen table and joined me in the living room. I gave her a hug and told her that I loved her. She squeezed me tight and it felt comforting.
"I'm very grateful for everything," I said. "You and dad made me who I am and you gave me the values that I have. I know we had a couple of ups and downs along the way. Or at least one," and I laughed. She laughed too, knowing the strain we had between us some twenty-five years ago. It was a big blow up of an issue that caused me to move out of the house at seventeen. We'd resolved the issues and reconciled fully some ten or twelve years earlier, but there a lot of scar tissue in the interim. I wanted her to understand that there were no lingering issues between us. I wanted to make sure there was closure and no doubt in her mind that I loved her and respected her.
"All of us have turned out really well," I said. "Everyone's happy, no one's in prison," I joked. She laughed or at least she smiled. "You should be very proud," I said. "And you have a lot of strength. A lot of stubbornness and a lot of strength." And I could see in her eyes that she did have strength. But also frailty. She would never show fear, that just wasn't her way.
"I'm going to beat this thing," she said.
Who was I to disagree?