A Death and A Life
It is July 4, 2013. I am a consumer on my way this Independence Day to visit my mother in a nursing facility on Long Island. On the train from Brooklyn, an inebriated young man is yelling out the same dulling message: "I can't wait to get those burgers on the grill. I can't wait to taste the chicken. I can almost smell the grill charcoal. Those sausages are about ready to pop." I am not at a barbecue. As with all too many consumers, I stand or sit alone, except for a few acquaintances, who are similarly encumbered with managing their daily existences.
I approach my mother at the nursing home quietly, almost as a burglar, stealthily, but not wanting to rob her—not to disturb her: she is listing to the left side in her steel-bound contrivance of a wheelchair. This lady, who could tell me and my sisters that one day life would be better, has now arrived at a place belying her wishes and predilections.
She has just turned 86, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, at the nursing facility where she has lived since my middle sister and her husband stopped caring for her because it became too hard to move her from bedroom to bathroom to television and back again. My sister had also nursed my father through his Alzheimer's ordeal, until he, like my mother, had to seek hospital attention.
Now my mother calls home this sad repository of lost and wounded souls like herself. As a consumer, I have no substantial income, no home, no security to offer her, haunting and hurting me all the more, as I see her now, defenseless and utterly alone!
The orderly asks me if I want to feed my mother. I measure out spoonfuls and forkfuls of nourishment for her as I'm sure she did for me 60 years ago when I was an infant, but she stops eating. I call a nurse to help me, but my mother, after opening her eyes to respond to "Ethel, are you OK?", the eyes shut once more.
After the nurse withdraws, I grasp the long textured, firm, elongated fingers of my mother's right hand. Then, I massage her shoulder, telling her "It's going to be OK." Unfortunately, I don't really believe this, but continue talking to her, reassuring her I'm working, which she never has believed. As the 1950s to 1970s muzak continues to blare ferociously through the cavernous lunch/meeting room, I stay entwined with my mother for two hours, maybe less, maybe more...for two hours. Eventually, I leave the nursing facility for home as a defeated warrior.
Back with my mother for what might be a final visit, I find myself at Long Island Jewish Hospital on the eastern end of Queens that slips into western Nassau County. I stroke her black/silver-streaked, sweat-soaked hair. A grotesque plastic mask stretches over her face. An insidious blue-ribbed tube futilely feeds my mother's almost lifeless body. God is trying to take her life, to grant her the only peace she has ever known in her time on this planet.
I'm telling her over and over again that I love her. Even though I'm now an adult, I try to erase the terror, the fear of abandonment of the little boy who never heard any of this love from my mother, or not much. I only heard I was unable to cope successfully with the world. Now my mother faces a long repose. She, who as a teenager, lost her mother, is alone with her son, a consumer who can't help her, as she felt defeated to help him when he was growing up. Thus, we are both cast adrift to find our way home.