“How are you doing today?” I asked him.
“Well, I’m not eating much,” George said. “I feel weaker, but I went out for a ride in the garden in my wheelchair, and the pain’s not bothering me. But I can’t find my passport. Do you know where my ticket is?”
“It sounds like you’re planning to go somewhere, “I answered. George nodded.
“Are you going on a journey?”
Nodding again, George said, “I don’t have my papers.”
“Are you talking about a different sort of journey?” I asked. “Maybe about leaving here? Maybe about dying?”
George responded to this suggestion with relief. He nodded, opened his mouth as if to speak, then shrugged.
“If you’re talking about that journey, you don’t need a passport and tickets,” I said.
--from Final Gifts, by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley
Less than ten, more than five, years ago I held my mother’s hand while she died in the downstairs bedroom here. She had been ill for a long time, but the diagnosis preceded her death by only seven weeks. Both of us intuitive, sensitive, and high-strung, she and I understood each other. During most of my life, we were not comfortable with each other, despite, or perhaps due to, the similarity in our natures.
We never spoke of exactly what was happening. I never brought it up and when Mom would mention it, it was always, “This.” On her final trip to my house, knowing that she would not be going home again, she remarked, surprised, “This isn’t so terrible.”
“What?” I asked.
“This!” she said, making a small wave around herself with one graceful fine-boned small hand.
In the evenings the first few weeks, we would enjoy a nightly treat of ice cream. One night, Mom happily exclaimed, “This isn’t like being sick; it’s like a party!”
During the weeks that hospice nurses and I cared for her, with the calm, desperate, undiscussed knowledge that time was short, I finally came to see her as someone other than my mother . . . as a person in her own right. I saw the positive side of our similarity in her sense of humor at the ridiculous indignities of the failure of a human body. She demonstrated “It is what it is” to me before the phrase became a part of my customary lexicon. I felt her disgust with her brain when it lost the ability to follow a game of five-hundred rummy.
One day she told me about a dream she’d had. She’d been on an elevator, going up. The doors opened and some people got off, but she wasn’t meant to get off and was sent back down. Another dream was about her visit to a restaurant where the chef was famous for a magnificent sauce of his own invention. She waited in line, she told me, and then was told she wasn’t yet allowed to taste the exquisite sauce. There were other dreams about maps and driving and the time of her arrival being something she need not worry about.
I hadn’t yet read Final Gifts, but it was clear to me that she was on the verge of a not necessarily unpleasant change.
After Mom’s death I dreamt that I saw a group of older ladies in an anteroom somewhere. They were dressed to the nines, and having a grand time. I asked if my mother was there and they said oh yes, she's in at the party, but you can’t see her yet . . . it isn’t time.
I don’t know what dreams Marly had in the days and hours before she left me. I would not be surprised to know that they were of sunny fields full of voles and squirrels who could be hunted and caught over and over again . . . of running running running, her legs strong and no pain in her belly. I sat outdoors with her two days before she went and watched her as she listened to the calling and singing of the birds that have finally returned. I saw her ears prick and swivel at the sound of her dog friend calling hello to her from up the road.
She was ready to go. She looked reproachfully over her shoulder at me when I didn’t take off the leash and let her go off on down the field, regretful that I understood her purpose and that our record of perfect accord would be marred at this time. On St. Patrick’s Day evening, alone in a clinic kennel, free of my unwillingness, she went on her journey to those endless sunny fields.
Marly is a Good Dog.
Weekend Wordsmith's suggestion this week is "Passport."