…because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier — Nazim Hikmet
My mother’s upward swing, propelled by music and appreciation, has reversed. The simplest things require the help of two people. She is so weak she tries to sit in mid air and is sometimes afraid to move.
In fact we are all afraid. My mother is afraid of rising, turning, walking; my daughter fears her falling again. I’m afraid of breaking faith.
There is no doubt I saw coming to take care of my mother as planting myself firmly on the moral high ground. As the proteiform relationship with her plays out, I want a place from which I can look back and know I’ve done the right thing. The stories I hear of the institutional alternatives – assisted living, board and care, nursing home, whatever – are more often than not filled with pain for the displaced and the displacer. Over and over I think ‘I can’t do that’.
But I can.
The nurse from hospice at home says it might be time, the social worker is supportive and I cry with guilt. The residential hospice has a patio with flowers, books in the common room, televisions that aren’t on all the time and the director brings his puppy to work. It is as good as it is going to get and we book her in.
The strange thing is that even before we tell her what is going to happen, she begins to improve. She stands –– with help, but without fear. She walks across her bedroom. She eats. She remembers more things. My daughter and I wonder if we’ve made a mistake. An ambulance is scheduled to take her to the new ‘home’ and I try to summon the nerve to cancel it. Then, two nights before she is to go, I wake to a thump and another one. I go to my mother’s room. Or try to. She has fallen on the way to the toilet and lies sprawled on the floor against the door. I have to push her out of the way to get in. There is a smear of blood where she hit her head. There are no serious injuries, but my daughter and I keep regurgitating that image of blood trailing down the door and don’t cancel the ambulance.
The room she is assigned at the hospice looks out on a wall, the man with the puppy is taking some time off, one friend asks if she is being held against her will and another offers to drive her home. She will have to stay, for a while at least, I am going back to Ireland to pack my dogs.
I get emails with updates. She is still eating. So many friends visit an online schedule is set up. They play music on the patio. She starts to read. For the first time in six months her fingers are pink and her toes don’t turn blue whenever she is vertical.
I tell a friend in Dublin about it. He laughs. His mother-in-law was like that he says. For ten years. He tells me about an evening the surgeon said she’d be dead before morning. “Better arrange the funeral.” My friend, a gardener, put on his suit and went to the funeral home. With everything set up he went back to the hospital. His mother-in-law was sitting up and eating a hearty meal. She eyed the suit. “Out collecting money?” she asked. She outlived the surgeon by years.
I ring my mother. “How are you,” I ask.
“Fine. I’m in the right place, but I’m not dying.”
(NB: blog is running 4 weeks behind real time…will catch up soon)
On Living — Nazim Hikmet
Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example–
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
you must take it seriously,
so much so and to such a degree
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
in your white coat and safety glasses,
you can die for people–
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees–
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.
Let’s say you’re seriously ill, need surgery–
which is to say we might not get
from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
for the latest newscast …
Let’s say we’re at the front–
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind–
I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
we must live as if we will never die.
This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet–
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space …
You must grieve for this right now
–you have to feel this sorrow now–
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say “I lived” …
Translated from Turkish by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk (1993)