She was my wife’s mother, but more importantly she was a human being. None of us forgot that, even as the disease caused her clothes to hang loosely, her head to require a wig, and her speech to be unintelligible.
That Saturday I left the house for the old hospital to relieve my wife of her vigil. The now-familiar hospital odor, musty with hints of bodily products, reinforced my purpose here. While the nurses changed the sheets, I wondered whether there was enough skin to cover the bones of her legs. The rather large nurse with the oily hair said to me, “She’s still about the same, which is a good sign.” As my wife told her mother she would be back soon, the dying woman rolled her eyes up to the corner where the ceiling met the wall, cracked and grey, and a tear began to fill the loose folds of skin around her reddened eyes.
I sat down in a creaky wooden chair, and pulled out a textbook to study. But serious reading would be hard to come by this afternoon. Amplified by the oxygen mask, the arrhythmic and labored breathing was interrupted by beeps from the morphine delivery machine. The nurse with the oily hair had been busily monitoring vital signs, and before leaving the room, she gave me a quick run-down of the past three hours. The numbers were good, but one look at the small heap on the bed would not confirm that.
Walking over to the bed, I noticed that her bald head was covered with sweat, and so I placed a damp washcloth over her forehead. That much I could do, but there was little else. In the parking lot outside the high window a fat man with a dirty green tee shirt and a large grey knapsack walked by. Why was he out there and she in here? I had a headache. I looked down at the woman, whose breathing had slowed somewhat, and walked back to the chair. I glanced back and noticed that she had not taken a breath for several seconds. Come on, I thought, breathe! At least wait for your daughter. But she did not. Reaching for her arm, I knocked over a glass of water from her tray. It was too late, I thought, as I stared at the broken glass on the floor.