Eunice Blanchard Poethig died on Palm Sunday, March 25 2018 at 7:00pm. Erika and I were with her. Vida (yes), a Filipina nurse, had arrived to take her "vitals." Vida couldn't get a pulse, so she was shifting the medical equipment from one side of the bed to the other. Then Vida stopped, peered, whispered, "she is not breathing." Mom had been actively dying. But this, this was not what I'd expected. Eunice was, then she was not.
The afterwards is dream-like. Tears, calls to siblings, dad on his way down from his Independent Living apartment. We dressed our mother in clothes that Johanna had selected, laid her out on the hospital bed she'd kept trying to escape. Dad sat beside her, head bowed, and held her hand. The nurses arrived to mark her departure. They called hospice, who contacted the Illinois Cremation Society. These are the protocols of death. My mother's body stayed warm, but turned a kind of caramel white. Her death grimace softened. Joy, her minister, arrived to help us pray, and sing, and say a bodily goodbye. I climbed onto the hospital bed to lie beside my mother's body for the last time. Joy, bless her, finally went home. A cheerful hospice nurse arrived. She left. The Cremation Society arrived. A man wheeled in a gurney and a velvet casing. He and a nurse shifted mom's body onto the gurney and with great care, he zipped up the case, leaving her face for last. Then he wheeled her away. Her body was gone from us. It was almost midnight There are so many tasks after death -- social security calls, her death certificates, her closest ally Anita and Beatris (above) there in the day after her death doing the work of closure: emptying out her room, redistributing her goods to Chicago's Brown Elephant. I remember leaving black trash bags of her clothes and Anita ordering a take out Lebanese. But when Erika organized a "Presbyterian shiva," that brought an overflow to dad's apartment, I hid in the back room. Grief is exhausting. I returned to California to continue teaching the semester. While others had an inkling of her presence, I couldn't feel her, so mired in the entanglement of her dementia and excruciating physicality of her last months alive.
I've had several years of dream drought. She arrived last week.
In the dream we siblings are clearing various rooms, selecting, packing, giving away. (We have also closed down dad's Independent Living apartment in Chicago and settled him near Scott in Philadelphia, and this dream closing felt a little like that.) I am lying in bed in last room. Mother comes in and stands at the left corner of the bed. She is tall, younger, placid. Has she been coming down the hall? I'm surprised, "mom, I didn't know you were here!" She is now at the right corner of the bed, whisking her arm briskly, back and forth. I wake.
When I am ready to leave, will she come for me like that: softly, wordless, gesturing, "I am not like this anymore"?