Days, weeks, possibly months, but not years. She won’t be here when Ben opens his mission call or to choose a baptism dress for Mary. But we might be able to get her home—to have a few bedside tea parties and wheel her around her garden.
When I arrived Saturday she was a fragile as a cobweb, drifting in and out of consciousness, her features flattened by illness. I began to cry the moment I saw her but she took my hands and exclaimed, “You’re real. You’re really here. You’re real!”
My sister sat beside her, holding her hand and speaking to her gently, almost like a mother to a sick child. She stood to kiss her on the forehead, to murmur words of love and to brush back her sweat-dampened hair. I watched her, mentally molding my actions to hers and feeling a bright and vivid awareness of the burden my sister had been carrying these past weeks.
Ruth’s presence, along with the perfect climate, is what drew my parents to San Diego. Interestingly (actually, I can’t find the right word here—let me know if you do), Ruth’s husband Bill has spent the last five years studying palliative oncology at Scripps Hospital. Palliative care is to ease pain and increase quality of life for cancer patients who are dying. Liver cancer is treatable, but not curable. They can only treat my mom’s symptoms, not her cancer.
Baby-faced and quick witted, we always thought Bill would go into pediatrics or sports medicine. Instead, he is know as Dr. Death and reads books like The Nature of Suffering just for fun. And he is exactly who we all need right now.
Bill says my mom should be writhing in pain, that her decaying liver and pancreas would create almost unbearable agony. But when I asked, she shook her head gently and said, “Oh, you don’t get any pain with this.”
She is so sweet. Incredibly, indescribably sweet. It’s as if every bit of worry, anger, every wordly care have been burnt away and only her true essence remains. Even when asking the nurses to leave, she is gentle, kind—her love fills the room and pours out in the sanitized hallways. Her room faces the famous Torrey Pines golf course and hang gliders drift outside her window delicately balancing between ocean and sky.
Trivia doesn’t interest her. She wants to recall old memories, to read scriptures, to talk about the temple. But the moment we shift to what’s for dinner or what’s happening in the world, she becomes muddled and drifts away only to return after a restorative nap(but she lit up when I pulled out the rose purse and encouraged me to buy the matching skirt—‘cause that’s not trivia).
Ben brought his viola along(just because he loves it—can you imagine?) and drew out rich, golden tones. He quickly discovered that fancy concertos were out of place and switched to hymns and primary songs—“Come, Come, Ye Saints,” “I Know the My Redeember Lives,” “Abide With Me,” “I am a Child of God” and
“I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers
Confused at the grace that so fully he profers me…”
Her voice is an alto and during a few songs she sang in clear, sweet tones perfectly matched to the viola as Ben improvised and harmonized.
I had an afternoon with just my mom and dad where we reminisced and laughed and recalled every happy story. It’s like selective focus on my camera where the best, the most beautiful things are crisp and detailed and everything else creates a lovely, blurred background.
My parents told of how they met, their first date, their long courtship and it’s crescendo when my dad proposed at San Francisco’s Half-Moon Bay. They spoke like a duet, back and forth, filling in details and forgotten notes. And they kissed so much, so blissfully that I averted my eyes and watched a hang glider lift and soar; dip and glide.
And I wish I had a photo of that—of my dad’s forehead pressed to my mother’s; tears streaming down his cheeks and her peaceful, joyful smile.
She wanted to hear the scriptures and asked for specific chapters. And I thought, “Why these verses? There’s nothing comforting here.” But when I began to read the words came to life and filled me and overwhelmed me, until I had to pass the book to my dad and let him read in his calm steady voice. The spirit filled the room like a temple and we drank it in.
My sister read with her too and turned to Third Nephi where Christ is visiting the Nephites. He tells them he must leave and the people cry and beg him to stay a little longer. Ruth stopped, wiped her own tears and pleaded, “Can you stay just a little longer? We need you.”
She was quiet. And Ruth read it the words once more, and asked again, “Just a little longer?”
Her eyes were closed and her words came like the remnants of an echo, “I’ll try. I’ll try.”
So now we are driving to Salt Lake to shift and settle things before Mary and I fly back to San Diego later this week. It hasn’t been a completely solemn trip. It can’t be when Ben wakes up in the middle of the night screaming, “Spiders, spiders! Stefan get the spiders off of me!” and Gabe and Mary get an attack of the giggles that lasts during the entire 70 minute sacrament meeting (it’s always good to be obnoxious and loud when visiting another church) and Xander and Hans play a three day long battle armed with empty Gatorade bottles and Stefan endures game after game of 20 questions while the little ones fight over the prime spot on his lap.
But I want more time. I want more of this sweet new life with my mom. Can’t we play Candyland and hear more of her pig stories? Can we take her home and let her sit by the pool while the kids do cannonballs and play sharks and minnows? Can she watch her roses bloom this summer and pick ripe red raspberries in August?
And I have the inevitable regrets. Why did I have to hang on to my hurt? Couldn’t I have been the one to call her last year or the one before? I didn’t know our time was so short. Yet, at the same time I have the quiet assurance that this is the way it was always meant to be.
You’ve heard the following plea so often that it’s almost become cliché. But behind every cliché is something profound. So listen, reach out, heal old wounds, offer apologies and forgiveness. Live with an open and loving heart. Because we don’t know how much time we have and none of us, not one, has enough.