Mary and I are in San Diego and it is dark and overcast. The locals call it “May Gray”– I call it gloomy. My parents tiny family room is filled with the hospital bed and piles of medical equipment. Pharmaceuticals fill the fridge and and cupboards and countertops. Still, my dad keeps it tidy and beautiful because, as my mother taught me, “It’s impossible to get well in a messy room.”
The medicine schedule and insulin monitoring is so complicated that my dad maps it out on a spreadsheet and carefully notes each dosage. There are plenty of “ifs and whens” on the chart and morphine is an option(unused). My dad is as clever as they come but I find it amazing that the hospice service gives him such latitude. I’m dizzy just watching him.
They have a rhythm and a pattern, my dad anticipating and attending to her every need. Yesterday he left me with her for an hour and a half to do errands. I sat by her bed, holding her hand and talking quietly while she drifted in and out of sleep. But minutes before he arrived home she became restless, anxious, “Where’s your dad?” And when he walked in she lit up like a summer morning.
It’s quiet. No TV, no music, the phone is turned low and we speak in whispers. Only the oxygen machine is allowed it’s constant humming– inhaling and exhaling like an ocean tide.
Really, this is no place for a child(and thankfully, my sister is taking her home to run and yell with her cousins for half the day.). But Mary brings light and color to the room. Sparkling and twirling she describes the airplane flight and then dances up the stairs singing Little Mermaid songs. She cradles dolly in her arms at breakfast and changes dolly into the dress grandma bought for her birthday. Underneath the table she’s made a little fort and giggles as the hummingbirds flit and drink from their feeder on the porch.
The day is profoundly peaceful, but busy. Medications come every two hours and every meal and bathroom break is an event. Dad has a long list of errands for me to do and at Trader Joe’s(bless that store– why can’t we have one in Utah?) we find a giant pink hydrangea and kitty bowls that inspire Mary to plan a tea party.
More mermaid than human, Mary insists on a daily swim at the community pool and her laughter skims across the water, drifts over the fence and filters through the open window at my mom’s side. Dripping and shining we arrive home on time for dinner.
My dad has transformed into a health spa cook. Everything he creates is fresh, beautiful and nutritious. Last night: baked halibut, asparagus, cantaloupe boats with 3 fresh raspberries acting as sailors and an 18″ king crab leg draped over every plate.
Mom eats only a few praise-filled bites before she is exhausted. But she wants to listen as I read Mary fairy tales. So we burrow into the couch, dolly tucked under the comforter with us as Cinderella meets her prince and Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger. Night fills the room, the words grow heavy, and we join Princess Aurora as the pulsing oxygen pump lulls us all into a deep dreamless sleep.