I See Angels – A Memoir

The following is Part 1 of a true story about my time with my mother in the days before her death in 2002.  I share this today as my father lies in the hopsital close to death.  I find this piece comforating on this very difficult day. 


Fatigued and only half awake my mind wandered, recalling the day I first pushed through the swinging doors of the Palliative Care unit. I’d stopped in my tracks, stunned by the sudden quiet. All the noise of a busy hospital had disaapeared. Even the usual blips and buzzes were filtered out. I’d felt a sense of peace enveloping me; welcoming me. Only then did I understand that my assumptions were wrong. This isn’t a place of death; it’s an island of hope and dignity.

Mom is here.
I’d come from far away, lugging my suitcase and my fears to sit by her side. I won’t leave until she does. I know she will be with me when I walk through those doors again.
Rousing slowly I began to wonder just how long my suitcase had been sitting beside Mom’s bed. It seemed like a very long time. In this place that’s a blessing. Dates on a calendar mean nothing, every moment is precious. I am blessed to be here.

The aroma of fresh coffee lures me to the tiny kitchen across the hall. Grabbing a cream- filled doughnut from the box on the table I know right away that Karen is here to see her husband, Bill. Bill has colon cancer. I hope to get a chance to talk to her, find out how he’s doing before she leaves again to spend time with their two little girls. She looks up from their glass fronted room and waves to me as I shuffle back to Mom’s with my breakfast, wondering how many more days I can go before I give up and wash my frizzy hair in the sink.
Thank God for rubber bands and scarves, I think to myself. The right scarf and a sassy pair of earrings can go a long way toward extending a wardrobe consisting mainly of jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. I’ve found that t-shirts and pajama tops are virtually interchangeable. No one seems to notice the difference or if they do, well, they’ve been polite enough not to comment.
Mom is finally resting after a twenty-four hour marathon conversation with the universe. Rambling on incoherently at times, speaking clearly at others she took me on an unforgettable adventure of fantasy and memory.

“Wow, look at that!” she said. Her eyes wide with wonder.

I see,” I tell her.

“What is it?”

Uh oh, I think. What do I say now?

“What is it?” she asks again, this time a fearful note in her voice.

“I don’t know, what do you think it is?” I respond.

“I think it’s a bee. I hope it doesn’t sting me.”

“I won’t let it get you”, I reply. “I’ll swat it if it comes close again.”

“OK”, she sighs, relieved to know that she is no longer in danger.

“Do you have to go on tonight?”

Go on?  What’s this about?

“I don’t think so,” I tell her. “I’ll have to check my schedule.”

“I never knew you could sing. When did you learn to sing like that?”

Sing? Me? No way, I laugh to myself. I’m the one they couldn’t decide where to place in the second grade choir because the director couldn’t figure out if I were an alto or a soprano. My voice is that bad. I’m pleased that she’s given me a talent I always wanted. I wonder if she can also make me a real blonde. Fix it so I no longer have to spend hours at the hairdresser to look more like my beautiful sister.

“Sing to me. Sing me a song so I can rest.” So I sing.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey…”

The nurse raises her eyebrows and covers her ears as she goes by smiling at the two of us. I shrug my shoulders in a “what ‘re ya gonna do” gesture and continue singing until I feel Mom relax in my arms.

“Sleep tight,” I whisper, only to see her eyes pop open .

Look, look over there,” she points. “I see angels. Three of them, right over there. They have light all around them but I don’t see any wings.”

Yes I see them,” I placate her. “They’ve come to watch over you as you sleep. Get some rest now, it’s OK. And I begin again. “You are my sunshine……”

“Oh please,” she rolls her eyes. “Stop that racket if you expect me to get any sleep. Who do you think you are; some lounge singer?”

I watch as she drifts into sleep, hoping it will last this time, thankful for the gift of song, even if we shared it only for a little while.

We were up and down all night long; I saw her chasing shooting stars, crying over a ruined party dress, livid with rage for some unknown man from her past. I saw the wonder in her eyes as she held her firstborn child. Laughed as she went skinny dipping with my Dad in the creek behind their first house. For a time she spoke a language no one else could define, growing frustrated with my lack of understanding. Until she looked at me and said, “I love you.” I can recognize that in any language. Finally seeing understanding in my eyes, she drifted into a deep peaceful sleep that has lasted for over two hours and counting.

After washing up, dressing and brushing my teeth I do my housekeeping. I toss out the dregs of tea and coffee that have collected in the paper cups left behind by her many visitors. Remove the candy wrappers and fast food cartons left behind by her grandchildren. Even in the hospital she can’t stand to have anyone go away hungry. She loves to watch them eat. I change the water in the flower vases that line the windowsill. Everywhere I look there are cards offering prayers and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

“Your Mom is a very lucky woman to have so many people care about her,” the nurses tell us. “So many of our patients have no one, it’s very sad.” We tease them about our big Irish family taking over the place but they don’t mind.

This morning the man in Room 702 is gone. Just three nights ago I sat in the lounge watching as his friends went in one by one only to leave quietly trying to hide their tears. Now he’s on his way home. A miracle. I want one too.


To Be Continued Tomorrow Feb. 26 2011


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One Response to “I See Angels – A Memoir”

  1. clarbojahn Says:

    Your mom was very lucky to have a daughter like you. My mom passed many miles away in Texas. I guess she was lucky to have me be chauffeur for years before she left for her last visit to my sister never to return. My Dad died a good death all of us around. I’ve written about that. I was working as a nurse when the hospice nurse called to tell me my late husband died. I wish I had been holding his hand. I still grieve for him, for me.

    I am so glad you can find comfort in your past writing of your mother’s death. Writing is healing for so many of us. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t write.

    I’m praying for you in this difficult time with your father. Thank you for sharing this piece of writing.

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