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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Saying Goodbye (My Mom, Dorothy Nussbaum, passed away yesterday, March 25, 2017)

The rabbi was a big, burly figure and he took up almost all of the space by the side of my mom's bed. I was annoyed because I was unable to reach my mom to greet her, to give her a kiss.

My mom is dying, the hospice nurse advising my sister earlier in the day that it looked as if she would pass away in the next day or two. She lay in her bed, still and placid. I wondered if the heavier dose of morphine had been responsible for softening the look in her face, bringing a gentle calm before my mom decided it was to be time to finally let go.

After spending almost a decade mourning the loss of the person who once was my mom, watching in pain as the dementia caused her to recede further and further away until there was almost nothing left except the body that housed her, I thought that this moment would come as one of relief. Finally, finally, finally she could rest in peace.

But though the mom I once knew had long since vanished from this planet, the thought that my physical connection to this living being would soon end, filled me with a sudden wave of uncontrollable sadness. My belief that I had long since finished grieving was a mere lie. Saying goodbye is really hard.

The rabbi began to explain the meaning of what he was about to recite to my mom, but I could absorb little of his words. I had been standing shoulder to shoulder with my sister, both of us staring intently towards the bed. I moved several feet away now, hoping the distance would somehow keep my tears from flowing down my sister's face.

This bed was the only home my mom had known for the past six weeks or so.  She was unable to even be lifted into her wheelchair to sit in the dining area and feel the warmth of the afternoon sun on her face. This bedroom had been her entire universe, two hospital beds pushed next to one another, a third bed, hers so many years ago, now housing her incredible caretaker.  I had been in this room thousands and thousands of times during my mom's long day's journey into night and each atom it contained had been forever etched into my head.

I watched my mom's breathing intently to see if it was reporting any news to me.  The sheets moved gently up and down, in perfect rhythm. No, there was no clue here of anything imminent. There was talk of the physical signs on my mom's body that she was shutting down. But neither my sister or I could pull the covers back, even ever so slightly, to verify the details. It seemed a gruesome task, with no purpose other than to multiply our sorrow.

As the rabbi finished his prayers and his explanations, he moved back, allowing the space I needed to reach the top of the bed and my mom's face. As I have for nearly ten years, I asked her how her day had been, if there was anything new she wanted to report to me, if she had made any plans. I thought I saw her eyes open, just briefly. I even made myself believe she was trying to talk to me, that her mouth was forming a shape to speak. Over the next few minutes, as the room emptied, I would once more sing to her, in my nasal most peculiar voice that only a mother, only this mother could love.

It was time for me to say goodbye, the longest of all goodbyes now finally so near. I kissed my mom on the forehead for what could be the last time, and walked out of the bedroom to the rest of a world that today held no meaning for me.

Behind me, my mother lay calm, blissful and unaware of the meaning of the tear that had just fallen on her face.

6 comments:

Nancy Leeds said...

Goodbye Dorothy. I'm crying for you and Gail, but not for your mom. She was the luckiest mom to have had such loving and thoughtful children by her side all the way through that long hard journey.

Dori K. said...

This is amazing. Loved reading it. NYTimes needs this. Sending you so much love.

Sophie said...

Robert- this was a beautiful piece. I'm sending so much love to you and the clan. And I agree with Dori-- send to NYT. I think a lot of people can relate to you here. xo

Adam Segulah Sher said...

A sad day, the end of an era. Goodbye is so hard. Take your time, we are with you.

Anonymous said...

Carry her heart in your heart. My sincerest sympathies. Fran

Anonymous said...

more beautiful sentiments could not have been given and to all who gave them-so eloquent and heartwarming and thoughtful. It was obvious how much your mother influenced all of you and so wonderfully....

EL