I left work and started walking the streets of downtown,
unsure how to feel.
I imagined myself walking wet streets with melting ice for hours,
and then settled on the need for food.
Hungry, tired, bored, thirsty:
Don’t let yourself get too much of any of those things.
I settled on Mother’s – not because of the deep sense of symbolism or irony –
but because they had sit-down service six blocks from my office.
I thought about the times I’d been here before: with work teams, with my mother-in-law.
These walls see birthdays, anniversaries, reunions.
The chandeliers celebrate, the velvet wallpaper the perfect wrapping.
I sat with tears so impossibly welled in my eyes.
English breakfast tea, omelet du jour. Wheat toast.
I returned to my breath, thankful for its grace and compassion.
I entered the house like I had one hundred times before.
Her eyes, impossibly welled, reflected my own back to me.
Slow-moving supernovas, the room spun out in every direction.
Staring straight ahead on the sofa, slumped in a kitchen chair.
The bodies here all alive and miraculous; doing their best.
Hospice calls it “the active phase.”
It is the phase of actively dying: when the body has begun the work of shutting down each system. Sympathetic systems go first, followed by parasympathetic.
Fluid pools in the lungs and leads to the death rattle.
That’s what they call it.
They, who work closely with the dying, have words and phrases for each phase.
We simply be together. In our uncontrived messiness and our imperfections.
Some of us are too loud, and some of us can’t bear to enter the room.
Some of us have been swallowed whole by this world, by this cancer, for fifteen months and can’t hardly recall life before the chemo, the surgeries.
Some of us will bury our children, our mother, our best friend since childhood.
Some of us will whisper as though she cannot hear us, and some will sit silently and gently by her side, adrift in the gape of her drying mouth.
And some of us will say: Go on now. Your work here is done. Have a safe passage home. I’ll talk with you again soon.