Time Passes Slowly
Time can pass slowly, and even come to a complete standstill on occasion. March and April are bittersweet months for me, as I tend to dredge up old memories this time of year. It is not good to dwell in the past, but a visit from time to time can help us to fully appreciate the present. And make no mistake about it, the present is truly a present—a gift often overlooked.
As the pendulum swings slowly back and forth within the old Seth Thomas grandfather clock in the entryway, my mother lays dying in the next room. She is nearing the end of a three-year fight against breast cancer, and the year is 1981. I am one month shy of my 34th birthday, and I’ve been holding vigil for four months as her stamina has steadily deteriorated—tick-tock, tick-tock goes the big clock, the only sound in the house, and time passes slowly (if at all).
In 1981 hospice care is practically unknown in the United States, and my mother’s day-to-day care falls to my dad and me. Neither one of us is particularly good at it. We also have to continue with our full-time jobs which is exhausting. I wakeup every morning at 3:00 a.m. (long before sunrise) to arrive at my office by 4:00 a.m. I work straight through until 12:00 noon; my employer is very understanding of my plight and of my dilemma, and I never cheat him on hours worked (although it would be easy to do so). That early in the morning I am alone in the office and completely unsupervised, I am on the honor system and I don’t abuse it . I relieve my dad shortly after noon, and he heads off to his full-time job. A visiting nurse drops by once a day to bathe my mom and to check her catheter—my dad and I are responsible for the medications including multiple injections for the ever-present pain. My dad returns home in the evening, and I head back to my family for a quick dinner and bed—the entire process will repeat the next day, and the next.
In the beginning there was plenty to do, but now towards the end I mostly listen to the methodical tick-tock of the clock. It drives me crazy. Seconds stretch to minutes, then to hours and finally to days. It won’t be long now, she lapsed into coma a few days ago—she no longer eats, or drinks, or talks (her urine flow has ceased too). And there is much left unsaid; I squandered my time with her in those last few months. I didn’t know how to talk to her, what to say, how to act. So many questions left unasked and unanswered. A constant regret. I still can’t talk about important things—a legacy perhaps. I held her hand as she passed, she had just celebrated her 53rd birthday the month before.
Dad lasted a while longer, but finally ended his own torment four years later (in 1984) at the age of 64. Suicide had become preferable to life and its daily tortures. Contrary to commonsense and natural assumption, Coroner’s and police do not cleanup crime scenes, that is left to the surviving family members. I can remember cursing my dad through my tears as I sponged up his last remains from the cold, hard tile of the bathroom floor. I cleaned up the carnage alone and in solitude. In both cases death was not pretty, it rarely is (at least that has been my experience). Death and killing go hand in hand. And killing is not hard, it’s the living with it that torments—we can kill from fear, we can kill from love and we can kill from indifference. Dark thoughts for the dark months of March and April.
Live for, and appreciate, the present. The present is a gift.