Today my body contains no muscle or blood. I can feel nothing but still air inside my skin. The tears come in single file, no more than one each minute. I want this stillness. I want to be so still that I halt time, make all things stop right now. I do not want to let tomorrow come, or the next day, when my mother will die.
No, no, what I really want is to go back to the day when I heard what may have been the last coherent words she said to me: "I hope I die soon." I want to go back and find a legal, loving way to let her skip the next ten years of hovering without reason in a nursing home, being sung to, fed, toileted, and put to bed by strangers. Strangers who include her daughters and grandchildren.
Today as my mother lies dying, I will not speak the monster's name. You know it. The monster of the sticky tangles that take short-term memory, then the intellect, then the long-term memory, the personality, speech, and finally balance and muscle control. The monster that earlier this week took her ability to swallow.
No tumors or surgical scars mar her body. For many years, you would have thought she still was there. The blue eyes, the delicate skin, the thick white hair, the lips that kissed me and spoke every one of my early childhood lessons. The monster did not change her appearance for a long time, until years without speech, thought, or emotion left her face hanging as uselessly on her head as our words hung in the air around her wheelchair.
Fifteen years after the diagnosis, I still cannot believe this monster has anything to do with Phyllis James, all-state basketball champion from Camp Hill High School Class of 1944. Phyllis of the Gamma Phi Betas, voted the best personality among the senior women of Pennsylvania State University Class of 1948.
I'm talking about the woman who taught school in Appalachia. I'm talking about the love of Bill McKim's life, with whom she shared a love that both of them with complete sincerity would tell you was as strong as any love affair in the history of mankind.
I'm talking about Phyl, writer of letters to the editor and reports from the League of Women Voters. Phyl the gardener, the seamstress, the oil painter. The woman who moved with her husband's job across the country twelve times as she raised her four daughters, every time sewing new draperies and redecorating before moving on.
I'm talking about Mom, who taught the sex ed class at church to make sure her daughters did not learn the facts of life from someone who did not enjoy them. The woman who liked the Beatles the first time she heard them and encouraged us to play our music louder so she could hear it in the kitchen. Mom, who helped us make valentines, dye eggs, pack picnics, put on formal family birthday dinners, load up Thanksgiving groaning boards, and wrap up each year with explosions of cookies, ribbons, tinsel and evergreens, on each occasion proclaiming, "It only comes once a year!"
I want to jump ahead to a week from now, when my sisters and I will be gathered around the gravesite with our parents finally reunited. I want to skip to the end of the story, when my mother will have escaped from the monster.
But all I can do today is sit quietly waiting for my mother's death.