|Life, Death, Madness - Page 12|
The unmistakable stillness of the deceased fills a room. It commands the attention of the living. Twenty minutes from going home, after sitting with Cyrus's people in the ED and confirming a room on the psychiatry unit for Dorothy, I'm asked to assist Elizabeth, whose 83-year-old mother has just died. She sits alone at her mother's bedside, her red hair descending in a braid down her back, her freckled face flushed and wet with tears. She's bitterly angry with her brother. "Damn him! "Mr. Special' asks me if I want him to come back to the hospital now, since he was already here once today!"
I sit down next to her. "His mother is dead and he won't even come back!" she continues, sobbing. "It's typical. I do everything alone!"
Her mother is cadaverous. Her dentures have been removed, leaving her mouth collapsed, agape. Her scalp is hairless and her face is without eyebrows, making her appear genderless, universally human, and dead. I take long, contemplative looks at her as Elizabeth speaks.
Her rage alternates with tears and relief, and then, a moment of quiet pride. "My mom was the last of eleven brothers and sisters," she tells me. "I've buried most of them. I think they'd be happy with how I've done by them. They were farmers; we go way back." She's silent for a moment, then murmurs, shakily, "It's really the end of an era." Six months or a year from now, Elizabeth may sit with a psychotherapist to uncoil her grief and rage. But I'm here, now, at this very moment of loss. I feel privileged to be with her.
After a while, Elizabeth begins to speak of her mother's final months, how she was paralyzed below the neck following a fall, unable to feed herself or even sense her own body. "It's best she's gone," she says, calmer now. As we quietly inhabit the room, the three of us, a thought arises: This will be me some day, sitting with my deceased parents. Will I be alone, or will someone be here with me?