Tuesday, September 23, 2008

feels like fall, or, mortality and living wills and decisions not yet made

It feels like fall today, appropriately enough: the air crisp, sun-kissed but cool, and sad in a way that is unique to the season.

I tend to get sick this time of year. Nothing serious, just a cold. A waking up one morning with a sore throat, a feverish ache around the eyes, soon followed with a cough, sniffles, sneezes. This lasts a couple days, no more, and then abrupt health again.

Towards the end of high school and throughout college, though, it was often much worse, exacerbated by lack of sleep (years of intermittent insomnia, combined with unforgivable paper-writing procrastination) and reckless living (lunch hours spent chain-smoking Marlboro 100s and mainlining coffee in the chill autumn air, shot after shot of tequila at 3 am). A week or weeks of bleary-eyed confusion, constant hacking, hoarse voice, and the smell, somehow, of wood smoke lingering in the back of my throat.

Now it is a mere nuisance, and also a sure sign that another summer is over, that winter is on its way.

The mother of one of my best friends is dying. He does not know exactly when or exactly how she will go, but it's coming. Today, next month, maybe not until after the winter has turned again to spring, but this too is on its way. They are not close, this friend of mine and his mother, and have a long and complicated history together, but still, the experience is real and present and horrible in ways I can only imagine.

My own mother called me last night to check in on this friend, to learn of any further developments. We talked for a long time, she and I -- about dinner plans, about weekend plans, about the apples on her apple trees and the apple sauce therefrom, about what we each would want in the face of incapacitation. (Two weeks, if there is even an outside chance at recovery, and then a letting go.)

I remember my father, just before his death, grabbing at the sleeve of one of the EMTs, demanding that they not cut him open, that they not go to extreme measures, and the EMT calmly replying that he would have to tell the doctors that himself.

He didn't have to in the end because there was no saving him, and there were no end-of-life decisions to be made.
And for this, in a way, I am grateful.

Yesterday on the phone, this friend kept using a certain turn of phrase, a specific string of words, that I imagine he picked up from the doctors, and whose purpose clearly was to hold something at bay. He kept referring to the fact that it was not yet time, in the face of his mother not having a living will, for "moral and ethical decisions to be made."

Last night I asked my own mother to make all of this stuff official now so that some day, hopefully very, very far in the future, but whenever it comes, we will not be confronted with these same decisions. I don't know that I could stand it.


Anonymous said...

sometimes your posts make me want to cry.

Anonymous said...


I too am on the verge of tears, after reading your eloquently simple evocation and deeply moving of your Dad's last minutes. I have always wondered, and still wonder, what he experienced...but in time that experience will come to me, as it comes to us all.