liminal – adj. origin: from Latin limen, limin threshold
1. of or relating to an initial or transitional stage of a process
2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a threshold.
It’s autumn, that liminal season between summer and winter where the days hopscotch from overcast and rainy and the veil into winter is thin, to blue skies and warm sun when it feels as if summer will go on and on. It’s my favorite season. There are still days for gardening and hiking—at least in theory—while flirting with cozy rainy days, indoor projects, and the anticipation of space for inner quiet.
Mama is in liminal space too; and, therefore, so are Rebecca and I. Is she between life and death? In the sense that anyone at 100 years is, yes. Will she take the final step soon? We can’t know that. And so we sit, unmoored, on the threshold, stepping back from it some days and returning to the edge on others.
It’s become a challenge to publish a post covering the previous seven days. Last Friday I would have written something very different from one on Saturday. One on Saturday would have born little resemblance to one on Sunday. And so forth. I did have to post an extra edition on Saturday, because who would have thought Mama would fall and break bones, for the first time, the very day she was discharged from the hospital for a second episode of bowel obstruction? I began this post on Monday, knowing that by Wednesday’s publication date content may have changed again.
Monday, however, I was in Seattle with my grandsons. Never have I been so glad to see anyone as I was to see this family. I didn’t even care about the traffic to get there. Adrian is holding his head up noticeably better on his 4-month birthday than he was last week, and maybe he’s teething. Things shift daily at life’s beginning also. Adrian and I picked up Elliot after daycare and enjoyed the walk home on the two beautiful afternoons, with an apple from Gigi’s house.
After Saturday I was planning this post in my head and was going to tell you about the resilience of my mother’s spirit, a.k.a. strong will, a.k.a. stubbornness. It was something approaching pleasure to care for her that day, to help her be comfortable, to encourage her to try a new thing like eating with her left hand, which she quickly mastered (we think she might have been a closeted lefty all along). She was kind and grateful, brave and uncomplaining. She asked for what she needed without a hint of whine. “Yes,” I told Rebecca, “it is absolutely okay for you to attend Day 2 of your event in Portland. We’ll be fine.”
Sunday dawned. It didn’t help that I didn’t go to bed until 3:00 Saturday morning—after a night in the E.R. with the broken arm—and was on night duty Saturday night when the tide began to shift. I was already sleep deprived when my solitary Sunday-from-hell started at 6:30. When she slept, I slept. The garden gate latch didn’t get fixed, and the deer enjoyed the tomatoes, chard, and squash blossoms and walked in the strawberry patch. And the peppers, are you kidding me? Apparently they don’t care for zinnias. Paid work didn’t get done. I have since given up the hope of one more trip to the mountains before the snows come and cancelled my non-refundable registration for the local writer’s conference on Saturday. But I lined up additional care coverage for Monday and Tuesday afternoons, determined not to miss my life-giving grandchildren time in Seattle.
Sunday night was better, and all went well until Tuesday afternoon. Rebecca arrived at the house at dinner time to find Mama in bed moaning in discomfort and agitation and called the Hospice nurse who gave her instructions for using the anti-nausea/anxiety med in the Hospice kit—the one from our previous hospice enrollment because the new one hasn’t come yet. Have I said enough times: thank goodness for being back in Hospice? She slept then, but was awake when I got home, and agitated again. We called the nurse to come and I read poetry to her while we waited. “I want to be sure Emma gets that one,” she said of one about hills, “she loves this hill, and the mountain.” “I’ll take a picture of the page and send it right now,” I said.
From 10-11:30 the nurse attended to her (determining that there is no obstruction) and talked to us. We gave her a sleep med. She woke once at 3:00 to go to the bathroom, and was still sleeping when we left her in Michelle’s capable hands this morning. “Don’t wake a sleeping baby,” Michelle advised. I’m at a downtown coffee shop, rather than my usual one in Olympia before yoga—four weeks since I’ve been there.
“I’m depressed,” she told Rebecca; “I should have just died.” We have both been encouraged by friends who have been on this threshold not to be afraid to tell her it’s okay to let go. As I was driving down I-5, the three-quarter moon hanging over the pink Mt. Rainier, I said those words into the sunset. “You’ve had a long life,” Rebecca was telling her at the same time, “it’s okay to let it go now.” Mama was silent. Then, “Is the window open?” she asked. I don’t think she meant so she could fly out, but maybe somewhere deep in her soul she did mean that.
Maybe she is waiting for Jo Ann to come; she is trying to clear her schedule. Maybe if she sees her great-grandchildren once more; they will come next weekend. Maybe, maybe what? I don’t know. I feel like she is teetering, but doesn’t know how to give up, to take the big step. She told the Hospice intake nurse she would go back to the hospital for another agonizing and invasive intubation if she had another obstruction. She told me she thought she needed her crushed multi-vitamin mixed with applesauce. She eats even though she doesn’t feel like it. She has said in the past that she has wanted to be here as long as she could walk and see the hills. Both have been taken from her.
Rebecca and I have a different agenda. If at all possible to get her there, we are keeping her appointment with her primary care doctor tomorrow to talk to her about taking the splint off her arm, and perhaps just use the sling. If there isn’t pain—and she hasn’t complained of any—it might improve her days. Perhaps she could push her walker through the house; maybe her fingers wouldn’t be numb and tingling, which is driving her nuts. We don’t care if the cracked bones heal, we just don’t want her end days or weeks to be like this. She may not be ready to give in to palliative care, but we want her to go gently across the threshold without further punishment to her frail body. We want her will to join hands with her tired body. We know, too, that giving her her hand back may push her farther back from the threshold, until the next crisis.
Mama hates autumn. It’s the precursor to winter, her least favorite season. This liminal place would be a good time to flee the bonds of earth.
“A level land my satisfy and fill
Eyes that are born to it, for all I know,
But everywhere I look I want a hill,
Far off, or near. Sight has somewhere to go
And something worthwhile, every hour, to do,
Climbing a dozen ridges to the top
Or searching for them through the misty blue.
I like a land where looking doesn’t stop
With flat horizons, where my gaze can roam
Up hill and down, and always be at home.” (Jane Merchant)