She wasn’t in the best shape. The hair wasn’t frosted into its customary halo, she wasn’t wearing her nice clothes — a hospital gown bears a strange resemblance to an Ionian peplos, but with snaps on the shoulders instead of pins. She’d peed herself a few minutes before I arrived because the nurse’s aide had left her in a position where her breathing put pressure on her abdomen. One of the difficulties with late stage emphysema is that you can’t tell people what you want without exhausting yourself. The disease is drowning you, and you can’t call for help. Not that help is much help. Later, the aide came back to clean her up, and help her from the bed to the chair. More pain, more pressure, more pee. She asked me to leave while she changed my grandmother’s diaper.
My grandmother wears a diaper now.
Her skin is so thin from being treated with Percoset for so long, that you can almost see her blood pump in her veins under the wrinkled flesh. There is a bruise on her right bicep the exact shape and size and length of a blood-pressure cuff. Her ankle is bandaged where someone whacked her with the tray table. She is too weak to eat; she cannot hold a fork, much less lift it to her mouth.
I have seen her worse than this.
I am reluctant to call this the end. I have seen her worse than this. But the end is coming.
This is not a race she can win, or come in second or third, or even last. Death is catching up to her, slowly coming up behind her to take her arm and guide her to the door, saying, “It’s all right. We’re just going to go down this corridor now, away from the machines and the air pumps and the rubber coated sheets, away from the blood-pressure cuffs and the tray table. You won’t need these catheters in your arm any more, let me pull them out for you.” And they will walk away down the corridor and into the garden, and no one will see them go.
At the same time, I know that this is fantasy. She will be stripped of even the dignity she currently has, before this is over. Let it never be said that dying is dignified. There are no beautiful corpses, either.
It was so hard to be strong for her today, to not cry in front of her. I almost lost it a dozen times today, just sitting with her listening to her trying to breathe, trying to sleep. Oh, it was so hard to be strong for her. But I am crying tonight.