It was this past Friday that she left this world. I was her nurse for the last 5 years and I hardly knew her. Many days I think I did a shabby job of it. “It,” being convincing, coaxing, encouraging her to live, convincing her to swallow the same pills day after day after day. She could only do it for at most a month in the time I knew her and that was a stretch. She was always sure that she didn’t want to die. She was never sure what it takes to live. With each swallowed pill an implied confession: “I have AIDS, I have AIDS, I have AIDS.” A confession she could not tolerate for days in succession. And it was not even her confession to make. It was the confession of her mother, who left her eighteen and a half years ago. It was something handed down from one generation to the next.
She had the biggest beautiful doe eyes and a raspy voice when she chose to speak. More often than not, she opted not to speak. She stopped calling for a month. I later found out that I had hurt her feelings when I told her “YOU are disappearing before my eyes.” My apology was delivered to her by her sister, since she would not speak to me.
Last July I realized that it was already over. Her words clung to life, but her inactions predicted an early death. They never matched, ever, the words and actions. It was tricky, new caregivers, usually a new hospice nurse or social worker would call me elated, excited: “You’ll never believe this. She doesn’t want to die! She wants to take the pills.”
And I would tell them that she never wanted to die, she always wanted to live. Look in her closet, just open the door I asked. And when the caregivers finally did, bottle upon bottle of life saving prescriptions tumbled from her closet. “See, it’s not me. I’m not the one holding her back.”
I had to change. I wanted to stick by her, even if it was messy. I remembered my father’s Mayo Clinic doctors abandoning him and any memory of him once they saw their treatments fail. Her last week I did not visit daily. I just couldn’t muster it. On the last day I was there. I whispered in her ear “You are loved.” I wanted to tell her that the angels were coming, but I didn’t want to scare her. She didn’t know about the angels yet. But now she does.