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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Wait

My niece informs me it is now seven days since my sister has had any sustenance in the form of saline IV and more than eight since she entered her coma. The wait for the inevitable is an agony, but the pain I can imagine my niece is suffering at her mother's bedside is worse for me.

I flip back in my memory to the deaths of three parents, both of mine and, most recently, Michael's dad.  All three were well into their eighties and all three took the long road home instead of the quick leap of a sudden death that has become a far more attractive route to me now that I've witnessed these three and am now awaiting news of the fourth from afar. Just today, in fact, I have informed my kids that short of taking a pillow to my face, they are to agree to whatever a doctor offers to hasten my departure if I decide to take the slow painful route. I must formalize that request because I would like to minimize their suffering.

My daughter recently read out to me a passage about women and waiting, though I think the phenomenon is not always exclusive to my gender. The gist of it was this:

We are generally the caregivers who minister to the sick and dying in our families, making their lives as comfortable and happy as possible, but waiting for the end.

We wait impatiently for men to ask us to marry them or ask us out (Though in our case, my husband proved to be not much of a self-starter and I had to take matters into my own hands in our courtship. I'd have waited forever otherwise).  We wait excitedly to get pregnant or we wait as single, unattached women in a panic for our periods to come to confirm no pregnancy.  We uncomfortably wait through nine long months for our children to gestate and then we wait through sometimes long excruciating hours of labour.

We are more likely to do the nighttime vigils with sick children who always seem their sickest and, in our addled, sleep-deprived brains, closest to death in the wee hours of the night. It was always my mother, not my father, who waited sleeplessly and anxiously for me or my sister, as carefree and thoughtless young adults, to arrive home far too late and sometimes too inebriated.  To my knowledge, my brother spared my mother that anguish.

But it is this wait for the death of a chronically ill loved one that has a special agony. In Michael's case and in my sister's, their longterm ill health has brought them to the brink so many times that the rest of us should all be inured by now.  Yet every night becomes a kind of vigil because it could happen anytime for Michael whose heart has proven wonky in the past. If he has even a simple cold, his mental state is altered drastically and threateningly, setting off the vigil alarm and triggering the wait response through long dark nights.  I have spent many nights simply listening to the rise and fall of his breathing over the monitor to be sure he's okay, just as I used to when my children were babies.  Every morning I lie awake listening for his breath before I brace myself for a day of waiting to attend to his every need.

Patience is a virtue, I hear.

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