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  • Carolyn Lackey

Absent


That was then. This is most of the time.

People often ask me how Meems is doing. I need to start pulling out my phone and showing this picture. It sums up how she is "doing." It's hard to put words to it. "Eating and sleeping." "In bed twenty-three out of every twenty-four hours." "Present today" or "Absent today." She's mostly absent.

Meems is not in pain. She has no bed sores. She is fed three well-chopped meals a day. She is clean and cozy.

Each day when I visit, I first "check roll" to see if she's absent or present. There are days when a blaring smoke alarm and five firefighters in her room yelling, "We gotta git her outta here!" would not wake her up. I sometimes envy her ability to sleep deeply. A sleep so deep in a world of technicolor dreams of flying like a bird over treetops and singing solos on Broadway that are so vivid I can feel the breeze on my face and hear the applause of the audience. I think that's what it means to sleep in "heavenly peace."

Most days I begin by kneeling by her bedside so that I can be eye level with her. "Mom, it's me, your daughter Carolyn." Open eyes don't necessarily indicate that she is "present." It took me a long while not to read too much into her blank stares. Was she secretly thinking that I don't spend enough time with her? Was she frustrated with me because I've been out of town for a few days? This is what I decided: She's thinking nothin'.

I can't remember the last time that the day of the week or the month of the year was on her mind. She mentioned Christmas about a month ago. Then, poof! Christmas was gone. Time for her is one long continuum of dark and light. Window blinds are open. Window blinds are closed.

When I first looked at the picture above, I saw the bones in her arm that are thinly draped with crepe paper skin. I saw the discoloration on her arm and hand. I saw the nothingness of her hollow eyes. Then, I looked again.

The picture above is a picture of peace. It's a picture of patience. It's a picture of wakefulness.

The ambient light of a lamp in the corner of her room and filtered sunshine slipping through the slats of her window blinds creates a feeling of calmness. Soft strains of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass or Ferrante and Teicher songs float from cable channel 948, "Stingray Easy Listening." It reminds me of the feeling I get when I walk into an empty sanctuary where the only sounds are the shhh of my steps on the carpet and the whoosh of the air conditioning. I love the sanctity of that quiet with its soft noises.

Yesterday, Meems' eyes were wide open and staring at nothing. I knelt and introduced myself before I drug her wheelchair and hospital tray table to the bedside so that I could work on my Bible Study while we "visited." I turned off the TV, paired my phone to the bluetooth speaker in her room and pushed "shuffle" on my playlist titled "Mom's favorites." Her eyes began to scan the room. She mumbled something. I muted the music and asked her to repeat what she said.

"You say you're my daughter?" Her words sounded both biblical and apprehensive.

"Yes. I'm your daughter."

A few minutes passed.

"Then, you must be Carolyn Lackey."

My jaw dropped. From somewhere in the thunder storm of her brain's vascular dementia, a tiny bit of truth popped out into the light. My last name.

I enjoy those bits and pieces of her memory. I still enjoy sitting in her homey room. I'm not sad. Truly. I'm not. Hospice has stopped trying to "call it." Mom's outward symptoms of transitioning belie her inner strength. Alan tells me that Meems will live to be a "hunnerd." Sometimes I believe him.


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