I sat with Mrs. C on Wednesday while her husband left the home to run errands. Sometimes my job is not really to provide companionship to a patient but more to allow a few hours of respite to a caregiver. Mrs. C was mostly unresponsive. Her eyes were open at times but stared blankly, and she mostly slept, even through the assessment of her nurse who turned her side to side. I spoke to her quietly, and tried gentle touch of her shoulder and hand, but she is in a different world now and I didn't reach her.
I sat by her hospital bed, kept crisply made by her husband, and watched her sleep. The home, which they moved into only a few weeks ago, is already filled with photos of the family, of her and her husband and their children and grandchildren in better days. It was easy to remember that she like all of us metamorphosed through all the stages of life. Once she was a tiny baby being cared for by her mother, before she became a mother who did the same to her own children, who one day too will lie dying.
I thought about her mother nurturing her as an infant, and about how we are always our mothers' babies, no matter our age. Then it seemed wrong to me, despite the natural flow of life that means it is assuredly not, that in this terribly monumental, foreign life experience her mother was not there to tend to her. I am sure that if she were alive she would wet her mouth, which was dry and rattled as she lay with her head back and her lips wide open. I am sure she would smooth her hair and whisper to her. She would guide her in her arms through this transition as she did through her first.
I wondered if remembering that we are all someone's child would help us to treat our people with more kindness as they age. Last weekend at a hospice event at a shabby nursing facility I saw old people languishing in wheelchairs unattended to in the battered halls that smelled of an institution. If there is anything after death, there are a million mothers weeping as they watch.