Tag Archives: hospice

My mother would have been 85 today

April 9th is a date that stands out for me: it is the date of my mother’s birth.

Today she would have been 85. Always easy to remember because she was twenty when I was born and twenty is an easy number for me to add to my own birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom (wherever ‘you’ are)!

I want to share the poem I wrote about my last day on Earth with her in March 2007. All five of her children plus two spouses were there, crowded in that hospice room at Ft. Hamilton Hospital. We Beisers, at least, seem to be a stubborn bunch! I’ve been told by several nurse friends that their experience is that people often die when you leave the room. But my siblings and I were not budging.

To honor and memorialize my mother (Irene “Shirley” Hornsby), I read my poem at my Thursday class at Women Writing for (a) Change this morning. We were having a readaround where we take turns sharing a piece we wrote. So, by popular demand, (at least from family and friends on Facebook), below is the poem:

Breath

It was her death, after all;
I was only an observer.
Lung cancer or not,
it all comes down to the breath.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Towards the end, a final gasp.
My little sister, a nurse’s aide,
watched for signs:
See that blue, the
mottled colors on her feet–
the oxygen is lessening.
It all comes down to the breath.
Breathe in, breathe out.

Later I called Jeri the conductor,
the family guide to mom’s passing.
When I, the last, reached the room
my little sister informed our mother
that all five of her children were there.
She had fought hard and now
it was okay to let go.
Earlier that day–
eyes seeing something we could not—
our mother exclaimed
“amazing” with no explanation.
We like to remember the joy
in that moment; meanwhile,
it all comes down to the breath.
Breathe in, breathe out.

When it was time she opened her eyes.
The look did not include us.
There in that room
with all her children watching,
she died with her mouth open.
The nurse checked her heartbeat
then told us she was gone.
She took the oxygen tube out
of our mother’s nostrils.
She asked me to turn the tanks off.

First one, then the other.
Suddenly so silent.
No more humming,
that nagging but necessary
noise of artificial breath
that had haunted her
those final few months.
No more need for these
tanks and tubes.

2:25 on a Sunday morning
and all we could do was
breathe in, breathe out.
It all comes down to the breath.

bye to Betsy

Yesterday was my final session with Betsy. Yep, I can call her that. Even though she’s my therapist, we’ve had a casual, friendly style. I’d know her before–she’s a musician and singer in the community–but not on a personal basis. It was more that we knew who each other was.

She told me she’d miss me and that, if something came up, I could call. Betsy checked my file and told me I’d been seeing her since November 2004. I first went to see her when I was dating T. and I was cast in a net of angst about relationships. Mine was a Woody Allen kind of neurosis. Eventually things settled down and I used my inner social worker to deal with things.

Early 2007, I remember pulling to the side of a road and calling her. My words were something like: “I think I need to see you again to deal with issues of loss and grief.” I was driving home from seeing my mother, at home under hospice care. She was dying of lung cancer. At the same time, my girlfriend A. (who I dreamed I could marry) started withdrawing. Either one of these losses could have done me in but both at the same time seemed too much to handle.

By May of that year, I discovered the joy that had been hidden inside (but that’s another story). I owe much of my recovery to Siddha Yoga practices. The fact that I was divine revealed Herself. Iris and daffodils bloomed wildly around me. The first puppy I ever had sat next to me on the garden bench. Birds were chirping. The creek flowed, teaching me about change. I was retired, had a home in a lovely setting, and life was good, after all. Sometimes I even found bliss.

Betsy said I’d grown from “What’s wrong with me?” to a greater acceptance of myself. I told her if I were President of the United States, I’d include a once-a-month counseling session for everyone in the new health bill. How gratifying it was to have someone to hear me out each month and be my advocate (when I couldn’t be one for myself). I have my friends and my writing and meditation: all these are ways to keep in touch with myself. Meanwhile, I’ll see Betsy next month: she’s doing a concert at College Hill Coffee Company. I’ll be there in the audience cheering her on.

Visiting my mother’s grave

I will be leaving shortly to drive to the next county to visit the cemetery in which my mother is buried. Her birthday would be tomorrow but I will be unable to visit then as I am going out of town.

Irene Shirley Krazl died two years ago from lung cancer. Fortunately, we had time to say goodbye. She spent time with hospice but as much of that as possible was spent in her own home. My sister Linda and I came to visit often (she had remarried and had Dave there, as well). I am so glad I had those last months to spend with her. Grateful for all those years of zen practice because it served me well. Although there were some tasks I could do (get her food, change her diaper, hand her morphine), mostly it was just ‘sitting’ with her, ‘being’ with her.

I was her first-born so I suppose that made our relationship a special one. She told me a story of how good I was, how she would set toddler me on her bed and overturn her jewelry box with all its belongings. She said I would sit there, entertained and in awe over the pretty necklaces and gemstones. I’m so glad we took that trip to the San Francisco Bay Area back in the ’90s. It would be our only mother-daughter trip.

mom & me on the boat to Alcatraz

mom & me on the boat to Alcatraz

I created a puja (altar) to my mother in my meditation room. Today I will take those dried flowers to her gravesite and do a spontaneous ritual, spreading them over her grave. I will say hello and continue to make the goodbye a real one. Happy birthday, mom! Can you hear me wherever you are?