I am lost in the memory of you.
Your spine like piano keys, middle C to high C. Firm indentations I play as I hold you up to eat, to try a teaspoon of water. Your gummy grins smile childlike delight and your sunken cheeks lift a grateful appreciation. Some days your eyes twinkle impishly and others they stare. And stare.
And stare to the hiss of the oxygen tube.
I wipe the dribbled puree before it dries upon your chin.
You don't even try to hold the spoon.
Your hands pluck at the bed-sheets too tired to take the trip from lap to mouth. And I wonder how it feels inside. Do you feel shamed that you cannot lift cup to mouth or head from pillow? Yet I feel your gratefulness. I am content to spend my days sitting, feeding you when you feel up to it. Listening quietly to the in-and-out rattles that will one day cease. Greedily grasping these moments for the days when all that comes to mind is the bouquet of lilies atop your oaken casket. Visions of my shrunken mother within. The quiet that is now your voice.
On your good days you enjoy a prayer read aloud. Peace overcomes you and your childhood stirs. Your delight and freedom of spirit is contagious. Midnight giggles after the medicine rounds. Joking with your fellow patients wandering the corridors before dawn. You don't even realize the burden you are lifting from the shoulders of hospital staff, here on this ward where few leave willingly. But I see it in their gentle caresses and their intimate eye contact. Spirits renewed, quenched by one which is fading.
You delight in the birch tree outside your window. We watch it day by day - eight weeks in all - in the wee hours when the pain strikes with vigor or the night terrors stalk your peace. The October winds take each leaf, one by one. Soon it is November and the last few hold tight amidst snowstorms. We are not yet ready for the last fall. You though, are seeking the tall outdoor lamps. God's light you whisper wonderingly, at the sight beyond your hospital window.
"I have great strength," you remind me. "God passed it on."
And I am reaching for that same strength Mom. In the Connemara skyline bleeding purple in the setting sun. In the frothing spring tides whipping the Spiddal pier. In the budding tree-growth awakening to spring. To somewhere a birch tree shifting silver in God's light. Soothed in the aftermath of barren winter, I journey on.