We interrupt the trilogy of Southern Comfort to bring you this report...
It is five minutes to midnight and the lights have been dimmed. The hiss of oxygen mixes with Omi’s labored breathing. As I sit by her bedside, my nostrils are assaulted by the stench of death and I find it difficult to believe that this woman before me is my Omi.
Her skin is ashen, her mouth dry, and her body unresponsive, but she wasn’t always like this.
I adjust her oxygen mask and look closely to see if there is any eye movement – but I find none. There was a time when her sky blue eyes would dance with laughter or crackle with disgust. Those eyes told a great deal about her personality. Fiercely proud and stubborn as the day is long, those beautiful baby blues are a part, and perhaps one of the best parts, of my childhood.
Tonight, as the hospital began to quiet, I held her hand. The same hand that snuck cookies to my brothers and I, regardless of the fact that our Mother told us no more cookies. These hands made the best peach pie evah! In fact, although peach pie is my favorite, I haven’t eaten a slice in years, because no ones’ pie, mine included, equal hers.
She’s settled down these last few hours. She is not as agitated as she was earlier. When I arrived I squeezed her hand, ran my other hand across her weathered face and said, “Omi, I’m here.” Omi opened her left eye and she searched me face. I saw recognition flicker there and I smiled. I told her I loved her and she attempted to reply but no words fell from her parched lips but I know she was saying she loved me too.
I watch this woman, this stranger, as her chest rises and falls with each breath and I wonder why the nursing staff insists on calling her Marie. For you see, this isn’t my Omi. This is not the woman who romanced an American GI, married him and fled Germany for the hope of a better life in the USA. This can’t possibly be the same spunky lady who met her second husband through a newspaper ad. This frail, shell of a woman, whose body is swollen from fluids cannot be the same lady who danced with sailors, twenty years her junior, during Rose Festival.
Hours have passed. I talk to her about our family, children, grand children. I describe the skilled nursing facility we found for her in Portland. I tell her about the beautiful room with a large window that we’ve chosen for her. I read to her. I debate the shift in theories concerning black holes and quantum physics. I describe the recipe for Tres Leche Cake that I am planning to bake.
We watch the news and I comment on a variety of stories. She has no opinion and the discussion slowly fades. The seconds tick by and together we wait. I tell her that it’s okay to go. She doesn’t need to worry about us. I promise her, based on a conversation she and I had last year, that Jesus is waiting to take her home.
Her lungs are beginning to fill with fluid even as her collection bag does not.
And I wonder… Can someone ever say I love you too many times?
The answer is simply no and I lean over and kiss her clammy brow. “I love you Omi.”
Together, this stranger and I, sit side by side. The IV pump hums in the back ground. The Oxygen hisses. Her breathing continues steadily. I’ve lost my appetite for television and thus I sit and stare at the woman in the hospital bed. Memories flicker across my mind of the past we’ve shared and I cannot stop the tears from welling up in my eyes.
The specter of death is in no hurry to arrive, leaving us both weary. The night stretches before me and I quarrel with exhaustion. GC won’t be back for another couple of hours. Like a sentry on patrol, I stand and stretch, forcing my body to remain alert.
And still we wait for death.