In the hospital emergency room, someone accidentally bumps into an aide carrying a bedpan, and urine sloshes onto the floor. After several hours of waiting, my mother is finally admitted. I pay for TV, but she does not have the strength to push the buttons on the remote. She can’t find the red button to call the nurse either. She tells me that last night she was taken down to a dungeon where she lay awake in terror. Now she wonders why someone left a black Scottish terrier in the corner of her room.
She died on Sunday, after a month of dateless days that began on Halloween and ended just short of Thanksgiving. We went from the hospice admitting office to a Halloween party in the family room, where volunteers offered us fruit punch, orange cupcakes and orange and black balloons. Three toddlers in identical ladybug suits were dancing on the faux-parquet ballroom floor to the electrically amplified folk songs of a long-haired balladeer.
There was nothing particularly unusual or newsworthy about my father-in-law’s death at age 84. Even so, it was unsettling, given that until his diagnosis of stage four cancer on March 1, he had been living alone in his home and was seemingly healthy—and that despite his doctor’s prognosis of having several months to live, he died after only three more weeks.
Recently, I prayed for someone to die. She wasn’t an enemy. She was the beloved teenage daughter of two exceptionally fine church friends. Sarah’s frail body, once so vivacious and spry, was failing, fading away—sucked of its verve and substance by a fierce internal rapacious monster: Ewing’s sarcoma, bone cancer.