January 18th is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 80 years old. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of her and how much she shaped who I would become. We all miss you, Mommy.
While spending time with my mother in the hospital, I was able to continue the routine that had begun with my siblings who had visited before me. Since physical and occupational therapies were usually done in the morning, I would plan on seeing her about 11:30 a.m.,which was right before they hospital lunches were brought up. But first I stopped at the local McDonald’s to get her a Chicken McNugget Happy Meal, complete with french fries, drink and a toy.
She never ate any of the hospital food, except for the desserts, and would only take a few sips of hot tea. She would pick at the chicken and eat a few french fries, then announce “I can’t eat another bite.” She was wasting away before our eyes. Pizza, hamburgers (no cheese) and Chicken McNuggets were her entire diet.
Her neighbor the next room over was occupied by a quiet Asian man, who was slowly dying of lung cancer. He was visited daily by his children and wife as well, as their pattern of coming and going seemed to mirror ours. His daughter was younger than me, but it was hard to tell by how much. We were all members of the same club, one we didn’t choose, but were part of nevertheless. Swollen, bloodshot, tired eyes were the calling cards of those who came everyday, day after day, until the final destination of their loved one was determined.
We would speak briefly she and I, telling me the condition of her father and I sharing the latest set back of my mother. She, like everyone else, knew my mother favored the Chicken McNuggets, and now and then would stop to pick up a bag of them for her herself. During one of my mother’s few moments of lucidity, she remarked on how the “pretty china girl brought her food.” We smiled knowingly at each other, for I never learned her name, and she never learned mine.
But like soldiers in a war, we shared a bond. We silently said a prayer for each other whenever one of them were combative, minds lost from drugs or loss of oxygen. We knew where to look for extra linen, always bringing sheets or towels for each other and making sure there was enough water in our parents glasses. We knew when it was nap time and when each of us would close our eyes as we sat in the chairs next to their beds, as close as we could get without climbing in with them.
One day I came in to say hello, but they had discharged him the evening before thus allowing him to go home and sleep in his own bed, probably for the final time. I thought about the Pretty China Girl and how she must be feeling, and wished I had been able to say goodbye.
She was a friend I would remember long after both of our parents were gone. One of the members of the club who, sadly, was finally free.