Month: October 2019
she said she wanted
every bone in her body
flirting with the idea of flying,
knowing she admires the flitting of butterflies
from one pollen hive to another
open and close open and close
like they are breathing
like her wings are lungs
“This healthy young woman and her husband were unable to conceive and tried assisted reproduction. Over a two-year period, she endured seven cycles of egg retrieval and one failed embryo implant before she succeeded in becoming pregnant. In this photo, she is twenty weeks pregnant and never happier. The baby was born in November 2018.”
Charm City Steel, the five-piece band, pick up their sticks and in rhythm tap out a fetching tune on their huge steel drums. This is the preamble to a special program to celebrate and remember my mom, who died of advanced dementia at age eighty-seven in my home. The music lifts me as people wander in.
It is Mom’s memorial service, and she asked for this. It was ten years ago out of the blue, between steel drum dance tunes while vacationing together in Maine. She pointed at me from across the village green and said, “I want a steel band at my funeral!” No matter that she never brought up death or dying before or since. At that moment the heavens opened, and she delivered her wish to me. And I said to her, to myself and my daughter Amelia: “Done.”
The day began in Mom’s room with a 10:00 am conference at Upper Valley Medical Center, west of Columbus, Ohio. In attendance were my ninety-three-year-old mother Joanne (now in her third week of hospitalization), her palliative-care nurse Richard, her Episcopal priest Mother Nancy and myself.
Mary barely introduces herself before describing her struggles. Married for thirteen years, the mother of two little boys, she complains about her husband’s alcoholism. Her in-laws’ get-togethers revolve around heavy drinking, dancing, and singing, often extending into the next morning. Last weekend, after her husband got fired, she took her boys and slept at her mother’s place.
Six years ago, I retired early because of serious health problems. I’d worked for decades as a doctor.
Early on, it was difficult for me to ask for and accept help. I was always the one who stepped in, not the one who needed assistance. Well-meaning friends would say, “Let me know if I can do anything.” I was floundering.
This month, at medical schools across the country, first-year students will officially don the physician’s traditional white coat for the first time.