Diane Guernsey

By this time next week, my mother may be dead.

In a sense, she’s been dying for a long time. This leg of her journey is the last in a decades-long trek with Parkinson’s disease.

She lies there, her head small and delicate on the pillow. Her hair is a wispy white thatch; her throat muscles are rigid, as if she’s just lifted a huge barbell. But her breaths come slowly, with long pauses in between, as if she’s nearly too tired to go on. Her brown eyes stare up sightlessly, lids half-open.

This nursing facility is part of a stepped-care retirement center where my parents moved more than ten years ago, anticipating the day when my mom would need more help than Dad could give her. They lived in an apartment there for years, while Parkinson’s slowly chilled my mom’s brisk, jaunty gestures and muffled her lively, Texas-inflected conversation into an inaudible murmur. (We all knew that this was inevitable, even though she received the most up-to-date drug regimen.) When a stroke unexpectedly felled my dad seven years ago, my mom, then 80, chose to move into the facility’s nursing wing.

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