By Patricia Schlick

My mother is dying,
of cigarettes, and booze,
and eighty years.

My mother is dying,
So instead of voting
    I pack my suitcase
       Drive to the airport
          Take an airplane to Cleveland.

Go to her bedside,
      to be near
                 to stave off illness and death.

I take a taxi to University Hospitals
  Mother is sitting up
watching election returns on television.
She says,
         "I guess my smoking
               has finally caught up with me."

My mother is dying.
My sisters and I are angry, afraid.

Mother is x rayed
to see the nature and quality of the tumor.
An ugly red presence spreading through
                     her lungs.
The doctor offers respiratory therapy and ibuprofen.

My sisters and I try to prove ourselves
competent to handle death. . .

I make arrangements for a hospice.
Another sister organizes medication schedules.
One makes phone calls
and provides transportation.
One moves furniture.

My mother is dying,
Has come home to die.
Home to her apartment,
The only place she ever lived alone.
She is excited to come home,
But she is not alone now.

We move furniture
From the loft
Her sanctuary
Where she hibernated
to read and write.
We have taken her hermitage
      for a caregiver to sleep

A hospital technician demonstrates
            respiratory therapy.

The American Cancer Society
moves in
a hospital bed and oxygen tank.

On her first night home Mother
has a glass of cabernet sauvignon,
chicken breasts, salad, and rice.
       She eats only a little bit.

I sleep in the apartment the first night...
wake up to the smell of
                  cigarette smoking!
Despite cancer and oxygen
                  Mother is smoking!

My mother is dying,
And I am her nurse;
   straightening beds
   administering medication,
          bathing, toileting

Small things need to be taken care of
while death casts a large shadow.

Studying metaphysics and poetry
  Didn't prepare me to nurse
   a dying woman
But studying metaphysics and poetry
taught me I couldn't avoid the fact of death.
Love makes strange roles possible

Jesus said,
"If it is possible,
let this cup pass from me;
yet not what I want but
what you want."
   Now, I understand.

My mother is dying.
  Today four generations of women,
Mother, her daughters,
   two granddaughters and
    a great-granddaughter,
take communion, receive Christ
Who will not take, this cup from us
But will hold ours hands
Through this walk to Golgotha.

   My mother is dying,
I am caught up in the details
   Of a dying woman's life:
      Bowel movements,
        respiratory therapy,
Decisions meaning
   A few more days of painful life
              Or a quicker death.

My mother is dying,
Is ready to die
I am ashamed
of impatience.
I am homesick
    miss my husband,
       working at church,
          walking my Golden Retriever
             This is taking a long time.

My daughters travel from busy lives
to support their mother.
One brings with her the great-grandchild
    born on Mother's last birthday.
Another comes with the heartache of
    a broken marriage.
The youngest flies from Germany,
    leaving behind the corporate world
    to scrub bathrooms and help with

A daughter sits by
my mother's bed
holding her hand,
I am behind her
hands on her shoulders.

Mother sinks and fades
She seldom leaves her bed.
She lies on her right side,
floating in and out of consciousness.
       she asks for morphine.

My mother is dying;
        She smiles and laughs in her sleep.
With whom is she laughing?
        Dad, my brother, her parents?

What memories are there for her
       As she struggles to breathe?

My mother is dying;
      We have our last conversation.

Mother believed that if only everyone
   would vote Republican
     Have cocktails at 5:00 pm everyday
      and never talk of unpleasant things
       all would be well.

I didn't do any of these things.

Mother said to me that morning,
"I always loved you.
      I just could never
          understand you."

My three sisters and I stay in Mother's room.
   We scatter ourselves around the bed.
     We hold Mother, tell her
       how much we love her.
         Tell her Dad is waiting.
A song plays.
It is
  "The Very Thought of You,"
My parents special song.
  How nice!
   One of my sisters played the tape.
We all listen and weep.
   When a commercial comes on
I realize none of us
   have planned this moment.

Mother is gasping, struggling for each breath.
The nurse gives her last cocktail. A shot of morphine
with a honey chaser.

At 4:30 AM, she lets out a rattling gasp,
   her chest rises, and falls
               then nothing

I sit watching her still body
          and wish her well
On a journey neither of us understood.
   She hadn't known where she was going,
           I didn't know where she was.

I sit beside her body keening,
       "Oh, Mother… Mother…Mother…"

I wash her body.
It is the last thing I can do.

On the day after her death
Natalie Cole sings
"The Very Thought of You"
     on the CD in Mother's loft.

  I write in my journal.....

              “My mother is dead.”


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