Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cosmic Stars

Our emotional roller coaster continues.

Maya sat on the living room floor this evening with me next to her and Verna's sister-in-law, Donna, on the couch. Miguel was at soccer practice after having spent the day with me and a buddy of his at a water park. Verna was asleep on her special recliner chair right behind us.

"Mommy's going to die," Maya said, lying on her back.

I got on my knees and edged towards her. "Yes, she is," I said. "But she will always love you so much. And she always be able to tell you how much she loves you. She'll be a star in heaven--"

"--Just like Grandma Chela," Maya interrupted. Verna's mother died in October of 2008, and we've always told Maya that she is a star in heaven illuminating the cosmos (but not in those words).

"That's right, Mommy will be a star in heaven," I responded. "I hope not too soon. But then we can go outside every night and see which star is Mommy shining down on us."

Maya looked up at the ceiling and said, "There's Mommy. Let's pretend Mommy died." She waved. "Hi Mommy."

Verna suddenly woke up and said, "Hi Maya."

Our hospice social worker said when these moments occur to take extreme advantage, which is why I engaged Maya and affirmed for her that, yes, Mommy is going to die. I tried to maintain an almost light or humorous demeanor as she and I talked. Donna, however, turned towards the window with tears in her eyes. Later, she and I held hands and I admitted, "I almost lost it out there with Maya."

But Maya knows what is happening even if she can't fully digest what death means. Last week, on the day Verna and I found out she might only have a few days left, I was driving Maya to her 1/2 hour swimming lesson after preschool.

"When we get home," I said, "we can see how Mommy's feeling."

"Mommy's going to die," Maya said. "And I'm going to be sad."

I reached for the proverbial brass ring and said, "Yes, Mommy's going to die. And we're all going to be sad. But we'll always have Mommy in our hearts, and she will always, always love you very, very much."

Yes, Verna is going to die. Sooner rather than later. Just not yet. Today her pain level hovered at a seven (on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the most pain), she said, and didn't subside very much even with all her pain medication. Aside from insisting on going out to help Donna bath our dog who'd thrown up on herself in her kennel last night, Verna slept or was in a foggy state for most of the day. So tonight, just before I helped her upstairs to bed (she still prefers to sleep in our bed mainly because Maya, who shares a room with us, wants her around), I said, "Verna, where's your pain level right now?"

"Seven," she answered.

"Is it unbearable?" I asked.

She clearly shook her head. We have an agreement that once her pain becomes unbearable, she wants me, as her healthcare agent and POA, to instruct hospice to steadily increase her pain medication and cease the steroids, both measures that will hasten her death.

But tonight she did not hesitate to move her head quickly from side to side against the hospital bed pillow. Sometimes non-verbal communication is a beautiful thing.