Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Heart of the Matter

Yesterday was Terms of Endearment meets the Twilight Zone meets the Wefald and Friedman household. Verna basically said goodbye to Miguel and Maya. And, like the moment when Debra Winger addresses her children from her hospital bed, buckets of tears gushed forth.

It all started last week when Verna asked the spiritual support counselor in a barely audible voice, "I want to say goodbye to my kids."

So hospice arranged for a social worker and a bereavement counselor, who is also trained as a therapist, to help Verna facilitate the conversation. We decided on yesterday because Miguel was still home (school started today) and Maya returns from preschool in the early afternoon.

Prior to the meeting Verna asked me, "So hospice thinks I'm going to die?"

"Yes," I said. "But they don't think it's imminent. They just wanted us to schedule the meeting sooner rather than later."

Verna was pretty alert on Saturday, but dazed and slightly confused most of Sunday, so I was worried how coherent she'd be when she spoke to the kids. But she was surprisingly present once the gathering began.

Our social worker Deborah Schwing started by asking the kids to assess how Verna was doing through their eyes. Miguel said, "She's been getting weaker and is in a lot of pain." Maya parrotted Miguel's view.

"Maya," I said, "What's happeing to Mommy?"

"Mommy's going to die," Maya said.

"And then how will we see Mommy?" I asked.

"She'll be in star in heaven like Grandma Chela," Maya said.

Deborah then asked Verna to describe her feelings and how she understood her situation.

"Well, I'm dying," Verna said. "I'm angry that I won't get to see the kids grow up, won't be there for so many milestones--graduations, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings. I am sad I won't ever meet my grandchildren."

Tears were flowing freely down Verna's face and mine. I felt intense anger and sadness as well that we and Verna were being robbed.

Deborah asked Verna to talk to the kids and share her hopes and dreams for them.

"I want you to find your passion in life. Always be good," she said. "Do unto others as you have them do unto you. Work hard. Work hard in school. Always do what is right. Be a good role model."

Miguel was quiet, head down, and preoccupied with a booklet near him on the recliner chair. Maya moved from the hospital bed, snuggling against Verna, to my lap. She was growing restless. At one point the beareavement counselor, Andrea, who will soon see Maya for play therapy, took Maya upstairs to play.

"The two best days of my life," Verna said, "were February 9, 1998, when Miguel was born, and January 19, 2006 when Maya had to come early through a c-section (so I could start cancer treatments)."

Maya and Andrea returned. "I love you both so much," Verna said. "And I will always love you forever and ever."

Deborah asked Miguel how he was feeling about Verna dying. Tears welled in his eyes, one of the few outward expressions of emotions he's allowed himself.

"I've been thinking about how I'm going to be without a mother," he said. I lost it again and rubbed my wet, wet eyes.

"And it's OK for you to be angry sometimes, Miguel, with your dad for not being your mom," Deborah said.

"I could wear one of her dresses," I said as Deborah and Miguel smiled.

"Just be gentle with each other," Deborah added. Then she turned to Verna, "Is there anything else you want to share?"

"Miguel's 12 so he'll have memories of me, but Maya is so young. I am worried she won't remember me as she gets older," Verna said, tears streaming.

"That won't happen," I said. "We will always remember you."

"No, Mommy," Maya said, "I won't ever forget you," a look of unconditional conviction on her face.

We will never forget Verna. Her life will always be a blessing and a legacy for the children, me, her friends and family. I truly hope our session brought her comfort. As her pain increases, she needs that positive energy to cope and rest.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Steven... It has been a while...

    Much Love & Support,
    Greg Wilker