We stayed home and she nursed me all through the night. She let me sleep in her bed as she almost always did when I was sick. She wet wash cloths and kept them cool on my forehead. She told me stories and rubbed my back and feet. I'm sure she left the room, but if she did, it was when I was sleeping.
This past week, my Mimi, who is now 80, had a T.I.A event. My mother quickly got her to the hospital and once assessed she was transferred to a larger hospital a little over an hour from our hometown. She spent the entire night confused, sometimes knowing us and sometimes not. I was home alone with the girls and before we knew whether or not she had actually had a stroke, I worried that I wouldn't be able to get to the hospital in time to talk with her during a time when she still knew us. That scared me. While she hasn't been in the best of health, she hasn't really been ill.
I'm fortunate enough to still have all the grandparents that I have known and loved since I was born. That's a pretty big deal for a thirty-six year old. Yet, I know it can't last much longer. My grandparents have been such a huge part of my life, I'm not sure I'm ready to know what it is like not to have them a phone call away.
We lived with Mimi from the time I was about six years old until I was about eleven or twelve. She cooked for us and I rode to school with her every morning. She worked at the county Board of Education as a secretary. I walked to her office every evening after school and played until she was ready to go home for the day. She tickle-rubbed my back and feet nearly every night to help me relax and go to sleep while she watched Dynasty, Falcon Crest, or Knots Landing. When I washed my hair in shaving cream before school, it was she that put it up in a mushroom bun to make the "wet look" look purposeful like a woman from a Robert Palmer video.
I stayed with her a few days and one night at the hospital this week. The night I spent with her was hard. Her blood sugar went low and I didn't recognize it. The nurses didn't check it for several hours, so they didn't know either. She pulled and tugged at all the lines and cords attached to her. She, who always freezes, pulled her covers off. I'd explain to her why she had to have all the monitors. I'd put her oxygen back on. I'd curl up in the straight backed chair watching the same episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations three times wondering if this out of character behavior was a sign of something more.
As a doula, I've attended births. I know what the thinning of the veil feels like. What it feels like when a soul is about to breathe air for the very first time. It's that electric feeling where you can act in a pinch of a moment as if you knew what to do before you had to do it. It felt that way that night. I've heard elder midwives and birth attendants say that the thinning of the veil feels the same at death as at birth. So, I worried. At least she knows it is me who is here, I thought.
My Mimi is coming home tomorrow if all goes well tonight. She'll be at home for Christmas. She'll know us for Christmas. There will be some days, weeks, months, or years left. It still feels strange though, that somehow I am to that stage in life where the tide has turned. It will be my mother, me, and my siblings caring for her now.
Mimi showed me what it meant to be fiercely independent. She was a single mother to my mom and her brothers for many years. She never dated anyone as long as I was aware, or if she did, it was not something to talk about. She had a career and was super good at it. She even seemed happy in her work. She made her own decisions and stood up for her family. She kind of did it all, and it was from my grandmothers that I learned that I was strong and capable.
I don't know what is ahead for my family. Transitions are always bizarre and filled with the unknown. When she takes that final jump of this life, she won't be alone even if she is physically alone. Even if I'm not quite ready to step into the next pair of shoes, I will. I'll do it proudly, because that's what I saw her do. I know endings are just beginnings for everyone involved. It will be for her too. Every single prayer or well wish that has been sent to our family is appreciated. My Mimi thanks you too. We're just glad that she will be back home soon, where she belongs right now.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.