My mother died on Saturday, after a long illness with a predictable pattern. She had spent long years on a trach-and-vent in a distant respiratory care facility -- the best of two that exist in our state -- continually hoping to be able to leave, or at least to see visitors.
Imogene K. McIntosh was almost 89 years old, a lonely woman who had a lot of pain due to severe scoliosis and other related conditions. The only thing that troubled her more than the pain was her fear of death.
Mom's mother and her mother, in turn, my matrilineal ancestors, lived to beyond 100 years old. Mamaw Bowen, as we called her, was born in 1881, though her headstone has her "official" birthdate as 1882... when I was a small child, I sat in this woman's lap and listened to stories that I didn't understand until decades later. Mamaw Pearl was a feisty, petite blonde, round as a small barrel, and tough as a dozen old goats; her primary art and function in life was to produce food and see to it that no one in her range of influence ever went hungry. I was raised by people who knew hard times, not the least of whom was my father, a man raised as one of 12 born to yet another powerful female soul.
The people who brought me into being were often confused by my ways of thinking, yet recognized that stubborn was bred into the package. In their wisdom of hard experience, they accepted me, for the most part, while others simply tried to pretend they hadn't really noticed. There's a good, wry sense of dry humor built in, too, thanks to Dad's lineage.
Farmers, gardeners, cooks, horse people, and adaptable to a fault, to say this region isn't capable by genetic cause is to declare open war, for we all know better. Younger generations, alas, are not quite as willing to throw their everything into the fray, blood, sweat, and tears... even bits of flesh... keeping the spirit in bodily housing.
Mom was tired. I watched her fading slowly, each time we went to visit and check on her. One major medical error turned the tide. I wasn't surprised when the hospital called and laid out the facts: she had been found "unresponsive", they would do all they could. Between the lines lay the silent warning of mortality on all grounds. I was asked to make a decision, and I made it. No heroic measures. Comfort and aid, but no extreme and possibly dangerous measures.
Elderly bodies are fragile, and I didn't need a reminder after seeing three generations of geriatric family pass on. It wasn't my first call, either. All souls deserve peace at some point.
Ronnie and I spent as much time sitting with her as we could, and arranged for visitors as best we could. Great-grandchildren dropped in a mere three hours before Mom passed on. Meanwhile, we talked to the nurses and to Mom, to each other, and tried to stay out of the way of the physically capable caregivers who stood in for us for so long. I read bits of my work, news articles off the cell phone, literary bits including poetry.
I was writing a new lyric prose fragment to read to her when the swarm of nurses descended on their fragile patient. Her heart had stopped. They verified the death as we sat watching, one of them using my pocket flashlight to see if her pupils were dilating. Still, the respirator pushed air in and out of her severely pneumonia-tortured lungs. The ER doctor came across the road to her unit about an hour later to unplug the machines and call time of death... more than an hour after the truth of it.
This is what I was writing as she passed on into a realm of peace:
"We are born in blood and tears, washed in the waters of nature's own creations, often entering the world with a crown of caul. The journey of ages begun generations ago merely leaps into a new pattern, new fuel cast into the great fire.
"Endless universes sprawl and dance through a darkness so intense it burns, feeding on and producing more and more of a kind of miracle beyond comprehension. Worlds rise and fall, stars come into being and fade, and the concept of time changes. "And yet, for an infant gasping its first of life, wet and cold, the immediate is centric. Constellations of living begin, community spiraling around the one, illusive truth just beyond grasp. Waiting just ahead, the first pangs of being other than the center of being, and the seeking of connections that expand as the roots of a great tree entangled with more of its own kind.
"The great all, the great fire, calls us all home. Veils of streaming reality alter and twist, and for a while, the darkness is less. Perspective is the seed of enlightenment, the pivot on which all truth turns.
" ... When death comes on its soft, merciful, dark wings, we leave this reality alone. If we're lucky, someone is there to escort us to the portal, someone who forgives our frailties and imperfections, and merely offers quiet companionship to the very end.
Our thanks goes to the devoted nurses of Rockcastle Regional Hospital's Respiratory Care wing, in Mt. Vernon, Ky., and to Dr. Saylor. We all tried to make the ending a peaceful one.
Funeral arrangements can be found on the Hearne Funeral Home web page. Cards and letters may be sent to the family in care of our post office box, as shown below.
R. Lee Tipton
P.O. Box 1225
Stanton, Ky. 40380-1225
(Posted by way of cell phone. Apologies for errors or typos. ~ R.)