My mother is in the hospital. There are signs of something dramatic going on but the doctors don’t know what’s wrong with her yet.
Mom and Dad, both active, vibrant 84 year-olds, have been living in south Florida for over twenty years, while my three sisters and brother all live in the northeast, too far to pop over for a hospital visit or bake a casserole or drag the garbage cans in or help put up the hurricane shutters.
We are organizing. Telephone calls, emails, mobile messages. Among the five of us, we have a surgical nurse, an Episcopal priest, a high level executive assistant, a business owner and a not-for-profit administrator who likes to write. We are intelligent, compassionate adults who care. We are figuring out what to do as the situation evolves and new pieces of information drift in.
After learning the latest development last evening, my first clear course of action was to go to the freezer and fill up a bowl with chocolate ice cream, drown it in butterscotch sauce, and eat the whole thing without stopping.
You laugh. It works.
Years ago, a friend of mine who was dying of cancer asked me to visit her. It would be our last time together. On the drive there, I wondered what we would talk about, though we were never short on topics, and often wandered into conversations about mysticism, spirituality, religion. We did not hesitate to laugh and be irreverent, despite her strict Catholic upbringing and lifetime involvement in the church. We did the same thing during our last hour together. We spoke of dying, of death and of “the other side.”
When I left her bedside, I took leave of her husband and adult daughter, got in my car, buckled my seatbelt, turned on the ignition, backed out of the driveway, and drove straight to Haagen Dasz and downed the biggest cup of mocha chip ice cream they had. After Rita’s funeral two weeks later, I did the same thing.
Ice cream is a kind of decompression chamber for the pain of mortality. I exercise, eat well, take my vitamins, get enough sleep. Conscious of keeping my weight down, I rarely treat myself to dessert, avoid sweets, eschew candy and junk food.
But I will not be leaving this world with a carrot stick in my mouth.