The last time I slept really well was in January, 2008 in my mother’s hospital room, a few days before she died.
At that time, she was on the mend, ready to go home. It was a Saturday morning and I had worked out, showered. I had on my cozy lime green fleece. I’m not proud to remember that I felt put out that I had to take time out of a Saturday when I had a “million things to do” to be with my mother in the hospital. In hindsight, my deep selfishness is glaringly apparent. But, my mother was happy. She was happy I was there and happy she felt better. She had been talking on the phone with my cousin and telling him how much she’d enjoyed the book Loving Frank, and what a great artist Frank Lloyd Wright must have been. From the end of the conversation I heard, the energy in her voice, her enthusiasm for her topic, you’d never have known that she was an 87 year- old, sitting up in a hospital bed, going to leave us in a stingy number of days.
While she was talking on the phone, I found myself getting sleepy in that pretzel-forming chair hospitals provide for someone who wants to stay over night. It was a dull green, plastic. The whole room seemed dull – white, green, gray, ready to do absolutely nothing to make anyone get better or feel better; it’s only purpose seemed to be to appear to be clean with machines that beeped to make everyone feel as if she had control, safe. My mother, the life force, was the only bright spot in that room.
Her voice, the beeping of the machine, the quiet, lulled me into a profound sleep.
The memory of the rest of the story is obviously not accurate as there are two versions.
In the first version, when I wake up, I’m surprised to find that I’m tucked under the dreary white blanket that had been on the hospital bed with my mom. It’s warm. I’m totally relaxed, a feeling I hadn’t had for a long time.
“I fell asleep,” I say.
“You must have needed it,” my mom says – what she always says when she knows I’ve slept well. It’s her way of acknowledging that I work hard, that she’s proud of me for working hard, but worries that I don’t take good enough care of myself.
I say something about how she shouldn’t have gotten out of bed. She scoffs. She’s fine, she says, gesturing with her hand as if staying in bed is the most ridiculous thing she could do. She’s ready to get out of that numbing place.
In the second version, my perspective is from out of myself, a fly on the wall, and I watch as my mother finishes her phone conversation and notices that I’ve fallen asleep. She swings her girlish ankles from out of the covers, gets her bearings on the cold linoleum floor, and with some effort, tugs the blanket from its tightly tucked corners of the bed until it comes loose and she carries her bundle over to me. Her normally quick movements slow down at this point in the story, as she’s being careful not to wake me. With her gnarly arthritic hands, she makes sure the blanket covers every inch of my slightly fetal form, even the corner of my shoulder that’s tight against my ear, periodically, standing back to assess her work. She leans down to kiss my cheek, but must think better of it. With her hand, she makes a cross in the air instead. She looks pleased as she always does when she’s doing something for someone else instead of the other way around. She gets back into bed as if she’s breaking a rule by standing up, by feeling well. Then, her new book is in her hands and she’s reading with her one good eye, but keeps looking over to check on me. It clearly gives her pleasure that her third child, me, the whirling dervish of activity, has grown calm enough to sleep so well. She alternately reads and checks on me for a good while and then I wake up.
“I fell asleep,” I say.
“You must have needed it,” my mom says.
The story ends abruptly. If you’re looking for a denouement, you won’t find one. That’s just the way life is sometimes. But I can tell you that I slept great. And the memory of it has nourished me on many occasions – even if I don’t deserve it.