doing math

Dying is largely a matter of subtraction.

Ten days ago mom stopped going to the bathroom. Five days ago, on Sunday, she stopped eating. Tuesday she stopped drinking. Or talking. Her eyes lost their ability to track us, and she closed them, for good it appears.

Tonight, I’m sitting by her bed waiting for the final subtraction as congestion builds and rattles in her airways. Soon the heart will stop beating, perhaps hours, perhaps still days.

But the losses are not only a matter of function, but of desire.

It was Sunday when Katie greeted her and mom asked, “What are we doing today, besides dying?”

When I came to help pull her up in the bed I said, “Are you slipping?”

“Dying,” she said.

That morning she told me the oatmeal was delicious. Monday she thanked the aide for helping her. But she had made up her mind.

Tuesday, as the aide bathed her, she cried in Katie’s arms. “I can’t go home,” she repeated, over and over again, grieving her fragment of paradise on Lemon Bay.

It was over and her brain got there before her body.

The body is remarkable. It wants to live. It draws on reserves we do not understand. But the spirit is strong and insistent about such matters. It draws a line, and waits for the body to cross.

I’ve always thought “Do Not Go Gently,” the famous villanelle by Dylan Thomas, was about the spirit, which Thomas, as son and poet, urges his father should “burn and rave at close of day.”

But now I’m not so sure. Perhaps it is about the body. Perhaps it is also about the process of subtraction. After all, “wise men at their end know dark is right,“ he says. That was Sunday.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And that was Tuesday.

And now, this weekend we want her to hang on more than she wants to:

And you, my (mother), there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Her body rages still, and we want it to win. I understand what the poet wants. But Scripture tells us “the path of the just is as the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day. (Proverbs 4:18)”

At some level mom knows that “dark is right.”

But only because that final subtraction precedes a “perfect day.”

5 thoughts on “doing math”

  1. Wally: our thoughts and prayers are with you and your whole family.

    this prayer poem came from prayer

    Love is stronger than death.
    So I must be content to know that
    love is not affected by death–
    it doesn’t end, it doesn’t diminish,
    it doesn’t change.
    Instead, love is immortalized
    and eternalized through death.
    And the possibility of that love ever
    being damaged or broken
    is eliminated forever.
    I’ll put my trust in love.

    – Mary Hollingsworth

    Source: Reprinted with permission of Andrews McMeel Publishing, from “Little Taps on the Shoulder From God” © 2002 Mary Hollingsworth

  2. Grieve well, my friend. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:7.

  3. Wally,
    I am so sorry for your loss. I pray for peace for you and your family at this time, and for the repose of her soul.

    With sincere sympathy,

    Darlene Mokrycki

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