The Night's Watch


While the world burns down around us, I am sitting in a darkened room, with just the sounds of a small table fan and an oxygen concentrator, watching over my mother. My only company is Raja, one of the house cats in my sister’s house, keeping watch over my left shoulder.

John and I drove down from Brooklyn to Ocean County, New Jersey on Friday, after my initial physical therapy consult, part of my ongoing recovery from hand surgery three weeks ago. I had packed the night before. I’d been in daily conversation with my sister, by phone or text for the prior week, as our mother went into a steep, rapid decline. Of greatest concern was her lack of appetite; we have to crush all her meds to administer them with her food, all of which is pureed, mashed, or otherwise pulped.

It’s the longest my sister and I have spent together under the same roof since I left college.

Dissociation is my superpower. I have dressed and undressed my mother, seen her naked, wiped her bottom. I can attend to her, asking her the same question over and over, until I get a glimmer of understanding. Or I can move on, passing over the grief I feel that she is gone, cognitively, that I’ve already had the last conversation I will ever have with her, shared the last joke, excited the last smile, or smirk, from her aged lips.

Just now, a deep, low, relaxed groan escapes her. Startled by the sound, and its possible implications, I look up at her. Yes, she is still breathing, shallow and rapid, as she has been most of today. 

I am afraid to leave her side because I don’t think she’ll last the night. I have never experienced another’s passing. Some selfish part of me wants to be here for that, for her, for me. Like maybe there really is something? That it’s not just physics and chemistry and homeostasis keeping the machinery running? 

I don’t believe that, of course. But I understand the comfort that could be found in such beliefs. Especially now, sitting here in a darkened room, kept company by the sounds of tireless machines, each to its purpose.

Oxygen Concentrator

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