Cherylann C. Bertoncini
When you are dying of cancer, your body will whisper to those around you that the day has come. A few lucky ones will be able to hear those faint whispers and will be ready. Others will protect themselves in denial and will not be able to hear the whispers or see the signs.
The official time of death recorded as 11:59, but I know the official time of death was 11:02 pm on December 23, 2008. Meme, as my girls lovingly called their grandmother, stopped breathing two days before Christmas on what seemed like the longest and coldest day of the year.
I had been with Meme since 10:00 that morning. I knew she was dying on that day, not another day, not the weekend before as the nurses predicted or a month later like Meme’s husband predicted. I knew it was that day long before a tiny bit of sun came up in the morning. I heard the faded whispers the night before and I looked for the signs. Todd heard the whispers too, and tossed and turned in the night thinking of his mother dying.
Since I knew it was the day, I did not go to work. I would not miss the day before school vacation if I were not sure. There were books to shelve, lists to make, and holiday stories to read. Instead, I left the library for someone else to handle and drove to Meme.
When I arrived by Meme’s bedside at her home, her eyes was glossy. A window of shiny glass seemed to stand between us. She did not smile, take my hand, profess her love, or ask a request. She did not remind me to order the doll my daughter Petra wanted or ask if Bella needed new boots. Meme did not cite a poem, declare a life statement, or bequeath a ring. Instead, Meme seemed to be waiting. She was peacefully waiting.
I was waiting too, waiting for Meme to have days of living. Waiting for Meme to be the person she has always been. I wanted her to run to a sale, remember a co-worker´s birthday, bake a green cake for her son, lavish her granddaughters with hugs, remind me to write a Christmas list or yet, fold my laundry. There was always so much laundry in our house and Meme came once a week to fold and babysit. She loved that “thee” daughter-in-law as she called me, was too busy reading to have command of cleaning. She was proud to be needed at our little house, and needed she was by all of us, especially me.
Now Meme needed me. She trusted me to visit with the doctor, to ask questions, to make lists, to carry my notebook, and to research facts on my laptop. She did not Google search pancreatic cancer or read the latest data on tumor markers. Rather, she shrugged her shoulders when the doctors told her the grim news and turned to me to answer all the questions. Therefore, from April 28 until December 23, I searched for answers. I gathered information, facts, data, and research. I read anything and everything I could repeatedly. Meme became my eight month obsession.
On the 23rd day in December my obsession continued. Since I had heard the whispers and knew what was to come, I checked for signs right away. I checked to see if her hands and feet were cold. I observed her breathing for changes and reread her chart from the day before. I drilled her husband on every detail of the night and then took my chair by the window to wait for the Hospice nurse. I knew the nurse would confirm that all the signs were there.
Meme’s husband escaped to run errands and I was happy to be alone with her. I was content to have quiet to check and recheck and to listen. I told her everything would be ok. I told her it was too cold outside for the snow to melt. I wrote thank you notes to relatives for her father’s funeral. Meme would have written beautiful thank you notes to relatives and friends if she was not too busy dying. I wrote the notes for her, and expressed gratitude in the way she would have done. I turned the heat up and down and back again. I could not get warm, even my bones were cold.
The Hospice nurse reminded me that Meme would get colder as the night progressed. “It will start with her feet and move up. Check her knees, they will turn blue.”
I did not tell her I checked for these signs repeatedly each time, I was here. My eighth month obsession was in overkill. There was not a side effect I did not research. The nurse reviewed Meme’s yellow chart with me and reminded me that her blood pressure was dropping. This was the day we would mark in our calendars and relive every year. Meme would not make it through the night.
As she prepared to leave, the nurse explained, “Give her more Morphine as needed and watch for changes in her breathing, keep listening.”
I had been listening to the whispers and knew it was time to fill the house with everyone who needed to say goodbye. I was thankful her sons, husband, and special family members would not have to receive a dreaded phone call in the night. Instead, the whispers would give us the chance to be together by her bedside and to watch her take her peaceful last breath while her sons held her hands.
I cried when Meme took her last breath. I cried for Todd, I cried for everyone in the room. I cried for Bella and Petra. I cried for all that I knew… I cried for Saturdays, cinnamon bagels, babysitting, lists, emails, thoughtful presents, and phone calls. I cried for whispers in cold December. I cried for Meme, who loved me for loving her son.
Rest In Peace Marlene (DiCecco) Bertoncini-Lopes