This was the sign at the Dunkin’ Donuts stand in the Hartford airport:
I was in the airport about to take off for Israel because my mother suffered a major stroke yesterday. Since this was booked last-minute, there were no direct flights available other than First Class tickets, so I am circling through Washington, DC and Vienna, Austria, before getting into Tel Aviv. The small screen in front of me flashes eternal ads by United Airlines for apps and credit cards; I can only turn it off using the buttons on the armrest, but the armrest won’t come down.
It’s a noisy flight, but I’m not complaining because I was in retreat this past weekend with plenty of time for silence. The group worked impeccably together, effortlessly discharging responsibility for everything from space to food to bells to service to clean-up, inhabiting roles fully before letting them go to take on something else, the personal flavors never losing their individuality even as they melted into one big, quiet totality. It was heaven.
Early the next morning I got news of the stroke. Like Bernie over six years ago, my mother can’t move her right side. Like him, she can’t talk; also like him, her swallowing is questionable. Unlike Bernie, who received the best care from the beginning at the Baystate Hospital in Springfield, my mother spent 24 hours in an Emergency Room hallway of a Jerusalem hospital before being finally moved to Internal Medicine, the only department with an empty bed. We would like to take her home, but we first have to get her home ready, find out what’s needed to take good care of her, how to make her comfortable in this, probably the terminal stage of her life.
When I first heard about this, I went right back to Bernie’s stroke so many years ago. Get up, I urged myself at 6 am, book a flight, get out tonight.
I got up but my mind was muddled and overwhelmed. My friends, Peter Cunningham and Ara Fitzgerald, were staying overnight in the house so I decided to get fresh bagels for breakfast. And it was while driving down to Amherst that I realized I couldn’t leave that quickly. I didn’t have the strength to get it all together.
Instead, joined by another couple, we had a breakfast of bagels with cream cheese and nova, very Jewish and carb friendly. Peter and Ara were ready to leave after that, but I told them I would walk the dogs anyway and didn’t they want to see a beaver pond with the longest beaver dam they’d ever seen?
Yes, they did, and we went.
What are you doing, I asked myself. Say goodbye, go home, book a flight, pack. So much to do: cancel meetings, cancel participation in the Alabama Zen Peacemakers retreat around racism, cancel that flight, cancel dental work, a vet appt., talks. Go home and help to take care of your sick mother.
But another voice said: I will, I will. Just not yet.
And so, we walked along the dam and examined the gnawed trees and bark. The weather was warm and beautiful, the dogs always love scampering around, smelling the beaver activity that creates new channels and pools of water, Aussie merrily splashing through water holes and ponds. It was life, glorious, glorious life. I was in love with everybody.
We came home, they left, and I turned the page. Sat down to check on possible flights, lots of phone conversations with my brother and sister, started packing. Collapsed in bed that night, continued my prep all morning, and left home at noon. Three flights ahead of me till I land in Tel-Aviv and on to a Jerusalem hospital where she lies, surrounded by care, dread, and devotion. Blog posts may be a little erratic for next few weeks, we’ll see.
Life and death. Love and illness. Dogs and beavers.