Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Tommy, Can You Hear Me?"

The refrain from The Who's infamous rock opera keeps running through my brain, "Tommy, can you hear me?" Right now, the answer is a resounding "No!" for both Tommy and for me. And when you feel you're not being heard - not at home, not at work, not with family and friends - the feelings range from agitation to anger, from frustration to fear. When did this all begin?

There we are my dying mother, my baby sister, and I. My mother lies in the recently-delivered hospital bed, dozing off and on. My sister, eyes closed, lies in the "old" bed curled up into my mother's body. I sit in an uncomfortable chair off to the side, feeling like a stranger in their midst. I want to scream, "Let me in!" but no one is listening.

For almost two months my sister has tended to my mother, surrounded by hospice care workers and a steady stream of friends. This is her turf. It was, after all, her suggestion that my parents buy the little house in Ohio. Florida was just too far away.

I dutifully follow my sister's rules: emotions checked at the front door, absolute silence in my mother's room. I'm suffocating. But I hold my tongue. I have no right to question. I want to scream, but no one is listening.

My mother died with my sister by her side. I was tending to my father who had landed in intensive care after most likely having had a mini-stroke, falling, hitting his head, and suffering a subdural hematoma.

Even before my father knocked himself senseless, he'd become an angry old man. Looking back, I can't blame him. His wife of sixty-five years was on disconnect, and my sister and her crew had taken over. He had lost control, and no one was listening to him, either. Maybe that's why he decided that there should be no funeral for my mother. It was a decision he thought he could make.

I would have none of it. My mother was a very social person with deep connections to friends and relatives. She would have hated not having had some kind of respectable memorial. But my dad was adamant. "Just tell people to make a contribution in her name," he said.

My sister hadn't attended a funeral since my brother died 30 years before. She sided with my dad. And my surviving brother didn't seem to care one way or the other. So, there I was alone. The only ones who seemed to hear me were my husband and son. And they were hundreds of miles away.

After two days of pleading my case, my family relented: We would have a funeral, but it would be a quiet gravesite affair. And we would have a second funeral just weeks after the first, laying my dad to rest just inches away from my mother.

The snow keeps falling on this the first day of March. I am weary of winter's cold shoulder. Mother Nature ignores my yearning for spring and a new beginning. I want to shake Her until She hears me.