She looked vulnerable. Her face as pale as her cream colored sweater, the gauze the dental assistant had placed in her mouth, in an effort to stem any blood from the holes where one rotted tooth and two broken off teeth had been, was half in her mouth, half pushing against her lower lip. It made her lips lopsided and puffed out. She seemed hazy, woozy, not alert; though she didn’t appear to be confused about where she was and who I was. They had her in a wheelchair in the hallway beyond the alcove with the surgery table. She was hunched over, more so than usual, and when she spoke, the garbled sound startled me.
My memory’s veil parted to inject reality with jumbled scenes of hospitals and pharmacies and doctor trips that litter weeks and months of calendars. Loss of weight fading into frailty; acquiescence to the inevitable; slipping away from activity to bed days; from determination to make her favorite foods to barely swallowing; from moving through slow paced days, dressed in clean and matching clothes with hair coiffed, to no longer giving me repeated instructions on how to launder the clothes. Well, that last part might not be so bad.
As I came closer, she removed the soiled gauze for a new piece and spoke clearly. What a relief. The curtain to full-time caregiving closed. I breathed again and felt my insides relax. Hold your horses, imagination; we’re not down that road yet. So it appears. Thank God.
She was groggy all the way home, even though she spoke clearly and appeared aware of her surroundings. Appearances can be deceiving, don’t you know. Later she asked me about the trip home. Did we stop at the pharmacy? Yes. Did she remember we stopped at Armstrong Nursery since were right there on the same street? No. Did she remember we got her a slushy? No, she said as she looked at the slushy cup on the table in front of her.
“That was a breeze,” she kept saying. “Why did I worry so?”
“Yep. Getting knocked out is the best way to go,” I said, laying out her pain pill and antibiotic next to her water bottle.
She slept a lot the rest of that day. Spent several hours in the recliner with her feet elevated. Left the TV off. That’s a major difference for her, believe me.
There was something else that was gone, as well as those three teeth. In their place she had a lightness of spirit. Like looking at life refreshed, looking at life renewed, with clearer eyes, clearer vision, clearer joy.
The next morning her chin was purple. Just on the one side. Like an outside mark of what had gone on inside. Maybe life should be like that. A quick mark on the outside. A tale-tell hint that shouts,
“Hey, something has happened on my inside!”
Maybe solutions would be found faster. Maybe we’d make choices with care if the results appeared on our faces that soon. Maybe we’d face the truth head-on if we could see with that clarity. Maybe we’d see the signals for what they are. Danger. Road washed out ahead.
Of course, the hints are there. Have been. They’re left by history, by all of mankind before us. Take poison and you’ll die. Treat yourself well and then treat others well and you’ll leave a legacy of care. It’s not difficult to understand. It’s not rocket science. It’s just hard. Hard to trust. Hard to believe. Hard to act. Hard to give.
That where Mother was. She found it hard to see through the unknown of oral surgery all the way to belief. When it was all finished, except for the bruising, she said, “God took care of me.”
He does. He puts up the signposts. He’s the one standing just beyond the fog of today. He’s offered help. He’s ready to give it.
I get that in my head. I want to get it in my heart. I want God to be my first go-to guy. I want to know I don’t need to see through the fog to be at peace. I’m asking for help here, God. Help me see through the unknowns, God. Help me reach out, God, all the way to you.