Mom no longer eats solid food. She no longer watches her television programs. She no longer gets out of bed. She no longer speaks. I have not heard her voice in months. She no longer wakes easily and I have to shake her to wake her. As a college graduate who served in the armed forces during World War II and as a New York City Police Officer for 20 years, she was smart, savvy, and strong. Now she is bound to a hospital bed, barely opens her eyes, and can’t even speak her own name. Mom is no longer there.
I spoke with my mother’s physician today and made the decision to withdraw her cardiac medication, which was prolonging a life that was slowly ebbing away. Mom does not have any quality of life. Only a few minutes have passed since that call to the doctor and the call I immediately made afterwards to her hospice nurse, Kathy, who was caring and compassionate. She recognized that although I am an expert in the field of death and dying, this was my mom we were talking about and my smart, savvy, and strong mom is no longer there.
As I was writing the above paragraph I needed to take a break and spiritually reach out to my dad who died by suicide many years ago. I needed to feel Dad’s presence as I struggle with end of life decisions my mom would want. I ask him to watch over Mom. I wish he was a fly on the wall silently watching me and listening to the conversations between myself, Mom’s physician, and the hospice nurse. My mind wanders from flies to butterflies. I ask Dad for a sign that he is, in fact, present for me during this difficult time. Many bereaved have told me their butterfly stories, as symbols of life’s transition. Be a fly on the wall, Daddy, and show me a butterfly.
I walk over to a skylight window and look outside. I cannot believe my eyes. Right on the frame of the window– a butterfly AND a fly. Is it a sign? Is it a coincidence? Am I going crazy? I run for my phone to take a picture and when I return only the fly remains. I snap the shot and realize later that I neglect to save it. I wait patiently for the butterfly to come back. But the butterfly, like my mom, is no longer there.