This post is penned by my friend, Rhonda whose multiple sclerosis landed her in hospice in January of this year. Rhonda is a writer, and though she she’s not afraid of death, she is not ready because she still has so much to say. Like any writer, Rhonda wants to know her words are being read, so when she recently gave me her journal entries describing her first week in hospice, I offered to post them here on my blog. I am doing only light editing – formatting, mostly, and deleting the occasional sentence that the software was unable to understand and interpret. Because of the disease, Rhonda doesn’t have the breath support to string together long sentences or to sustain any volume to speak of. When we talk on the phone, she is very patient as I repeatedly ask her to repeat what she just said or repeat back the bits I understood, asking her to fill in the gaps.
You may want to start here then follow the links at the end of each post to read yourself current. It means a lot to Rhonda to know how her words are landing in the world, so please leave a comment if you feel inspired to, and she will reply as and when she is able. Rhonda writes with the assistance of talk-to-text software, and some days her energy level doesn’t even permit that, so if she doesn’t reply to your comment, don’t interpret her silence as anything but a lack of available energy or available assistance, as she now requires help to do the most basic things that we take for granted. Somebody is reading your comments to her, though, you can be sure of that, and she is receiving them with a grateful heart. From both of us, thank you for being here, for bearing witness to this remarkable, amazing woman.
Silence this morning is like an augury. The harmonica. It plays hymns. Somberly. Clearly.
“Joe has passed,” announces Sue. Joe who watched the eggs. Joe who Skyped his vacationing daughter. Joe I would really like to have met.
Joe’s family asks Bob to play his harmonica as Joe passes.
Sue tiptoes in again. “That’s sad, Sue.” I don’t cry, but I remember that he added light to the community here.
“Not really.” Sue is perky. “Joe couldn’t wait to see his wife in heaven.”
Three eggs still.
I imagine this stretcher leaving with shrouded Joe, Joe I never met.
We are three.
Before getting out of bed, I finish up another chapter about Mother Teresa’s darkness. I put it down and will never pick it up again. I wanted to read about Mother Teresa’s years of “now done darkness,” to feel better about my own.’
The book is a compilation of letters to her spiritual directors. As she sent them, she would write also to beg for their eventual destruction–preferably by burning. I feel really guilty for having begun the book. In a way, it is as if I am reading a most private journal. Sometimes honesty shouldn’t be communal.
The writer wanted to emphasize her great humanity and her great faith.
I saw Mother Teresa in Calcutta in 1992. I saw her humanity:
I have seen Mother Teresa several times now at Mass or at evening prayers. After the nuns are on their third or fourth repetition of “Holy Mary, Mother of God,” I usually lose concentration and watch Mother Teresa. She is really beautiful. She has osteoporosis, so is permanently bowed before God. Bowed on her knees before God during prayers, she looks like the fruit of the spirit incarnate. Love Joy Peace Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control are all shining from her ashen face (she obviously hasn’t lain out in the sun lately) I watched her say her rosary and could see that it was hard for her to catch her breath between each line of prayer, and when she finally did, her lips seemed to move faster, as if she were playing catch up. A little cough or stopping to lick her lips would also put her behind. Even though she has been really sick, she seldom misses Mass and prayers. That demonstrates a tremendous amount of strength and devotion because when I am sick I would much rather focus on God and pray from my bed, than get up and do a bunch of sitting and standing and kneeling and standing Catholic aerobics. I did catch her nodding off one day. Her head was falling falling and just as it was about to hit bottom she caught it and sprang it up again, blinking her eyes big on the recovery. I liked that because it proved her human.
Mother Teresa said that if she ever were a saint she’d be the saint of darkness. Please let me hold your hand.
I get out of bed, since I’m always uncomfortable here. Robin comes in for a chat, stopping by after visiting her husband with Alzheimer’s in another care facility. She visits Ray daily.
She knows my pain.
Robin is the retired college librarian and knew a former occupant of my bed. I didn’t need to know that. I like to believe that I am the first person in this bed.
She tells me that she is working on a new reading project for Iowa schools based on the conclusion that the books we read throughout our lives seriously impact us.
She promises to come back soon. I remind her that I will only be here until I go back home or to a new facility…or . . . She nods her head.
Does she sympathize with me, imagining my losses in motherhood, marriage and vocation? Does she shake her head in disbelief that anyone could go on with such loss? I shake my head, too, but I go on. Surreal.
Don’t be too long, I think as she goes.
I spend the rest of the day at my computer. I send e-mails. I write in my journal, my connection to myself and the world. I finish composing my list of important things to my life. I do all this with voice recognition software. I can’t type, but I still have a voice.
I fall asleep remembering books, my favorite books. When I was five I loved Yertle the Turtle. At ten, Watership Down. 12, Steinbeck’s The Pearl. 15, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. In college, Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamozov. In my 20s Thomas Merton. In my early 30s Albert Canus’ The Plague and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. In my mid-30s feminist writing. Presently, Joan Chittister’s writing.
I do not fear death. Death does not silence voice.
Go here to read Day 7.
I just read all of your entries so far, Rhonda, and again, I would like to thank you for sharing your wise words with us. I will think about silence, the music I would like to hear today, the books that have impacted me so far, you. Thank you.
Dear Rhonda … it seems we imagine we will live forever, yet we know it not to be true. to be in hospice… to be around death and to watch your own body failing….. i cannot imagine it now being healthy and mobile, but i know .. we all know… that it will happen to us…. that our bodies will one day fail us even as our minds may watch in interest. I believe your word “surreal” may be the best description of it. thank you for sharing this very intimate and private time in your life. thank you for telling us about holding your husband’s hand and asking for forgiveness. i too have treated my husband and friends in a way that i wish i had not….. your day 6 words touch me to the core.