“Can you please turn that off?” I said as I came up from the laundry room.
“Huh?” my husband said.
“Please, turn that off.” I nod my head in the direction of the coffeepot on the counter, but it’s too late. In his two-second delay of shutting it off, I’m thinking about her. “I can’t listen to that sound. Please, turn it off.”
Before his hand can even reach the off button, I’m already crying. I drop the laundry basket on the floor and reach for a napkin to wipe my eyes.
“Oh, crap, babe. I’m sorry. I didn’t think about that,” he said as pulled me into his burly arms.
It’s been almost a year, and I still can’t listen to brewing coffee without thinking about losing mom.
In her last stages, as the nurse always referred to it, sleep deprivation turned me into a barely functioning zombie. My brother and I slept in two-hour shifts since mom was up every night hallucinating, and we only managed to survive the days by consuming insane amounts of caffeine.
“Last night was tough, but she’s actually been asleep for almost six hours now. I think there’s something wrong with her breathing though. Can you hear that?” I said to the nurse.
“At this point, she won’t be waking up anymore,” the nurse said, clicked her pen open and jotted notes into mom’s file. “That sound is called The Death Rattle. It can be rather startling…”
Her lips moved, but I couldn’t hear her instructions. As she droned on about the different phases mom would go through as her body continued to shut down, I could only focus on the severe realization that my mom was actually going to die. This wasn’t some terrible nightmare; she wouldn’t wake up tomorrow miraculously cured from cancer; in less than 24 hours, I would no longer have a mom.
“…the fluid sits, and that’s what causes the strange gurgling sound. Most people think it sounds like coffee brewing,” she said as I pulled myself back into the moment.
Brewing coffee? I would never be able to hear coffee brew again without thinking of mom.
“So, she’s basically drowning. Is that what you’re saying?”
“Well, technically, yes.”
I couldn’t believe how casually this woman was talking about my mom drowning in her own fluids. I was appalled how she could utter words like that, all while flipping through paperwork like she’s chatting about some sale at Walmart.
“And there’s nothing you people can do for her?” I crossed my arms on my chest, but I was sure I wasn’t the first person to challenge the absurdity of her demeanor.
“It’s all a part of the normal phases of death. Trying to suction it out actually irritates the lungs even more. With her pain medication, she’s quite comfortable I assure you.”
“She’s dying. What part of dying is comfortable for anyone?” I rested a hand on my cocked hip as I eyed her, waiting for the part where she’s supposed to comfort me. Since that was, after all, the whole reason of this woman’s visit in the first place. But so far all she had told me was that by tomorrow I wouldn’t have a mom, because she’s drowning in her own fluids.
“Okay, well, thanks for stopping by,” my brother said, swooping in to escort the nurse to the door before I jammed her stethoscope down her throat.
I turned back toward mom. Her jaw continually hung open, another phase of death, so I was told. Brewing coffee, I thought as I listened to the gurgle and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.
“Well, that was a waste of time,” my brother said as he walked back into mom’s room.
“I do not like that woman,” I said, slipping on a pair of rubber gloves. Being a caretaker changes you. You go from having no medical experience to being responsible for medications you can’t even pronounce, to changing catheter bags, and learning how to roll people to avoid bedsores. You no longer think about tasks like making grocery lists, or what day your child’s book report is due. You think about when the next dose of medicine is and how you’re supposed to properly dispose of syringes.
“I wish the other nurse didn’t have the day off. And mom likes her better too. Don’t you, mom?” I finished clipping a new catheter bag to the bed, and tossed the rubber gloves in the garbage.
Mom kept tipping to the side and resting her head on the guardrail. Without thinking, in unison we grabbed the edges of the flat sheet and slid her back to the middle of the bed. I fixed her hair, and then tucked a pillow under her arm to help keep her upright.
“When is she due for morphine, pretty soon, right?” He pulled out his cell phone to check the time.
I glanced at my watch; I had no concept of time anymore. “About an hour.”
Silently, we took our usual spots at the side of mom’s bed. I cupped her hand inside mine and traced tiny circles on the top of her weathered skin. He propped his arm on the guardrail, rested his chin on his arm, and started stroking her hair.
“Are you comfortable, mom?” I said to her.
“Do your lips feel dry again?” he said, grabbing the wet washcloth and gently moistened her mouth.
We turned to each other, eyes wet, yet too tired to cry again. We knew mom couldn’t respond to our questions anymore. She was in a coma. We wouldn’t see her smile again, hear her crackly laugh, or hear her say I love you. The last thing we’d hear was The Death Rattle.
As I’m balling into my husband’s shoulder, all because the poor man just wanted a cup of coffee, it’s all I can think of; my last few days with mom. I ache to see her face, to talk with her and watch her play with my kids.
I blow my nose again and remind myself that she raised me to be a fighter, a survivor, that no matter the pain, I was strong enough to conquer it. I slid myself out of his arms and sigh. “It’s okay, you can turn it back on,” I said, half glaring at the coffee pot.
“No, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”
“Really, I want you to.” I tried to smile, knowing how mom would want me to remember her. She would want me to think of the fun times, of goofing around with her and making stupid jokes. I let those moments flood over the memory of her death. I closed my eyes, and I could see her smile.
“You remember how much cream she put in her coffee?” I chuckled and wiped the smeared mascara from under my eyes.
He laughed and shook his head. “It was like a cup of milk with a splash of coffee.”
“Oh, I totally forgot! Do you remember the time you made coffee for her, that terrible face she made when she took the first sip?” We start laughing, and for a second I can almost feel her arms wrapped around me. I take a deep breath, bracing myself for the bravery she instilled in me, and I switch the coffeepot back on.
I pick up the basket of laundry off the floor and tuck it under my arm. “She sure did love her coffee, didn’t she?” I said, mostly to myself as the slow gurgle of brewing coffee starts again.
As I walk away, I hear her laugh as purely as if she stood next to me. And in that second of smiling at a memory of her, I know I’ll be okay.