I was only trying to take the easy way out, to cross off another item from my list of unpleasant things that have to be done. And of course I thought I was really smart, calling the intensive care ward on the day after surgery, talking to a nurse in a hurry or maybe a doctor. I am the other daughter, I am calling long distance, etc. and they would reply with some of the medical talk reserved for next of kin and a bit of concern and regret that I live too far away to be with my mother who had to get a triple bypass, her poor heart.
But instead the nurse said, hold on, I'll just put her on to you and then there was her voice in my ear, her real voice, not the usual drug/booze slur - ten days in hospital and major surgery, what a way to get clean! - and before I could catch my breath there was my mother from long long long ago saying, hello my little one, what a lovely surprise. And we talked and I realised that this was the first time in my adult life that she was totally sober.
About six hours later her lungs, paper thin from a life of chain smoking, collapsed and when my sister arrived the next morning, she was hooked up to all sorts of gadgets and gagged with tubes.
She never spoke again and my sister was mad at me for a very long time, maybe still is, that I was the one who spoke to her last, that it wasn't fair, I was the one who had run away, never visited, hardly called and basically had never shown any Responsibility for Family the way she did.
On my first visit she was stretched out, small like a child with beautifully smooth skin and large open eyes. When the nurse told me that they often put on a country music station "to keep her entertained" I thought I saw a flicker of despair in these eyes. Back home I recorded tapes with some of the music she liked but when she was moved to another hospital they got lost.
By the time I managed my second visit, she had shrunk further and there was nothing resembling my mother and yet everything was so recognisibly her more than ever, urgently and furiously. When the young doctor with the shiny earrings told me that they have to sedate her more and more and even strap her in at night because like a naughty child she tried to pull out the tubes, I just lost it: Who are you, I shouted in her face, how dare you let this woman suffer on and on. Have you no shame? Look at her, look what you are doing, this woman was a research scientist, you have a copy of her living will in her files. You know perfectly well that she never wanted medical technology to prolong her dying. How can you act so disrespectful?
I remember being very loud and that tears were streaming down my face. Later on R told me that they could hear me shouting out in the hall and that the nurses came along tut-tutting ready to sedate me, too.
A week later my mother developed pneumonia and some merciful doctor decided against antibiotic treatment. She was allowed to die that night.