A sudden, and unexpected, warm rush of comforting and happy childhood memories fill the house.
Over the din of the machine I hear it. I close my eyes and for a moment I forget my present place. I go back to my girlhood days and nights in this house listening to that sound. Loving that sound. Coveting that sound for my own home.
The start-up hum of the tall tower in the laundry room is much louder than the blue machine in the corner. From two rooms away it moves into action. I listen to the flicker for the next five seconds as the pilot light cranks up. A great big thrust of air is next. Woosh. I can hear the steady stream of blowing as the hot air gets pushed down through the ceiling vents. Small crackling noises penetrate throughout and around the ceiling almost as if the heater is whispering its tune to the other parts of the house. The big furnace hums and rattles for several minutes before it finally turns off.
I glance down at frail woman in bed next to me, struggling for her next breath. I put my hand on her shoulder and whisper, “It’s okay. You are not alone. I’m right here with you.” I close my eyes and pray.
The warm air puts its arms around me and hugs me close as I think back to those times as a small girl when I was laying in the bed of my Mom’s youth. The bed on the south wall of the “blue room”. The bed with the sway in the middle and the mottled baby blue comforter that was new when I started junior high. The bed directly across from my Mom’s hope chest and kitty corner from the twin on the east wall where she, my Grandmother, slept when we were visiting.
I remember their voices drifting though the awakening morning down the narrow dark hallway into the blue room from the kitchen. Two early birds, priding themselves on their crack of dawn risings as if someone was going to give them the first-person-out-of-bed award. They would sit: Gord always at the north end of the small, vinyl-clothed kitchen table and Mom at either the east or west side depending if the curtain was up and there was sun peeking in or not. I can almost smell the coffee that had been brewed into the glass Mr. Coffee pot on the counter beside the toaster.
She interrupts my trip down memory lane and asks for a drink of water. I push the covers back, stand up, and pad around the foot of the bed to the secretary on the wall next to her side of the bed. I grab the glass and bend over her tilting the straw so she doesn’t really have to move if she doesn’t want to. She drinks. And, then lays her head back on the pillow almost instantly dozing again. I move back around the bed and crawl into my spot.
The heater kicks on again. My eyes close. I can see them sitting at the table chatting about who knows what. My Mom’s feet pulled up under her on the small chair. Gord has her glasses out and on the table. She’s hunched over the gray-blue dictionary with the duct tape holding it together at the spine. The newspaper is open and turned to the word jumble. There are all sorts of scratched monosyllables and polysyllables in the margins around the cartoon—penciled in beautifully scripted cursive. One or two words have probably been filled in the boxes and circles by the time my Mom gets up to pour a second cup of coffee.
She stirs again beside me and memories come to an abrupt halt. This time she needs to use the bathroom. Her strength has been sapped today. She can’t really stand and I can’t really lift her back and forth to the bedside commode on my own. I go wake Bob in the other room.
Bob, her youngest son and my Mom’s brother, comes in and tenderly helps her to the new potty. He waits bleary-eyed for her to finish. Then he gently restores her to her spot on the bed and then heads to the back bedroom at the end of the hallway.
I go back to my place in the bed. She is already asleep again.
Dying is hard work. Hard on the one whose body is shutting down. Hard on the caregivers with no control—just watching and waiting. Hard on thoughts and emotions. Last night was rough. Really rough. But tonight I have help—and the heater and my memories.