Posted Monday, July 14th, 2003
My parents live in a neighborhood built on the old acreage of Good Hope Farms in Harrisburg, PA. A broad creek wraps around the perimeter of the neighborhood. This morning on my way out of town - driving back to Virginia - I saw an egret flying low, lower, lower still along the water.
I arrived yesterday morning to sit with my step dad. We are on death watch now - me, my mom, and my two younger sisters. It is nice and not nice, depending on how aware my stepfather is of us and his surroundings. When he is sleeping, it is okay because the five of us are together. When he is struggling to breathe and the mucous is rattling his throat it is tense and tight and miserable.
He has not had any water or food for 8 days. He is too weak to do anything except try to breathe. He draws two breaths and then stops for a minute. We all hold our breath as well. Sometimes he opens his eyes and sees us. I expect a smile to follow, but the best we get is his eyes focused on one point in the room.
My mom strokes his arm and tells him he can go now, that it's okay, that she's okay, that he took care of everything. Her eyes are hot and dry. She has not slept for days. She says the rosary out loud:
"Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault . . . I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful; O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen."
She intones the sorrowful mysteries on the beads. The first is the agony in the Garden: "Father, not what I will but what you will." I consider that this is only the first mystery - beyond this there are four more. It could get worse for my step dad. Scourging at the pillar, crowning by thorns.
The sorrowful mysteries run together in my head. My stepfather is not Christlike. He is wrecked, and he is going soon. Depending on how you see it, he will either be reunited with his family, or he will become nothing.
My mother has a faith that astounds me. She prays quietly, a lifetime habit for Mary's intercession. She loves the Blessed Virgin. She sprinkles holy water on my step dad from a plastic bottle shaped like Mary. It makes her feel better.
"Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears."
I got up this morning and drove past the egret and kept going all the way to Virginia. I wanted to turn the car around and go back, but I'm afraid of missing too much work. I'm afraid to sit and listen to his death rattle. I'm afraid for my mom for when she will have to live in an empty house. I'm afraid, I'm afraid, I'm afraid.
"Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us; and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary."
I wonder, is this mercy? Is anyone listening?
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