The hissing from the cannula. The murmuring and gurgling of the portable dialysis machine. The high-pitched beeping from the apparatus tracking vital signs. The cacophony is not so distracting that I miss the social worker’s pitch for end of life palliative care, the second in as many days.
“What do you serve over there?” Mom asks.
“Food. Is the food good?”
“Oh, well, it’s the same menu as here,” she replies. “Your visitors can bring in whatever you want. No more special diet for your kidneys so, you know, enjoy what you love,” she concludes with a tender smile.
“So… no more dialysis?” Mom asks glancing at the machine, her poker player brain cleaving through the haze. “You’re talking about hospice, aren’t you? No. No, I’m not doing that.”
The same response as yesterday. The disruptive Dada noises – Kurt Schwitters and Hugo Ball wailing sound poetry, last quintet Coltrane squealing horns, pounding piano chords, flailing drumsticks, slamming bass – flood in. Discordant. Dissonant. Deafening.
Her room smells like shit; the colostomy bag leaked, again. Clean it up. Change the bag, change the bedding, change her position.
The long ride home, the steady whir of tires, rain, the rhythm of the wipers. At one point a radio preset picks up a local college station. The student DJ is in the middle of an effusive monologue about the splendors of doo-wop. Her grandmother’s music, she calls it. “The voices, the harmonies … and the stories the songs tell!” she gushes. “I’m going to spin this platter,” she says and giggles. “This is ‘Dedicated to the One I Love.’”
I remember Mom’s album of 3X3 square, black and white photos; teenage Mom in a tight sweater, poodle skirt, Bobby socks, saddle shoes, like the characters in Grease or Back to the Future. Whenever a doo-wop number played she’d snap her fingers, sway her hips, chair dance, glow.
“We gave her a little something a few hours ago,” the nurse says when I come in. “She should be up soon.” He’s been with her the last couple weeks. He knows.
I drop my stuff and locate a YouTube playlist promising over 300 doo-wop tracks on her phone. I press play, set the volume, take a seat.
It’s easy to note which songs spark in her hippocampus, eyeballs shift under gossamer lids. Sometimes an ever so slight smile appears. I list impactful titles in my notebook, look up the artists.
It’s “Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters that fully rouses her.
“Oh, Jeffrey,” she says when she sees me. “It was so beautiful and wonderful summers in Coney Island.” Her voice is raspy, weak.
I offer some water through a straw. She’s thirsty.
“The ocean was so clear you could see the little fish swimming around your feet,” she says. “We lived on sunshine and air.”
Her semi-toothless smile a warm, setting sun.
When the song ends she asks, “Where am I? What happened to me?”
I’ve experienced her amnesia before. Doctors say this coming in and out of awareness is typical of early onset Alzheimer’s coupled with hospital delirium. I tend to think of it as a minor blessing.
I explain, as I have before, sure to add, “…but it’s not hospice.”
“At least they play good music,” she says.
Next up is “Book of Love” by The Monotones. “Wonder, wonder who …”
She whisper-sings and head bobs along.
Many dozens of numbers later, some she is barely awake for, some sound asleep, it’s time to head home. If this were the palliative care wing I could stay over. I reset the playlist, kiss her on the forehead. She doesn’t stir. The nurse agrees to keep the music going.
Mom is cremated and, per her wishes, we scatter her ashes, with her beloved yellow flowers, along the shoreline of Bay 33, Coney Island, her girlhood paradise. To family I call the gathering an unveiling, the Jewish ritual of revealing a grave marker a year after one’s passing. The Cyclone, Wonder Wheel, and Parachute Jump are now her headstones. The waves and winds and seabirds are part of her eternal soundtrack.
I cast some of her remains under the boardwalk, exactly where she wants to be.
Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Dan McCarthy