That’s how many days have passed since my mother, Beatriz Diaz-Granados, died at the age of 86 from a combination of age-related illnesses, including dementia, heart issues, and the effects of being confined to bed for half a decade after back surgery.
She died around five in the morning; I’m sure the death certificate that I have in my personal files says the exact time, but I don’t feel like digging around for it. When she took her final breath, Mom was surrounded by people who loved her – or said they loved her, which is not quite the same thing – except for one key person in her life: me.
Seven years afterward, I have mixed feelings about staying in the dimly lit dining room that I had transformed into my living/sleeping area several years before rather than keeping vigil over the woman I lovingly called – and sometimes still call – Mami.
On the one hand, I feel guilty that the most I could manage to do on the night of July 18/19, 2015 was to walk from the dining room to Mom’s tiny bedroom to check in on her and offer some comforting words to my unconscious parent. Had our roles been reversed and I had been the one who was near death, I’m certain that my mother would have sat by my deathbed and kept me company till the very end.
On the other hand, my mom’s bedroom – which for many years had been the guest room where friends and family visiting from Colombia found a bed, closet space, and even a combination of desk and dresser – was small, cramped, and – with so many people present at one time – uncomfortably hot. Plus, since Mom could no longer go to the bathroom and had to relieve herself in her adult diaper, there was always an unpleasant odor in the room, a mix of sweat, human waste, and various ointments, especially Ben Gay.
Plus, if I am to be totally and brutally honest, I did not want to be in the same room as my older half-sister Victoria, a person who at the time was often more a nuisance and hindrance than a helpful or considerate sibling.
Throughout the last months of our mother’s life, Vicky – who had been forced to retire one year early from her nursing job when Metropolitan Hospital of Miami closed its doors in the spring of 2014 – tried to take the reins of command in the townhouse, even though Mom had – before her fateful six-hour operation to repair her spine in June of 2010 – chosen me to run the household instead of my older half-sister. Vicky believed that I had somehow convinced Mom to be the acting head of the household, and although she could not try to assert herself during the first four years of my mom’s decline because she still had to go to work, she tried her best to make my caregiving and house-running tasks harder once she retired and decided to not look for another hospital-related gig.
I’m not going to go into much detail about the situation with my half-sister today; there are too many incidents to cram into the narrative for a complete account of my troubles with Vicky. Yesterday’s post delved into why I was not thrilled with the home health aide who made her last appearance on the last morning that Mom lived to see, and that was only the most recent – and relevant – episode that shaped how July 18/19, 2015 transpired.
I will say this, though. One of the reasons I was so unarguably, intensely, and undeniably furious and bitter, during those final days of Mom’s life was my half-sister’s unsubtle attitude of “Once Mami is gone, I’ll own half the townhouse, and I’ll be taking the set of Limoge porcelain dinnerware that I’ve always wanted.”
She never said these words out loud at the time; my half-sister is too image-conscious to openly put her thoughts into spoken statements with her mother in hospice care and practically at Death’s doorway. But Vicky had said similar things – in my presence, too – in the years before Mom’s health took that steep dive in early 2010.
What she did do, and on more than one occasion in the months before Mom’s death, was to go to the dining room and stare at Mom’s china cabinet for minutes on end. At such times, the expression on her face was reminiscent of a little girl’s as she looks at a beautiful but expensive doll that her mom can’t easily afford.
I called this expression “Vicky’s Greedy Look,” and every time I saw it on her pale, avaricious face I felt like making a fist and knocking her out with a roundhouse punch. Of course, I never did; Mom taught me better than that. But I’d be lying if I told you that I was always calm and collected whenever I saw her lusting after the contents of that dining room cabinet.
Anyway, on the night in question, Vicky had an entourage of people that she knew would offer her emotional support at the time of our mother’s death and beyond. Two of her cousins on her father’s side (Juan Manuel and Mauricio Pereira, plus Juan Manuel’s wife Barbara) were there. So was the registered nurse from Catholic Services’ hospice care unit. A priest arrived sometime after midnight when the nurse saw that Mom was fading away.
Even when we dragged one chair from the dining room and another from the living room into Mom’s room to complement the second bed in there so people could sit, there was no room for me to sit comfortably while we kept that last sad vigil. And even with the balky air conditioner’s thermostat set at 70 degrees and Mom’s oscillating fan turned on, that tiny bedroom was hot and, unfortunately, smelled more than a bit funky.
I was in a deep funk that long and dark night, and I suspected that if Vicky said or did anything that annoyed me, I’d lose my temper and say or do something I would regret later. I knew that by this time Mom was unconscious and probably would not be aware of any argument between her now-grown children, but I did not want her last moments on Earth to be marked by overt acts of hostility between Vicky and me.
So instead of enduring hours in my half-sister’s overbearing presence, I chose to stay in the semidarkness of the dining room, which was lit only by the bluish light of my Lenovo All-in-One personal computer, where I was keeping my friends informed with the latest bulletins while I listened to a CD of Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, known as the Pathétique Symphony.
I’m obviously not happy about that, but under the circumstances, it was the best way for me to deal with an emotionally charged situation.
Mom died, as I said earlier, around 5 AM on Sunday, July 19, 2015. It was still dark at that hour, and by then Juan Manuel’s wife Barbara had gone home because there were too many people in that room and the heat was oppressive even though the air conditioning was on.
I don’t recall too many details of what happened in the span between Mom’s passing and her last departure from the townhouse she had loved so much for 37 years. The only thing I do remember is infuriating, though: Vicky started taking down pictures from Mom’s bedroom wall and her dresser and claiming them for herself – even photos that Mom had expressly told my half-sister were supposed to be mine.
And so, Dear Reader, 2,557 days ago the curtain came down on one chapter of my life and rose on an entirely unforeseen one.