The Former Things Have Passed Away Installment 5: The Morphine

Here I am. And here it is, the same not-so-green patch of grass where Papa prepares his tools. Oh how I can’t wait to see your mother again. All these years later and he’s forgotten the dogma, the rules and regulations. Neither will they marry nor be given in marriage.

Mama, do you know Papa wants to be buried right on top of you? Not because there aren’t any more plots left, or because of the expense of a whole new plot – because he wants to be near you again. You should see him almost every day, usually at dinnertime. Oh how I miss your mother. It’s such a long wait, but I’ll see her again. If I make it there. I’ve got to make it there. Where is there? Those days when you got very ill, you said to me – just between you and me, “Papa’s a good husband. I hope Jehovah will consider that.” You meant consider him worthy of everlasting life, in the paradise, here on earth. Despite the fact that he didn’t serve Jehovah, and according to all indications never would. He bathed you, changed your beddings and diapers. Prepared your last little meal of a scrambled egg, even though you could no longer swallow. Rubbed your feet. And you finally believed Jehovah would bend the rules.

The Morphine

Papa says he wants to make it up to Mama. He says this almost every day. What does he mean? He says he feels guilty for things like…how she didn’t really want that many children, but he loves children, so they kept having more until there were six, the first and second only a year a part, and how she put up with his idiosyncrasies when no other woman would do the same. He says he will make it up to her someday in the future when all things are right under God and Christ.

So there was the morphine.

He held the pump in his right hand, sitting on the miserable metal chair beside her hospital bed. The doctor had instructed: Whenever she moans or whenever it seems the pain is unbearable, squeeze the pump quickly several times, and the moaning will stop. The morphine will stop the pain.

Whimper – halt – whimper – halt

The overgrown cancer pressing hard on her organs.

Exhale. Lips quivering. Whimper.

Papa’s hand clenching the pump in his fist.

The hand of the Lord is not too short to save

And with each quick, strong squeeze – power, control.

This all surpassing power is from God and not us.

Agony resounding. Muted.

Each time he squeezes, his arm twitches.

He squeezes shut his eyes.

Sighs with momentary relief

that this magical concoction, cocktail of medicine

(though he never believed in any of it)

Everything that does not come from faith is sin.

would drown out the reflexes of this hollow body.

No more pain Papa. No more pain.

* * *

Here I am, and here you are, at an establishment run by the Catholic Church. How ironic Mama, considering you hated the Catholic Church and anything connected to it. You used to cross out pictures of priests in TV Guide. You even crossed out the picture of the Pope with either a red or black marker – with a big fat X. How bitter you were over being put in the Catholic orphanage by Grand-Mama, even though you and Auntie Pat weren’t orphans. I was shocked when you told me that because – why would she do that? Was it because your step-dad was an abusive alcoholic and she wanted to protect you? Or did she just not care? And strange things happened in that orphanage with the nuns. They stole your belongings. I remember, you said that one of the nuns liked to touch one of the well-developed teenage girls. Whatever the case, I didn’t like it when you crossed out those priests in TV guide, especially the picture from The Thorn Birds. That was just Richard Chamberlain dressed as a priest! I don’t care about priests one way or the other, but I hated how you lumped them all together as Satan’s pawns, the way the Society demonized them in the Watchtower magazines. Mandel hated it too, and called you a fanatic. I’m sorry. I have a feeling that even if you knew he called you that, you wouldn’t hate him for it; he was your baby, your favorite, I know it.

Mandel, he came in after the phone rang and I had fallen to the floor. He said, “That’s what we wanted, remember? We agreed we didn’t want to see her continue that way.” In that comatose state. It was true. When your face had fallen, it was as if you were no longer Mama. Your head seemed to have shrunk – your skin smooth and gray, eyes sunken and teeth slipping out from your gums. Sometimes, your pupils peeped out, but lackluster, dull and dark, as if a misty layer blanketed them, blocking their vision of the outside world and its life. I was frightened by your appearance, I’m sorry.

When the change first appeared, it was just Papa and I awake. Mandel was asleep on the recliner separated by a glass wall from the main room. It was our shift and I confess – I was frightened. I think I said something like “I’m scared,” and Papa got offended. He said, “Don’t say that about your mother. She’s beautiful, just as she’s always been.” I felt guilty and desperate at the same time. I had never seen death like this, and – in your face? You know I’ve always been told I look like you. A friend once told me that the reason it’s so hard to accept the death of a parent is because when a parent dies you realize how closer you are to death yourself. That sounds selfish, but I think it’s partly true. I didn’t see your last breath, just your form leading to it.

I should have been there. Should have seen it. I still obsess about how it appeared. Was it one final, long lasting exhale? Or was it a sudden quick inhale, long pause, expanding of the chest, then a slow stream of air through the lips like the slow hiss of air released from a balloon? I can’t help but imagine it sometimes. I struggle to recapture your face, somewhere between the living and the dying one. I’ve mastered the dying one – even the rhythm of your breathing, the rattling of the chest. I recycle the images, each fragment, over and over until they flow together to recreate the dying you – I can’t tear my eyes away despite the fright and quiet panic. I remember. I can’t forget.

Those two days, Sunday and Monday often replay like one continuous reel in my head – no pauses. Other times, a scene will flash in my head unexpectedly, and I can’t tell where in time it belongs. Here’s one:

A panoramic image, through a glass window. It’s Mandel, kneeling next to your hospital bed. I can’t detect the expression of his eyes because those wide-rimmed black-framed glasses overwhelm them. But he’s clasping your hand with his, tight. First, your lips are moving. Now his. His eyebrows are rising and furrowing. I can imagine the exchange between you:

Mandel, you mean everything to me. You’re my baby.


Please try to return to Jehovah. I love you so much.

Please understand Mama, I’m searching, in my own way.

Just please – try your best.

I fill in the gaps only because I did something I should have never done. One night when Mandel came to visit, he left one of his journals on the living room table. I couldn’t resist picking it up and flipping through it. Then I did something terrible – I read that part…what you said to him while you lay on the hospital bed, your last exchange of words. And you said it – you are my everything. Was I part of that everything? I know you loved me too, even though I don’t remember you ever saying it . Not even to me right before you died. You know, at the hospital I asked Mandel to tell me the gist of what you said. He did. Leaving the “everything” part out. Only saying that you wanted him to return to Jehovah. It’s okay.

Now I’m thinking that maybe Mandel was standing next to the bed rather than kneeling. I know he was clenching your hand. It’s one or the other; either he was kneeling or standing. Probably kneeling, like in prayer position? I think he knew it was his last chance to say goodbye, so he must have been kneeling, even though he doesn’t pray. When I caught a glimpse through the glass window, I remember feeling relieved that he had that last chance with you. How I wish I could have heard the exact words. How I wish I could have had one last chance with you.

Here’s another one:

Me and Mandel standing in the small room adjacent to the ICU. It’s dark. It must be close to evening, and I think this happened sometime after the last scene. We’re standing, facing each other.

Mandel: I never told you this before, but you are my best friend.

Me: (pause) I amMandel: Yes, you’ve always been there to listen to me.

Me: Thank you Mandel. (I reach out to hug him. It’s hard to swallow and my eyes are welling up.)

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