Thoughtful Thursday: Emotion
March 31, 2011
Mel wrote a stirring post a couple of weeks ago about death. In between the time she posted it and the time I managed to read it, I sat at my mother’s bedside and held her hand as she died.
There is so much to say, so much to feel. It’s not a one-post topic.
One thing I’ll say is that her death got to me both more and less than I’d expected. During the past year as she’s been sick, I’ve been very stoic. Some of the hassles — dealing with care providers, finding ways to pay for things, trying and failing to get my mother to comply with her doctors’ orders — have affected me, enough to drive me to anger or worry on an almost daily basis for months. Conversely, the situation itself, the reality of her condition didn’t make much impact on me most of the time. Maybe it’s my Vulcan blood. Maybe I was geographically too far removed from the situation. Maybe I was too focused on the trees to think about the reason I was in the forest.
When she went into the hospital a couple of weeks before her death, I was a sweet and dutiful daughter when I was on the phone with her (which was not as often as I wanted, as she was not in a condition to talk much of the time) but all business in dealing with her treatment team. I didn’t sleep well or much, but during the day I was fine.
When they told me she was getting better and would get out of the ICU soon, I did the prudent thing and started looking into new care options for after her release from the hospital.
When I got a call that my mother had gone into cardiac arrest and they were in the process of resuscitating her, I calmly started checking flights and trying to arrange for child care while I waited for a call saying whether their heroic measures had worked (they had, at least temporarily, but she was non-responsive).
As I sat on the plane, not knowing whether she’d still be alive by the time I landed, I still managed to do some work.
It wasn’t until I got to the hospital that it started to hit me. But even then, I felt and showed less emotion than probably almost anyone else you’d find in my situation.
Intellectually, I wasn’t sad for myself. I was sad for my mother, for the suffering she’d been going through, for being on the verge of death, for not having more time to spend with her beautiful grandchildren, for not having gotten to know them as well as all of their other grandparents because of the limitations of her conditions. I was sad for my father, who sobbed next to me. I was sad for my children, who won’t have any memories of her.
Although she was non-responsive and I didn’t know whether she could hear me, I gave my mother some updates on Burrito and Tamale, as well as on DH and myself. In my head beforehand they’d been so straightforward. When I actually had to say them, knowing that this was a deathbed discussion (monologue), I kept choking up.
During The Big Talk with the medical staff — the one for which they bring you into a conference room, offer you water, and keep a box of tissues nearby — I surprised myself by crying enough that it was hard to carry on the discussion. It didn’t feel like me, like my stalwart self. At one point I shifted into business mode and it felt so good to deal with the doctors intellectually rather than emotionally. It felt like me.
Decisions were made and at my insistence it was agreed that she’d have one last test, for the sake of definitive knowledge rather than for the sake of being able to do anything. The test required her to go elsewhere in the hospital and would take a couple of hours. So, I suggested that we go out for lunch to my favorite restaurant in that city. I had no trouble eating, and I thought about the fact that so many people wouldn’t be able to eat at a time like that.
Watching her die was kind of hard, but mostly not hard. I was glad to be there.
It was going through her belongings in the days after her death when the emotions really started flowing. But once she had died, once I left the hospital for the last time, no one else ever saw me show anything except measured sadness. All of the weeping has been done alone.
Well, that’s not quite true. No adult has seen any real emotion from me. But I keep bursting out crying around the twins. In his whole little life I have never seen Burrito look so puzzled as when I was going about mealtime calmly, handed him some peas, and then out of nowhere started bawling. But the fact that I’ve been able to hold it together the rest of the time has been a little surprising, even for me.
Fundamentally I think I’m just wired to feel less emotion that the average person and to show even less that that. DH is someone who is wired to feel emotion strongly; expressing emotions too strongly used to get him in a lot of trouble, but as an adult he’s learned to express it appropriately and even to harness it.
The weird part is that although I’m some sort of robot most of the time, infertility as well as the postpartum phase (especially breastfeeding) made me a fucking mess. Mothering and emotion go together, I suppose, whether it’s becoming a mother or losing a mother.
How much emotion do you show? How much emotion do you actually feel?