last rites last week

Friday was an awkward and sad day. My boss' mom (E.) died. She actually died at my workplace, which is actually not as weird as it sounds. I work here, at Harborview Medical Center, and E. had been admitted the day before. My boss (M.) had left earlier that week to go on an annual 2 week vacation with her family. "Hawaii has never seemed so far away," she said to me on the phone that day. M. was stuck at the airport trying to book an emergency flight back home mere days before Christmas so she could see E. before she died. She didn't make it.

In the meantime, M. asks me to call Father Mark (the hospital's resident catholic chaplain) to give communion to her mom. She also asks me to go up to the unit and sit with A. and E. for awhile. To paint a broad stroke, in the realm of family dynamics, M. is the pragmatic one and A. (her younger sister) is the emotional one. A. lives in Europe, but was back to spend the holidays with E., and give M. a bit of a breather from caretaking. A. is not great with distress or trauma. I mean - who is, right? But I mean that sometimes she can't hold it together and needs someone to cry on. So M. asks me to go up and just be with them. In case they need anything. And also maybe to have a witness represent that M. is doing her goddamnedest to get home.

I know E. well enough that she recognizes me and we have had some lovely conversations. And I've met A. a few times over the years. So I go up, and not only does E. not recognize me, but she isn't recognizing much of anybody. Her body is failing, and all her focus is on a discomfort that obviously borders on agony. It hurt my heart. Except when A. spoke; then E. would calm for just a moment as if briefly soothed. Meaning like 2 seconds briefly, but still. I hugged A., I went and got her tissues, I told her M. was coming, I hugged her again and held her for a moment. Father Mark came and I went and got water for the communion. And I took communion with them all as Father Mark gave E. the last rites. We all took it, even the nurses and the medical techs. It was not a time for differences of religion; it was a time for the makeshift community in that room to come together for this lovely dying woman and her daughter. Communion.

I knew when I left the room and went back to my office that, even though M. was in the air, she wouldn't make it back in time. And E. died a few hours later. Two days before Christmas. I found out later that M. did get to speak with E. on the phone before she passed on. It made me feel a little better.

But I know my boss, and I know that even though she has been amazing over the last few years of her mom's declining health, even though she has been almost the sole caretaker (with some amazing support from her husband & daughters), even though this particular rapid failing of her mom's health was completely unexpected ... I know that it will be awhile before she forgives herself for not being here. It's not fair. And that breaks my heart.


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