The End-of-Life meeting at the nursing home was held in the Serenity Room at noon. We were summoned, my mother and I, by the team who have been caring for my father for five years in the dementia ward. We showed up late, my mother and I, arm in arm, like diminished Rockettes.
The Serenity Room was at the far end of a long hallway. As we approached, my mother's steps slowed. "Let's stop in the Ladies room," she suggested, ducking into a wide doorway. I waited in the hall, twisting my hands.
The End-of-Life nurse scurried past with a piece of paper flapping between her hands. "I'm just dropping this at the front desk," she said. "I'll meet you in the Serenity Room."
My mother appeared wearing fresh lipstick. We linked arms and started the long quiet march to the end doorway. Suddenly, my mother stopped. "I don't want to go in."
I shoved her ahead and followed her into the little room. The furnishings were unfortunate. Two arm chairs in honeydew green, a single wooden stool and a rickety coffee table filled the space. We sat in the chairs. The nurse sat on the stool. Six knees were nearly touching.
We reviewed my father's Advanced Medical Directive, resigned the DNR and confirmed that I was medical proxy. We were apprised of the likely events ahead. "He'll probably sleep more and more," the nurse spoke kindly. My father already slept most of every day. "And then he'll take less food, less fluids. We'll keep him comfortable."
My mother wanted to ask questions. Can he have more meat with lunch? Can the staff make sure he is brought to the music room in the evenings to hear the piano player?
Wasn't she listening? Didn't she hear? I put my arm around her as we left the building, and we shared a long hug. "We'll do this together," I said in a whisper.
"We're a good team," she said.
When I got home, I went straight out to the yard. We have a small stone patio out there where our table and chairs wait out the winter. The ground was level at one time but now it swells like a wake captured in mid-rise. The pavers, set in a brick pattern, fight to keep invasive tree roots from upsetting their original order with very little success. In between the stones, weeds forced their way into the soil-filled spaces and spread out, sending messy plumes skyward and inviting chaotic vines, like footed creepers, to span the surfaces of the purposefully placed stones.
I scowled at the crabgrass that obviously intended to consume my patio. Oh, no you don't, I thought. I pushed up my sleeves and got to work.
Later my mother called. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm weeding." I was on one knee, trying to wrench a stubborn clump of weeds from between pavers that had grown apart. Sweat dripped from my cheek.
"Are you all right?" Her voice was quiet.
I sat back on my heel. Am I all right? I looked around at the patio, covered with late fall leaves and debris of weather. In the little circle I'd cleared around myself, the pavers seemed in perfect alignment. Though coated with slippery moss that discolored and distorted them, they were intact and well situated. In front of me, at arms reach, a long row of pesky weeds taunted. I made some noise of agreement into the phone and disconnected her voice.
The weeds were firmly wedged between the pavers. The roots had obviously penetrated deep into the soil. I saw the strands of healthy white roots poking out from the corner of the stone, far from the main cluster of the plant. I pulled on the long tendrils with my fingers, tugging the strands back and forth. No good. It was too solidly anchored in the dirt.
I went inside and grabbed a dull knife from the silverware drawer. Using the knife in one hand, I tried to gouge the plant from below. With my free hand, I pulled as hard as I could. Still, nothing happened.
I sat down, anchoring myself, and reinserted the knife from the other side. I forced the blade deep and then leaned on the handle to unearth the unwanted invader from my land. The knife bent in half.
My husband appeared behind me.
"What are you doing?" He asked.
He pushed the toe of his shoe against a gangly, ugly weed lurking near his foot. "You're not going to win this battle," he said softly.
I looked beyond the tiny pile of de-rooted weeds. My victims. The rest of the patio spanned out around me, stretching, it seemed, to the sunset. I was surprised to notice that the sun was nearly done. It was late.
"How long have you been out here?" he asked. He reached one of his big hands down and looped it under my arm. I rose to my feet.
"How'd you know I was here?" I asked as he waited for me to find my balance.
"Your mother called," he said. He held the door open and I shuffled inside.