I work mostly early morning shifts. It’s dark when I drive in, most of the year. The sky is black, or very very dark blue. Sometimes there is a moon, or stars. But mostly there is darkness. I only have the lights on my dashboard, and the news on the radio as I travel for that half an hour from origin to destination. And occasionally I pass a house with one yellow-lit window. Sometimes it’s a bedroom window, probably, since it’s on the second floor. Sometimes it’s a ground floor window, so maybe the kitchen. I don’t know. But I find myself fascinated by these yellow windows. I would love to photograph them, but it would feel intrusive to me. So I just look and wonder about the person or people in that house, and why is that light on? Is someone getting ready for work? For school? Is someone just getting home? Have they been up all night, unable to sleep? Or did someone just leave a light on in a room and forget to turn it off?
Those are things I wonder about when I see the yellow window lights.
And there’s also a part of me that feels…a longing. A pull. The yellow light beckons. It is welcoming. I want to go there, into that house, where someone has kept a light on for me. It’s almost the same feeling I get after my later-in-the-day shift, when I come home at night, in darkness, and I turn down my street and see a light on in one of the windows of my house. My people are in there. I can kick off my shoes, get in my jammies, and relax. I am home.
My commute to and from work takes me past the nursing home where my mother spent the last month or so of her life in December 2013. A little over a year ago. Sometimes it seems more recent, other times it seems like a lot of time has passed. Time is a strange and misty-formed thing.
My mother spent those last weeks in a private room at the end of a hall. The window in her room looked out through some trees at Route 4. The traffic light at the road to this nursing home was roughly the halfway point in my commute. At some point I realized I could see her room, her window, as I drove to or from work. If it was after an early shift, or before a later one, I’d stop in. Sometimes I’d stop in for a quick goodnight after those later shifts. In the early weeks she might still be awake, and she would smile and we would talk briefly before she sent me home, it’s late, you need to get home. In later weeks I’d just stop in and peek at her as she slept. I would watch closely, to make sure she was breathing.
I stopped in sometimes on my way to work my morning shift, but not as often. It was pretty early, after all. On the days I didn’t stop in, though, I would turn my head at just the right moment to see the yellow window of her room, and I’d think “Good Morning, Mom” or “Goodnight, Mom,” or just a simple hello.
The tv on the wall was always on. Always. Usually tuned to a cooking channel. Sometimes NBC in the mornings, so she could watch the news and the Today show. Sometimes, inexplicably, the tv would be on some strange channel that I couldn’t imagine she had chosen, so it might have been one of the nurses trying to find something different for her to listen to.
But always, there was the yellow light of her room, and, through the gauzy curtains, the rectangular, brighter light of the tv. Always.
Until she died.
When I got to her room that night, there was silence. Profound silence, as they say. No bubbly tv chef, no ragged breathing. Just silence. Peace, I suppose.
After that, it was, at first, painful to drive by. For a time, the light and the tv were off, and that window was dark. An unnecessary reminder.
It hurt. I tried not to look. But I couldn’t help it. I had to look.
Almost a month after Mom died, I wrote this in my other grief-related blog:
I drive by the nursing home and look at the window of the room where she was. For a while it was always dark. Empty. Recently I have seen a light on, or the light from the tv. The first time, there was a weird little feeling like "she’s there!" only of course she isn’t.
And then I was sad because she’s not there…someone else is now. Part of my mind wants to let myself pretend she’s in that room, and I could wave as I drive by on the way to or from work, thinking "hi, Mom!" and wouldn’t that be nice?
But it wouldn’t, really. Because I don’t want us to go through losing her again. Those last weeks, days.
So I guess this is better.
I still feel like that. I still look at that window. For the past bunch of weeks, the light and the tv were on all the time.
And then, a few days ago, they weren’t.
I have come to think of that room as the dying room. I don’t know if I’m correct, but I wonder if that room is for patients who maybe aren’t residents of the nursing home already, but come there toward the end of their lives. The room is at the end of a hall, so not a lot of traffic, not a lot of strangers peering in to see what the person looks like and how bad off they are. At the very end of the hall, next to the room, is a lounge/living room sort of area. There’s a huge tv, some couches and chairs, a couple of tables by windows, and a computer for anyone’s use. We would go in there to have conversations with nurses and hospice workers. It never seemed like a busy room, it’s not like people were mobbing in there to watch their afternoon soaps. And anyway, everyone had tvs in their rooms, so why move if you don’t have to?
Where was I?
Driving. Driving down the road to work, and checking to see if the yellow light – and the tv – are on for someone new in the dying room. I think hello to them, whoever they are, and drive on.