I was feeding the girl -- a bottle of two-thirds infant formula and one-third breast milk -- and trying to encourage her to finish all three ounces. Asaph had read that we should get them to eat as much as possible during the day, in the hopes of having them sleep through the night one day soon.
After burping her, I gently placed the nipple back in her mouth. She let out an exhausted sigh and looked at me with a pained expression. She didn't want any more.
In contravention of Asaph's executive orders, I put down the bottle. There was something so adult, yet so powerless, in her face. It was heartbreaking.
Of course, it wasn't a big deal. She would eat again in a few hours, and it wouldn't hurt her to be encouraged to have a few more sips -- the worst-case scenario was that she would spit up. But the moment had reminded me of the most haunting memory from my mother's illness and death.
When my mother received her terminal diagnosis, Asaph and our friend the bakeress asked the medical staff if she would be allowed to have a glass of wine. My mother was a great lover of wine -- to put it euphemistically.
The doctors saw nothing wrong with this plan. I was reluctant, however. It seemed inappropriate, or improper, or embarrassing.
After she was moved to the hospice, the idea was floated again.
"Do you really think we should?" I asked. A few days passed.
By the time I agreed to this plan, my mother was non-responsive. She couldn't speak. Asaph and the bakeress tried to pour some wine into her mouth, but it wasn't clear that she could even swallow.
I fled the room, disgusted by a spectacle that I had helped to create. If I had agreed right away, she could have enjoyed wine for several of the last days of her life. I had deprived her of one of her great joys. Moralizing or tut-tutting about addiction had no place at that time. I had fucked it up.
Of everything we went through in the last months of her life, this was the most upsetting. Not for her -- she could have very well enjoyed the taste of wine on her tongue -- but definitely for me. I could never forget that horrifying scene.
On the anniversary of my mother's birth, Saint Joan left me a long and beautifully sweet voice message. I started listening to it while standing in the kitchen as we were preparing bottles for an early evening feeding. Asaph and the kids were there, my sister-in-law was there, and Mary, our surrogate, was also visiting from Wisconsin. I could feel the sobs building deep in my throat, so I calmly walked into the bathroom, turned on the shower, and cried.
I really wished that my mother could have met the children.
Also, she could have helped, since it was so much work.