Off the Hook, a poem by Bill Tope at
Ralph Nas

Off the Hook

Off the Hook

written by: Bill Tope


The last time I saw my mother alive was as she
Lay dying in hospice from Stage Four Kidney
Disease. I silently entered her shaded room
And crept up alongside her bed, which had
A rumpled blanket and sheet in which she
Was hopelessly entangled. Her roommate,
A young woman with brain damage, who
Chattered incessantly, was thankfully not there.

I remembered my cousin’s phone call from
The evening before. “You know why she’s
Hanging on, don’t you?” she had asked me.
I stared into the phone blankly. “No, what do
You mean?” I’d asked. “She’s hanging on
For you,” replied Joyce. “She’s afraid to
Leave you all alone,” she explained. “She’s
Knows how much she means to you and
Maybe you need to let her off the hook.”

I thought of that as I sat on the bed beside
Mom. Her eyes were closed but I could have
Sworn she knew it was me even before I spoke.
She’d always had an acute sense of smell.
Her lips were parched so I gave her
Some water with a little sponge. She absorbed
The moisture gratefully. I gave her some more.
Mom was in awful shape and I knew by all rights
That it was her time.

When I had argued with her kidney specialist for
Heroic measures to save the life of my 90-year
Old mother, she quietly informed me, “I believe
That Katherine for some days has already been
In the process of dying.” I was stunned. The
Long, arduous year of dialysis couldn’t save
Mom. She needed surgery but she’d never survive
It. I knew, of course, that Mom wouldn’t live forever,
But the finality in the voice of her doctor was
Extremely impactful. It had the timbre of an
Executioner, from which there was no reprieve.

When I visited in those first few days of
Hospice, visitors and hospice workers alike
Would remark, “She just lights up when you
Come in the room.” Or, “You know who she’s
Waiting for.” Then she was living this hellish
Existence solely because of her concern for me.
For this I felt profoundly wretched. Still worse,
I knew it was my own selfishness which had
Prompted her to undergo the intrusive
Dialysis procedures in the first place. Without
Me to consider, she probably would have
Forgone the treatments and avoided a lot
Of surgery and other unpleasantries.

I leaned in close, put my arm around her.“Do
You know who this is?” I teased as I customarily
Did. Her lips curved into a little smile. I gave
Her a kiss on top of her head. Do you
Know why you’re here?” I whispered softly. No
Longer able to speak, she merely shook her
Head no. “You’re here to pass away,” I told her
Simply, my voice cracking on the five hardest
Words I’ve ever managed to utter. “You can, you
know,” I went on, tears leaking out of my eyes.
“I’ll be okay, Mom. You deserve a rest. You can
Go to heaven to be with Dad and Grandma and
Anna… ” Her eyes still closed, she nodded
Her understanding. Then, silently, she shifted
Away one final time and was soon fast asleep.

The next morning the hospice called at
Four a.m., saying she’d passed away quietly,
In her sleep. She’d died very peacefully,
They’d said, with a little smile upon her face.
And why not? She was at last going to reap
Her reward and be with her God and the
Ones she had loved all her long life. I
Smiled. I was glad then that I’d let her
Off the hook.

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