Note: This is the only pictures for this one. When you’re totally in the moment, you don’t think to take photos. You don’t document each scene; it’s all there in your mind. Use your imagination to come along this time. I have included some interesting links, so check them out. Finally, I can also promise that despite the bleak start, there is a happy ending to this one. Read on!
Yesterday was one of those days when you’re pretty sure that the Universe is plotting against you! One of my favorite bloggers doesn’t believe that the Universe pays attention to us (though it seems to just have a translation issues in her case, read the hilarious link), but I can’t deny that some days it really feels to me that there is a greater force battering me over the head with “lessons!” Yesterday, was one of those days.
One of the things that got added to my already full plate, at about 11 AM –after already taking a kid to an early Dr.’s appointment, delivering forgotten paperwork to the high school for another kid, and dealing with a furnace cleaning– was that the nursing home called to say that my mom was “very agitated” and was trying to stand up. Her legs have become very rigid and hard to use, so standing up is extremely risky for her. Standing up spontaneously, with no one assisting, is “terrifying for others,” as Anna, her nurse explained. Anna also shared that mom was very talkative again. In a previous post, I shared that she had had a few very lucid days. Those have been followed by endless days of nothing. There has been no communication and little acknowledgement that we’re there, when we visit. I admit, it’s been very disappointing after having that wonderful few days with her. Now she was talking again and my day was full.
Rewind: Last week, I had a particularly difficult day with mom. I went over to visit her in the afternoon one day. I knew as I drove over that I was feeling a little more emotional than I usually am lately. Frankly, to get through all of this I’ve been fairly cut off from my feelings. I don’t cry often; I don’t allow myself to start missing her or wishing for something different; I deal with the day to day crises and know that this is only going downhill. For weeks on end things had been so traumatic, with mom falling at least twice a week and other times more. These falls involved broken ribs, head lacerations, bruises and lots of anxiety, all of it culminating in the big fall a few weeks ago, that led to surgery on her elbow and mom finally going
into Hospice. She is now on “Comfort Care” at the same nursing home where she has lived for three years, after she fell and broke her hip. Week to week, day to day, I didn’t know what was coming. Every day there were updates and overwhelming information. The injuries sustained became routine for me, for us, and left me exhausted and shut down. You can’t cope if you are feeling each blow, so I didn’t.
So last week it was actually an unusual thing to feel something, to feel sad about my mom. When I arrived, she was totally not present it seemed. No acknowledgment of me being there, no responses at all. I couldn’t even get her to use the one word comments I’ve grown accustomed to. It was bleak and awful, because I really missed her. I felt lost and sad, and I wanted to talk with my mom. I tried talking to her, tried sharing that her brother had written her a letter and wanted me to read it to her. She hasn’t heard anything from her brother in 12 years, so I was anxious about reading the letter to her. She had long given up on any contact there and I wasn’t sure how it might effect her, even if she is trapped in her silence.
I sat there growing more upset, waiting for some kind of response, until I found myself crying. I mean really crying. The “ugly cry” where your nose is running and you can’t really catch your breath and you know that the nurses who come in to see what’s happening and then leave silently are feeling bad for you. I could not stop. I was talking to her, telling her how much I miss her and how much I wanted to talk to her. I was curled up on her bed, just wailing up against her, while my mom just sat there kicking one foot and moving her lips involuntarily. You probably don’t need a photo to imagine this scene, it was raw and awful.
After about thirty minutes, I pulled myself together. I got some tissue and then washed my face. I looked like hell, but no one was watching, not even mom. I went back over to her, kissed the top of her head and said “well mom, I’m going to head out now. Love you.” As I turned to go, her hand shot out and grabbed mine and she said “Please don’t leave me. Stay.” It’s probably needless to say, but the water works started all over again. When this damn breaks, it floods the whole world. She said, “Are you crying because of me?” I explained that I just miss her, and wish she didn’t have Huntington’s, and that she could just talk with me. I felt like a little girl, who just wanted her mommy. So, she kicked her foot, moved her lips involuntarily, stared straight ahead, and she took my hand and held it while I cried some more.
Back to yesterday… when I heard that she was “agitated,” I got it in my head that maybe I could take her out to see the foliage. My sister had shared a haunting dream with me two days earlier, in which she took my mom to Astoria, OR and mom told her that she’d rather stay there alone, then return to the nursing home, before she dies. This was bothering me and I’d been thinking that it was a “sign” that getting mom out might be warranted. I believe in signs. The sun was bright and it seemed like a perfect day, aside from the crazy list of things the kids would be needing from about 5-7, and my writing group.
Mom has always loved trees, as a girl she painted, and that was her favorite subject, and going to see the foliage in New England was her favorite thing in the Fall, something I share with her. She hasn’t been out since her surgery, so I called to make sure this was even possible. When I arrived, she was still in a pajama top and hooked up to oxygen and all kinds of other things. It was daunting at the least. As I passed her (“Hi mom”) to go get her jacket, she stated clear as can be “Hi Dawn.” What! I came back and looked at her and she looked likes she often does: not really there. “Hey mom, how would you like to run away for a little while?” She smiled, “Let’s run away.”
After a trying effort to get her in the car, we were soon driving along Lakeway toward Lake Whatcom. The trees along there were spectacular! She can’t turn her head easily, but as I pointed out the the bright colors, she was happy. When we reached the lake, I turned up a winding road that leads out to Sudden Valley, through the woods. I had only been up the road once, myself. Suddenly, mom started talking but it sounded like complete gibberish. I felt a jolt of alarm, sure that she had finally become incoherent. “What mom?” She repeated the long string of tangled sounds. I told her that I couldn’t understand her and she replied, very clearly: “I’m talking about the lake Dawn. It’s on the right, it’s on the left, it’s on the right again. The road twists and turns, and there it is again.” I felt like Luke with Yoda; the road twists and turns and there it is again.
We drove out to Sudden Valley, another place I’ve never been (for the record, very strange place). I had quiet music playing, the kind mom likes. When Anoushka Shankar came on, she closed her eyes and said “I like this.” As we followed the road, we found a beautiful, little lake tucked in the trees. I pulled the car over and turned off the engine. Peter, Paul and Mary’s September came on. It is a beautiful song about measuring the years in Septembers; mom’s birthday is September 16th. I couldn’t help but tear up, as their beautiful harmonies sang and the wind rippled the water, sitting alone in the woods with my mother. She turned her head and just stared at the water for so long that I thought maybe she was just zoned out again. I finally said, “what are you thinking mom?” She turned to me and answered “I’m thinking how beautiful this is. I’m glad we ran away.” And then she turned back to watch the water.
As we drove home we stopped once along a busy stretch of Lake Whatcom, where three deer were grazing in a yard. I pulled over as much as I could, but knew that other drivers were annoyed. Mom was so happy to see the deer that I just signaled them to pass, and ignored their impatient glares. If they saw the old woman with the oxygen on, maybe they got it, if not: too bad. When the Mama and the Papa’s California Dreamin’ came on, I pulled over so that we could watch the empty lake. It was once one of mom’s favorite songs, still one of mine. I asked if she remembered this song; she nodded yes. I sang out loud while she silently moved her lips and we sat watching the low sun on the water until the song was over.
When we returned to the nursing home, she could not move her legs to get out of the car. I had to lift her and carry her to the waiting wheel chair. When we came in, I was saying out loud to her that the foliage had been very nice and I was glad we went. A few nurses and aids passed and asked “did you have fun?” When I replied that we’d gone to see the foliage, several said “Oh, how nice.” Admittedly, their enthusiasm seemed subdued. As I pushed mom down the hall, she said to me: “I don’t think they’re very impressed.” The sarcastic tone, the biting directness: there was my mom! “Well, I don’t give a damned what they think, mom; did you have a good time?” “I did.” “Then that’s all I care about.”
When I had her back in her special chair, fresh socks on, oxygen attached, wrapped with a blanket, I kissed her head and said “I love you mom.” She looked up and said “I love you too.” This may have been the last time my mom goes to see the foliage, but mom loved every minute, and that kicked ass. Bite me Universe!
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