Monday, September 14, 2015

Tightly Holding On; Slowly Letting Go

Bette Werkman
My mother turns 90 the end of next month. She started planning her party the first of September. She wants it simple. She has explained that "simple" means no cake. Cake complicates things. With cake you need plates and forks. Simple means cookies. Just buy them at Von's, she says. Keep it simple. Cookies and water. Simple. She wants the invitations to say, "Celebrate a Simple 90th Birthday."

Mom had a stroke a year ago June and lives in a nursing center. She is pretty well helpless to do anything for herself. She can't sit herself up, get out of bed, stand or walk. She has a moderate level of dementia--maybe a four or five on a scale of 10.  She has pretty good cognitive ability but goes off a bit kookoo at times. Like she used to think that a family of four illegals, plus their dog, lived in her bathroom at night or like she believes she had breast cancer, a double mastectomy, and then they grew back.  

First selfie
My sister lives near and tends to the every day things. She takes care of the bills and laundry, making sure she gets the right medication. She makes dental and eye appointments, sets up the transportation and goes there with her. She visits Mom almost every day on her way to work. About once a month, I drive or fly the 1000 miles south. It used to be every three weeks, but now it's every month. I usually stay 5 or so days. I come to see Mom and to give my sister a break. Sis still works; I'm retired. So she's stuck with all the everyday jobs and I can come as the party.

Even though my sister and I text often, keeping me up-to-date, it is difficult to arrive and see the changes in Mom. On a day-to-day schedule, she is losing ground by small increments. But when I see her, it is quite a change. At this time, she is slowing down. She no longer wants to socialize with others (they either sit there drooling or they talk about themselves too much). She no longer wants to leave her room. So she gets up later in the day, sits in her wheelchair for a couple hours, and wants to go back to bed. When she is sitting, she wheels the chair back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. She no longer moves her left arm and holds it tightly against her chest. She says she can not move her left leg and resists movement. Her speech is slow and she dazes off when she talks.

And yet, she can still joke and smile (she says she forgot how to laugh) at my jokes. The smile goes all the way to her eyes. And I hold on to her tightly. Good gawd she can frustrate me, yell at me, ignore me. 

And yet I love her deeply and strongly. I love it when I can get her to stop being cranky and have a good time. I love it when she tells me stories about her childhood, her early marriage. I love it when we talk about my sons and how much they loved spending time with her and Dad, stories of their grandkids' behavior.

I look at her sitting in her chair, now often disengaged and often dazed. Her quality of life is so poor. Not from lack of trying of the staff and nurses at her home. But her world consists of waiting. Waiting for breakfast. Waiting for a shower. Waiting for lunch. Waiting to have someone get her up or take her to the toilet or lie her down for a rest. She sometimes cries that she doesn't want to live the rest of her life like this. Other times she is resigned. She is exactly the person she never wanted to become.

And it is hard to leave for home each time because I don't know to what I will return next month. She is healthy. She is well. She is fragile. She is slowly letting go.

And I so want to hold on tightly while I am slowly trying to let go.

Kaity, GG, me


rwk1950 said...

Doris, I almost couldn't finish reading this wonderful true story. It hit too close to home and sometimes I don't want to think about my mother, or your mother, or Mary's mother, or Marsha's mother, or Lois's mother. I don't like this part of our lives, yet we all step up to give back a little to the women who gave us so much.

You and Pat are wonderful daughters and my dear friends. Your mother might not know it but she is lucky to have you two in her life.

If I weren't such a manly, unemotional guy, I might have cried reading your story.

BethE said...

Beautiful post, Dori! I am glad that you get to spend time with your mother and coax her out of being grumpy.