That’s one of the things mom said yesterday when we saw her.
One of the reasons we made the trip to Little Rock was to spend some time with mom. The reality is phone calls are a waste of time. Either Tracey or Michael have to call me when they visit her. The last few calls I couldn’t tell if she couldn’t hear me or if she didn’t understand the words.
After seeing her the last few days I think it’s a combination of both, but the reality is her brain is very foggy now.
We stopped by for the first time on Saturday. She was in the dining room, strapped into her wheel chair so she wouldn’t fall out.
She smiled really big when she saw us. Said “hello Steve!”
I talked about the trip and brought her up on our current events. She seemed to understand but there was no give and take in the conversation. Her lunch came so we left.
The next morning my my brother Michael sent me a text. “You might want to go visit mom today, she doesn’t remember that you were there. It sucks I know.”
Yesterday we stopped by again. She was in her bed this time, picking at the food on her lunch tray.
A big smile. Greeted us both by name.
And for the most part for the rest of the visit she didn’t make a lick of sense. She rambled with long pauses.
I was able to not cry in front of her.
There were two moments of seeming clarity.
There had been several moments of silence. Then she looked me in the eyes and said:
“Life is getting very short”
I acknowledged that is was.
She then started rambling again.
As we were leaving, I hugged her and said:
“Love you mom.”
I tried to convince myself that the difficulty we had talking on the phone was caused by Mom’s hearing getting worse. Her hearing loss is a contributing factor, but the reality is she is confused. Her physical health has been deteriorating, and now it would appear that her mental facilities are following suit.
There are all the platitudes… “She is 87; she has lived a long life” “She should have died from a heart attack when she was 52, you have had her a lot of extra years” “It’s the cycle of life, we all die”
They have been said to me. I’ve said them to myself. I’ve recited them to my siblings.
All of those statements are true, and none of them make any difference.
This hurts. Losing my mom just plain hurts.
I haven’t seen her for several months. I knew when I put her on the plane in Denver after her last visit that I would never see her in Colorado again. The altitude and lack of oxygen are too difficult for a frail old lady that is battling for life every day with only one third of her heart working.
We visited briefly when Steve and I were in Little Rock in the spring. She was in a nursing home/rehab facility and was looking forward to being released pretty soon. She went home a few weeks later, and then the difficult decision was made to move her into an assisted living facility.
She had lived in that house for 47 years. Raised a family there. Celebrated holidays and birthdays. It was home. It was where we all gathered at Thanksgiving and Christmas to squabble and fuss and be a family. It was her home and she dug in fiercely whenever we brought up the subject of selling.
But finally, even Marty had to admit that it was dangerous for her to stay by herself.
She tried to convince herself that she liked the assisted living facility, but it was a tough sell. She rebelled once, called me and told me she was going back home. When I reminded her that the house was empty and up for sale, she changed direction and said she would go live with her family in Michigan. I gently signed off on the phone call with the words “Let’s give it a few days and see how you feel about it then, Mom”
She was trapped in that place, in that life, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Fast forward several months and she is back in the nursing home/rehab. She can’t walk, or even sit up in bed by herself now, so she can’t stay in the assisted living.
I think, deep down in my soul, that she has given up. And I can’t say that I blame her.
The mom I know, the Marty that many love, is barely recognizable. Instead, there is a confused and very frail little lady. The indomitable fighter doesn’t want to fight anymore. I don’t think she can think of anything really worth fighting for.
There are no challenges, no battles to fight, no goals. She’s expected to drift from meal to meal. And the meals don’t interest her anymore. She hurts. She has heard everything we could think of to say to her before. She has experienced so much, and now her body keeps her prisoner.
I think her brain has decided to shield her with a blanket of cotton to keep the sharp emotions from hurting her. I’m grateful for that.
While I hold my mom’s hand as she walks to help steady her, dad was never the hand holding type. As he got older, he would use his cane, and then a walker, to get around. He would reluctantly accept some help getting in and out of the car, but that was pretty much the limit of the contact he would accept.
Last week I took Keely to see dad at the nursing home, the day after he was moved from home. He knew who she was, and reached over to take her hand.
As we talked, Keely kept her hand on his. That was the last time Keely saw her Grandpa. I purposely kept her away as the process of death accelerated. I wanted her to remember him as he was that day, frail yes, but still the Grandpa that she knew.
Each day as I visited, there were changes. The last few days, he withdrew into himself, sleeping, or drifting in and out of concisions, I’m not sure which. It seemed obvious that he didn’t know we were there.
Holding his hand became a way for us to connect with him, to hope that he could feel our presence. I could judge his progress on this short final journey by holding his hand. I was amazed, that first day, at the strength of his grip. He looked at me, squeezed my hand, we talked.
The last two days, his hand lay in mine; there was no grip, no strength at all.
Lying awake last night, images in my head of these last days. My brother Michael, holding dad’s hand and gently wiping the hair off his forehead, tears streaming down his face as he looked at his father lying in the hospital bed. I wish I had thought to get a picture, but that image will be in my mind for a long time to come. Michael took the lead in taking care of dad these last years, exasperated by the cantankerous man that my dad was, he was still fiercely protective of him, agonizing over this process. I saw a side of my brother that I had never seen, vulnerable, yet strong in so many ways, doing whatever was needed to take care of his dad.
My sister Anne-Marie came to my parent’s house almost every day. Helping with dad’s care when he was still home, taking much of the burden off of mom.
Tracey spent several hours yesterday with dad. I was there for a while, we talked. We cried. It was so very obvious that the time was getting short.
She held his hand the entire time.
One of the most difficult parts of this was watching mom with him. It was hard for her, seeing him in the nursing home, watching the very visible decline in his body. The first few days, there was recognition. She teased him, he smiled.
I don’t know if he recognized these were the last days with family. We made the conscious decision not to tell him. There seemed to be no reason to cause him agitation or stress. And really, what could words tell him that he didn’t already know?
I told him that Kathy had reminisced about him giving her a ride on the riding lawnmower, of hitting golf balls with him out at our farm. He smiled.
I gave the message, from Kathy and David, that they said “hello.”
What I was really doing was telling him goodbye for them.
Then came the time I took mom to see him and there was no conversation, there was no eye contact on his part. He slept. He didn’t know we were there.
Yesterday, his last day, she held his hand. Talked to him. As we were leaving his eyes opened. She told him goodbye, that we were leaving. She repeated it, louder this time. For the first time in two days he looked at her, and he waved his hand goodbye. Then he closed his eyes.
As we walked out, mom and I smiled. He had heard his wife’s voice, responded to her.
A few hours later he was gone.
As I look back, I realize that the last voice he heard, really heard, was my mom talking to him. Telling him that she loved him, and goodbye. How fitting is that. The voice that he loved for sixty five years was the last voice he heard. The last words “I love you Mike”.
I know, with every breath that we take, that we are, in fact, dying.
I know that there is a cycle to life. There is birth, and death.
I know all of this. But experiencing is different than knowing.
My father is 87. By any calculation, he has lived a long life.
I’ve watched the decline. The strong, athletic golfer of my childhood started getting old. I knew that life had changed when he retired his golf clubs. My dad was an exceptional golfer; he almost went pro when he was in the Navy. Even in his 70’s he was playing with scores under his age. But his aches and pains started to interfere with the joy of the game, and one year he didn’t renew his membership at the golf course. The clubs were put in storage.
A broken hip, lung problems, and a litany of other ailments in the last few years further curtailed his activities. He was attached to oxygen and used a walker to get around the house. His trips to Tunica with my mom became an ordeal for all involved, oxygen tanks and scooters had to be arranged at the casinos. He griped and grumbled, and wasn’t really very pleasant to be around. My dad did not like this process of getting old, and he pretty much let everyone around him know it.
Dad was never a smooth communicator. Mom had that talent in the family. He was very direct, if he thought something, it’s was going to be said. He was very authoritarian when I was growing up, but became softer as he aged. So gruff and irascible on the surface, he would get sentimental and tear up over a birthday card.
We fought some battles, my dad and I. There is much of him in me. His stubborness is my perseverance.
I’m the oldest of four. Up until the time I was 8, dad was in the Navy and wasn’t home much. When he retired, we moved to Arkansas. I know that it was a tough adjustment for him after 25 years in the military. It was also a tough adjustment on my parent’s marriage, this living together without the break of three to nine month cruises while dad was away and mom handled the kids and the household. Two strong willed individuals, hey have grown old together, squabbling and loving each other in their 80’s just as they did when they were in their 20’s.
They have been married 65 years.
These last weeks he has been mostly bedridden. Two nights ago, he got up in the middle of the night and fell. Now he can’t get out of bed without help. Yesterday, we made the decision to move him to hospice. Mom, age 84, has been pretty stoic about all of this. The hospice nurse explained about the signs of the end of life, and that we were looking at days, perhaps a week or two. Mom said that she was surprised that this was happening so fast and then the tears came.
I didn’t sleep much last night. Remembering times with my dad. Making a mental list of things to do. Thinking about my mom. Last night might be the last night she spends under the same roof with her husband of 65 years. It’s hard starting a new phase of your life at 84, but that is what will happen. Nothing any of us can do about that, there is no way to protect her, or ourselves, against the reality of death.
Cherish what and who you have because you never know when they will slip away ~ Unknown
This was originally posted in 2010. Mom is gone now but I hope that this blog will cause those that still have their moms around to cherish their time. If your mom is gone, I hope you will remembers some good time.
In another blog I talk more about mom, and how her near death helped form the way I try to live my life.
Mom is getting frail, in body but not in spirit. Now, she has never had great balance, and I would have to say I probably inherited that trait from her, along with my lack of any sense of direction and a tendency to be kind of ditzy sometimes. I think I get my sense of humor and ability to laugh at myself from her for sure.
One of my memories from childhood is watching mom careen like a ping pong ball down the hallway in the mornings, heading in the general direction of the kitchen in search of her first cup of coffee. Even in a fully caffeinated state she walks a lot like Bette Midler, kind of teetering with short steps even if she doesn’t have on high heels. We’ve always joked that she would not be able to pass a field sobriety test if she was ever pulled over, because she has never been able to walk a straight line.
I was an only child for five years. I wish I could remember those times, but I don’t. It surprises mom that I don’t remember the flight from Guam, where I was born. Of course I was only 13 months old…
Yesterday, helping her get in and out of the car and to and from the restaurant, we held hands. I held her hand to make sure she didn’t fall, and to help steady her as she walked. Just as she held my hand over fifty years ago as I learned to walk.
At some point in time we quit holding hands. I don’t remember when. I don’t remember starting to pull away from her, but I’m sure that is what I did. Keely does that now. As we walk through parking lots (read: danger zone! in my mind) she walks beside me. But I still reach for her hand as we start to cross the street. She doesn’t like it, and has voiced her opinion about her competency to cross the street by herself in very emphatic terms, but I still reach to hold her hand. I need to know she is safe as we cross the street.
Mom and I took a trip together to England ten years ago. We had a blast. While on the trip, I realized it was the first time I had mom to myself since I was five and life changed from solitary child to oldest child. For two weeks we explored London, and visited my friends Terry and Mandy Brake, who invited us to stay in their wonderful home in Wilshire. That trip was one of the highlights of my life, and I think mom would agree a highlight for her as well.
We held hands the entire trip.
Remember what I said about mom having no sense of direction? Well, she gets lost very easily. In shopping malls, in large buildings, even in one of my former houses. I learned at an early age to pay attention to landmarks on our trips cross country, as she would get off the interstate for gas then head back in the direction from which we had just come.
I was very concerned about losing my mom on our trip to Great Britain. And she was concerned about being lost. So we either held hands, or she held on to my jacket or purse if my hands were full.
We had a memorable experience in one of the tube stations where the door to the elevator started to close after I had entered. I had walked in and turned around. Mom was standing on the other side of the door as it started to close. I remember thinking “if that door closes I’ll never see her again”. I reached to her and grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her in, almost knocking us both over. I held on very tightly as we laughed.
We still laugh about that incident. I know I probably over reacted. If the elevator had gone up I could have waited. I assume mom would have gotten on when it came down and we could have met up. But I didn’t think that far ahead, all I could think of was that I had to keep her close to keep her safe.
Lovers hold hands for the connection, the sense of love and security. So it is for parent and child.
I continue to grab Keely’s hand as we cross a street. And I hold my mom’s hand as we walk. I realize that there will be a time when Keely will be too old and independent to rely on me for guidance and safety. That is as it should be. But I’m also very thankful to be able to return the favor to my mom, and help her as she walks, as she guided me so many years ago.