“I’ll be leaving you behind.”
The words I typed out were supposed to be the beginning of another post for my blog. I was thinking about Jessica and all the stories I wanted to tell. Maybe offer a peek into what it was like to welcome all the new babies born into our family, then watch as they grew, then outgrew Jessica. Watching them wave goodbye as they left her behind.
I stared at the screen after writing that statement, and realized Jessica wasn’t the one on my mind. It was my 95-year-old mother. Slowly inching her way to the end of her life, she is the one who will be leaving all of us behind. The weight of her story tugs, urging me to give words to her struggle. To tell everyone what it’s like to be trapped in a body that no longer does what it’s told or watch a mind, once sharp and alert, abandon you, leaving you confused and helpless.
There is something about the duality of this situation and the things she has in common with Jessica. Things which have always been my normal. Although my mom has never had much in common with Jessica, she does now. She probably wouldn’t like that I am putting her in the same category as her mentally disabled granddaughter. This would annoy her. If she could she would make the disapproving face that has always reminded me of the Wicked Witch of the West. But I’m just telling it as I see it.
These days, I have to manage all the aspects of her life, but I’m used to this. Since Jessica was born, this was the role I’ve had to assume. Jessica has always relied on me, so this wasn’t anything different. Just one more person to have to be responsible for.
I tell myself I am a good daughter. At least I am devoted. If she deserves more, I don’t have it to give. I wonder if maybe I should feel guilty. I do and I don’t. This is how our relationship was always defined. Distance.
So I watch, emotionally detached, wondering what it must be like for her as she struggles with Alzheimer’s. Residing in assisted living at the Palace, she doesn’t remember why she’s in so much pain. It doesn’t help to remind her she has a compression fracture in her spine. She sits in her wheelchair, oblivious to the fact she can no longer walk. She’s developed bedsores. The doctor orders drugs for the anxiety, and an array of other drugs that block the pain but make her lethargic. She barely eats and has lost so much weight, she’s down to 76 pounds. In July she was 89. When I asked the nursing director what to do, she just shook her head and said the staff is trying to get her to eat. I don’t think she’ll live to see her 96th birthday. Maybe she will, you never know.
Last week, the nursing director called to tell me about the Hospice decision. Was that what I needed to hear to be nudged into going to see her more often? I went twice this week. A few days ago, when I was there, a man sitting across from Mom had taken off his white T-shirt and was waving it over his head like a soldier signaling the white flag of surrender. Shirtless, he looked right at me and yelled, “Come over here and talk to me!”
Frightened by his outburst, I looked away. When he began yelling louder, I tried to ignore him. When Mom was more aware of her surroundings, she had plenty to say about the other residents. I can imagine what she would have said about this guy. Mom would have been embarrassed. But this time, she didn’t notice. The woman next to me quietly lamented, “Oye yoy yoy, oye yoy yoy,” repeating it like a mantra. It sounded Yiddish, a phrase that translates, “Whoa is me.” But she was speaking Spanish. Her plea seemed to represent what everyone else in the room probably felt. The whole scene was a sobering reminder that one day, I would take my place at the table, repeating oye yoy yoy until the very end. Fifteen minutes had gone by, and I stood to leave. The obligatory visit complete, I kissed my mother goodbye. I know she is slowly transitioning to the final exit. She keeps talking about people from her family who are no longer with us. The other day, it was my father, who died over 25 years ago. Yesterday, it was her brother, Jake. He’s been gone almost 30. She said he’d called her on the phone. Maybe the other side IS calling. I just hope that when she goes, she goes in peace. And one of those folks on the other side is there to greet her when she arrives.
Death Writing Peaceful Departure Caregivers Memoir0