And what have I done?
Another year over, another just begun
I left for Colorado on Dec 18, to help my sister take care of our ailing mother. Mom had a mild stroke in 2001. It mostly affected her speech, but her overall health: mobility, physical strength, speech and lucidity have declined bit by bit since then. She went to live with Nancy and Phill, and for the most part it's been fine. But the last 5 months the decline has been rapid. Right around Thanksgiving she started having uh, well, uncontrollable diarrhea. Nancy home-schools four children as well, so she was at her wit's end. her doctor suggested she give Mom a home enema. I suggested her doctor was nuts, and that Nancy take Mom to a colon hydro therapist and that helped. I also suggested I come to watch Mom so that the Ericksons could go do things like visit friends, go to church, shopping, etc .. things they haven't been able to do because they needed to watch Mom 24/7.
Fortunately by the time I arrived, the colonics had fixed mom's plumbing problems. She was back to "normal." When she's aware, she can't express herself. The other day she called my nephew Jonathan "David, the Hudson Worker." No one has any idea where she got that. She wrote a Christmas card to her other grandson Matthew: "Greetings, Al, here is the estimate of your celebration." We don't know what that meant either. THat's when she's aware. When she's not, she's like a child. It's heartbreaking, thinking of what must really be going on in her head.
I came on my own for the first week. My niece Emily loaned me the bottom bunk. We had lots of fun, hanging out, making cookies, and playing with the Photobooth function on my Mac.
It was like being Single Aunt Susie again. But I missed Larry. He arrived Christmas Eve. Larry's never had a long stretch of time with my family ... they were in LA for our wedding. (which means they had about 3 hours total with him.) We went to Colorado for Thanksgiving 2006, but spent a day of that in the Springs with Larry's friend Dave. They all came out to see us last Christmas. Another couple days total. But this time we had six days together. It was terrific! Larry and I also got a motel nearby so he wouldn't have to kick Lizzie out of the top bunk.
I remember right before I got married, Jonathan (then 6) lamented that it wouldn't be the same, coming to see me. I think this time around he was ecstatic it wasn't the same, because he really likes Larry now. They all do. What's not to like? We watched movies, went on walks, and played lots of Uno Attack. Nancy said she loved falling asleep, listening to us all laughing in the living room.
Mom referred to Larry as "sir," I wondered if she knew who he was ... After all, on my first day there she insisted I was her sister. Not just a word swap -- she wanted to know who my mother was. I said she was. She shook her head, "well the other one. The one who died."
For the most part, Mom sat around, chimed in when possible, intelligible or not we smiled or laughed or did our best to follow her conversation. But when you can't communicate, you tend to go silent. So we just sat a lot. I helped her get up in the morning, change her diaper (yes we have this to look forward to). I helped her get ready for bed as often as I could. It astounds me how my sister and her family have been doing all of this, every day. As hard as it is, though; we are all aware that this could be her last Christmas on Planet Earth.
The last night we were there, Mom went to bed early as usual. We were leaving at 4:30 the next morning, so I knew I'd have to say goodbye that night. I helped her get ready for bed and tucked her in, then told her we'd be gone in the morning. She nodded.
I love your husband," Mom said. "he's funny."
Funny in what way, I wondered.
"He's got a great sense of humor."
"Yes, he does. It's one of the reasons I married him."
"You're a sweet girl," she replied, and lifted her hand to my cheek.
I hugged and kissed her goodnight. And then I held on. It might be the last time. I could only hold that thought a few moments, then brushed it away. No, no there would be another time. There'd have to be.
I am going to miss Mom when she leaves us for heaven. Maybe it's helpful that a lot of her has left already, in bits and pieces. I take comfort in the fact that where she's eventually going, her sickness and age will be gone. She'll have all her words with her. She'll have all her grace and sweetness, too. But they haven't left yet.
When we are all in heaven I will ask her if she remembers some of those strange things she said when her mind was not cooperating. Like David the Hudson worker. Maybe we'll laugh over it.
Our penultimate night there we watched "The Return of The King." The LOTR Trilogy is so weighty. Big stories, big stakes, good triumphing over evil, but at a cost. Good people die. The King of Rohan recovers from his own senility, goes on to fight valiantly in the last battle, but is mortally wounded. Dying, he tells his niece, "I can now go to my fathers, in whose company I am no longer ashamed to keep."
A month or so ago, our little Episcopal church put on an "emergent" service. It was an evening service, so the sanctuary was candle lit, incense, modern worship. We stood in the back and sang. There in the candle-lit dark my mind went places. I imagined people standing with me. Particularly, I 'saw' my father to my right. Dad only came back to faith in the year before his death. Dad standing up straight and smiling. I don't remember the last time he smiled broadly. I 'saw' Dad's mother to his right. Grandma Jean got a posthumous nickname: The Castrating Baptist. But she was there alright. I imagined hugging her, asking forgiveness for resenting her. And I wondered if she smiled or even laughed. It's all gone now.
On my left I saw my old boss. Roy was an atheist most of his life, and one of the sweetest men I ever knew. A couple years before he died we had lunch. His daughter was losing a long battle with cancer, but she had found Christ a few years prior and it changed her life, even as she faced death. So Roy started going to church with her. And there as we sat over lunch, Roy asked me what he needed to do to know Jesus. It was one of the best moments of my life. So anyway, there I was in that emergent evening service, standing in the dark, Roy on my left; Dad and Grandma Jean on the right. They were holding me up: standing next to me, putting their arms around me and keeping me standing. And I understood what they were saying. Not like I saw their mouths move and hear the syllables falling out. but they were saying it. "We are holding you up." I felt strong and safe. And I understood what 'the communion of saints" really means. I cried through most of the service.
I am dreading the day that my mother passes away. I think about it often. It's looming there, like Tax Day or wrinkles. It will come forth in the oddest places, like when I was searching for the jarlsberg at Fresh & Easy. There it was, your mom is going to die sometime soon. I just don't want her to go. I don't.
But then I thought, freezing in the cheese aisle, you know Jesus already went through it. And he broke the barrier on the other side. So it's going to be okay. Mre than okay. One day I will see Mom and Dad and Roy again; without sickness or sorrow. I will see Grandma Jean, without her bitterness. Someday I will go to be with my fathers, in whose company I hope not to be ashamed.