Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales by Phillip Capper (fotopedia)
“In a dream you are never eighty.” ~ Anne Sexton
Ash Wednesday. Cloudy and chilly.
I spent nine hours on Monday in the emergency section of DePaul Hospital. This time it was not my mother; it was my mother-in-law, my ex’s mother.
Some people find it strange that I still refer to this woman as my mother-in-law. I don’t find it strange at all; she’s been in my life since I was a young woman. I find it incredible to be able to have two mothers-in-law, both of whom I admire and love. How many people can stay that truthfully? My m-in-l here has Parkinson’s Disease, a very unforgiving disease that takes away chunks of the mind without warning.
On Sunday night, my sister-in-law Ann came over and spent a good hour crying. She had found her mother on the floor of her bedroom on Sunday morning. When asked why she was on the floor, my m-in-law said that “it felt good.” As the day progressed, she was better, but she was still talking a lot of nonsense. I told Ann that I was afraid she might have had a mini-stroke. We decided that we would take her in the next day if we could convince her to get in the car. Turns out, we didn’t have to.
When we got to her house around 9 a.m., she was on the floor of the playroom, the first room off the hallway. She was lying there, and it was apparent that she had been there for a while because her skin was icy cold. I went into the bathroom to get a warm washcloth to wipe her with, and the floor was soaking wet as was everything under the sink. When I asked her if she knew how the bathroom had gotten wet, she told me that the people who live upstairs had left their bathtub running.
There are no people upstairs.
Ann and I called 911, and she was transported to the ER. The EMTs asked her if she knew where she was, and she said that she was at the hospital. They told her that she wasn’t at the hospital yet. One of the doctors in the ER asked her if she knew the date, and Ann and I looked at each other—neither of us knew the date . . . Turns out that my m-in-law was dehydrated and had a urinary tract infection, but the CT scan did not show any signs of a stroke. The doctor admitted her to get her stabilized, but there were no available rooms, so Ann and I spent the entire afternoon in the little ER cubicle. I’m certain that the ER staff thought that we were both batty as we got the giggles more than once, and at one point, we were singing.
It had been hours without food, anything. Ann needed her insulin. I needed something besides Pepsi.
“When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.” ~ Mark Twain
During all of this, my m-in-law was in and out of reality. She would be talking to us about something, and then she would turn to her left and have a conversation with her sister (who was not there). It took a bit of getting used to, but we muddled through. There were times when she was eating imaginary food and sewing invisible clothes.
If I sound as if I’m making fun, I’m not. It was one of those situations in which the pain of the reality could become so acute as to be overwhelming, so the better approach was to just go with the flow and try not to think about anything too much.
I finally asked Corey to come and get me around 6:30 when I was certain that she was being moved to a ward. I had been wearing my contacts all day (something I am not yet used to), and my eyes hurt as did my back and my head. Ann was able to leave a little after 8.
In between all of this, I texted and phoned people, including my ex as I was acting as an intermediary between him and his sister. The whole brother/sister thing is very touchy as my ex has been unwilling/unable to pitch in at all with his mother’s care; therefore, it has all fallen on Ann. She makes sure that her mom takes her meds three times a day, that she eats, that she has groceries in the house, that she hasn’t set the house on fire.
I try to do what I can, and I know that it’s not enough. Paul’s reason for not doing more is that “it’s so depressing.” Oh, and I suppose it’s a piece of cake for the rest of us? Yes. I would slap him if I thought that it would do any good.
“The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion.” ~ Doris Lessing
Today, Brett and I went to visit with Ann. When we got there we found out that they had to restrain her mom because she was trying to get out of bed. It’s like it was with my mom except that my mom was more coherent during the day.
Brett was not prepared for the state his grandmother was in, and it really upset him. She didn’t know who he was. I wish that I had thought to prepare him better, but the reality is that there probably isn’t any adequate preparation.
After several texts and phone calls, Alexis finally texted me back last night. This is a real sore spot for me, and I am not yet able to go into the full story on why I am so upset with her other than to say that it deals directly with Alexis’s participation in this family.
Last night, Ann and Paul and their respective spouses met for dinner, and Ann said that it went fairly well. Paul has agreed to go along with whatever medical decisions Ann makes, and he and Penny will do research for Ann as needed (big whoop). Ann told him that she isn’t asking for a time commitment but that if he could really try to go have dinner with his mom or spend an hour with her it would take some of the stress of Ann.
I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see how all of this works out.
“To know how to grow old is the master-work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.” ~ Henri Frédéric Amiel
This person is gone, and there are only small glimpses of her, and those are appearing less and less. And I am left to wonder if she is aware of this loss. How much does she know? How much does she remember? In one instance, she could name the main road that abuts the hospital; in the next, she was talking about a ticket taker on the train. I hope that this logic makes some sense to her and that she doesn’t really perceive how far from reality she has strayed.
To lose a bodily function from disease, arthritis, whatever—it seems that we as humans have an ability to compensate for such a loss. We use the affected limb less, or we don’t lift as much weight as we used to. But to have a keen mind, a mind that hungers for knowledge, a mind that enjoys continually learning about new things—to lose that gradually must be infuriating. And then after a few years of the slips here and there, to begin to lose great chunks of time and memory—how does one cope with that?
Today, Yvonne held out her fingers to me and asked me if I wanted this (invisible thing). I said that I sure did, and I pretended to take it and put it in my pocket.
I have not yet allowed myself to cry, and I’m not entirely certain that I will because the tears would be tainted in a way. Would they be tears for her, for us, for what has gone, for what is going, for having to watch this helplessly, for not knowing whether or not to acknowledge the invisible things she moves around with her fingers, for the papery thickness of her skin that is blotchy with bruises from the blood that they try to take from her veins, for Ann’s burden, for the resentment that I bear towards my ex and my daughter for their unrelenting self-centeredness, for my sons who are visibly hurting.
What exactly? I have no answers, and that pisses me off more than anything, having no answers. That’s’ the part that really, really sucks.
More later. Peace.
Music by Bird York, “In the Deep” (I know that this is a repeat, but it felt right).
For O. A. Glebova-Sudeikina
‘What do you see, on the wall, dimly alive,
at the hour when the sunset eats the sky?
A seagull, on a blue cloth of waters,
or perhaps it’s those Florentine gardens?
Or is it Tsarskoye Seloe’s vast view,
where terror stepped out before you?
Or that one who left your captivity,
and walked into white death, freely?’
No, I see only the wall—that shows
reflections of heaven’s dying glow.
8 thoughts on “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? ~ Satchel Paige”
I am a first time visitor to your blog, so I feel a little strange commenting on this particular entry. I cannot know your pain, but I do have a glimpse of it. I am a CNA who has specialized in Alzheimer’s/dementia care. I have two women, in particular, who are very special to me. One is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, but I did not know her before the disease. The other is in the very early stages, so each day for her is harder than the last. In addition, I am a social work student learning generalist practice now, but with the intent to focus my master’s in gerontology and dementia. So, though I cannot know your pain, I feel deeply for you and yours. I only wish to urge you, if you haven’t already, to seek out a caregiver support group. I know you are probably very busy, or feel as if that can’t help, but group support is one of the most strongest and effective forms, and these groups can help to bring moments of community and peace. Whatever you do, take care of yourself and know that you are probably one of the strongest lights in the dark of this woman’s life.
Hey, if I put it out there, then anyone can comment, and I’m so glad that you took the time to do so. Your advice is spot on. I really feel that my sister-in-law could benefit from a support group as she has become the primary caregiver. Thanks.
Please come back and feel free to comment on anything.
Hi my wonderful friend,
You are such a beautiful person Lita. You compassionate, caring nature shines through in each and every post.Family, it never stops does it? If it is not the immediate family, it is the extended family but would we really want it any other way? My heart gooes out to you because I know from your previous posts over the years that you remain close to you ex m-i-l. I picked up on Alexis comment. I hope that whatever the issue is can be resolved . Mothers and daughters……….I am familiar with that.
Wishing you all my love , as always.
I can’t tell you what a lift it was to open my comments and to see your name. It’s been another roller coaster around here, but then, how is that any different from any other time? I do plan to write about the Alexis issue, but it just doesn’t feel like the right time yet.
How are things in your part of the world? So much natural disaster and pain? I still think about moving to Queensland, but I don’t know if it will ever happen.
Love and big hugs,
Hey Lita… Here we tell each other that the folks who have diseases where they aren’t totally coherent are better off than those who have debilitating diseases where the mind stays crystal clear but the body becomes useless… People who can laugh over things and who seem amused watching rabbits run down the hospital corridors just seem to be less focused on the sometimes slow march towards the end. I think it’s important to be there for them and with them… Bless you for being there with Ann… How wonderful that she can have you to giggle and sing with her!
That’s the dilemma isn’t it: Is it better to know what’s happening or not to know? For the person suffering, it’s probably best to have their own reality, but for those who are the care-takers, it’s harder. But we had been waiting in that ER for so long that we were just loopy. It did pass the time.
Lita – You are a good soul. Please tell Ann I am keeping her Mom in my prayers. I don’t understand Paul’s attitude. This is his mother for crap sake. Too depressing?? PAHLEEZE- depressing is getting a call at 1 am to come to the hospital to find your Dad dead, depressing is picking out his coffin and depressing is watching the casket move slowly down the church aisle. Hell, I’ll slap him for you!
Hang in there!
I’ll let Ann know that you sent along good wishes. As for Paul . . . please, don’t even make me go there.