“Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn. That there is no end in nature but every end is a beginning” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Richard and I have just returned from another trip to Denver, this one to help my dad manage the gap in in-home care between the regular visiting nurse, who has been spending an hour or so with my mom three days a week, and the hospice staff, who will take over her care tomorrow.
(That’s my mom in the photo below, shot two summers ago at the backcountry yurt where my family gathered to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday. She and my dad hiked in with us–it was only a couple of miles and a truck carried our gear, but still…)
Before the health crisis that sent my mom to the hospital last week, she was ambulatory, able to cross a room on her own, and to manage the length of the hall with a walker. Now she’s bed-bound, and struggles to sit up. Before last week’s hospital stay, she was feeding herself; now she’s not particularly interested in food, but will eat a few bites if fed.
Her decline is sudden and striking, but I can’t say it’s completely unexpected. She’s had severe debilitating rheumatoid arthritis for almost three decades, and the illness along with the cocktails of drugs she’s taken for it have extracted a huge toll on her body and health, shrinking her from 5 feet, six inches tall and 135 pounds to barely 5 feet, two and about 82 pounds. My mom’s tough and smart and strong-willed, and she’s managed to live a full life anyway, but…
But now her body’s worn out, and that combined with the Alzheimer’s means she’s losing her will. It’s not that she wants to die: “I’m not ready,” she said yesterday evening in her frail voice.
I held her warm hand with its stiff, twisted fingers gently in mine and responded, “I know Mom. I’m sorry. But your body is giving out.”
She closed her blue eyes. A tear escaped. I leaned over and kissed her forehead. “We feel lucky to have had you,” I said. “You’ve given so much to so many people over your life. You’ve made a positive difference in the world.”
“Thank you for saying that,” she said after a minute.
“I love you, Mom.” I responded.
We sat silently, me holding her hand and she curled up in bed, her spine unable to hold her up, her silver hair waving over her pale forehead.
Today, when I leaned over the bed to straighten the pillows that prop up her head, and to kiss her goodbye, she asked, “When will you be back?”
“How soon?” she asked, her voice frail but with a flash of her old spirit. “As in how many days?”
I chuckled weakly. “Next Monday.”
“That’s too long.”
“It’s less than a week, Mom,” I said. “And we’ll be back sooner if you need us.”
She closed her eyes and I kissed her forehead. “I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too,” she said, her words barely audible.
My dad walked us out to the main lobby of the retirement community where they live.
“Do you really want to be here when she…” he paused, “dies?”
“If I can,” I said. “I want to hold her hand.”
“Okay,” he said.
I hugged him, and Richard hugged him, and then we parted, Richard and I to drive home over the mountains, he to go back upstairs and care for my mom, his wife of 58 years who may not live to see the New Year. Each of us on a difficult journey. Each of us walking it with the best grace and graciousness we can muster.
I hope I have inherited my parents’ courage and kindness; I know I’m fortunate to have their love.
On a different note: If you didn’t see it, my WildLives: Celebrating the World Around Us CD has been featured on Women’s Memoirs. First an interview with me about how the CD project came to be, and its connection to my mom’s Alzheimer’s. Second, a video on how to use a project like this to capture your own family stories, and third, an interview on how to record and produce a CD.
Finally, from the I’m-Not-Perfect department, here’s a correction on the phone number from last week’s post on where to order my WildLives CD: Call The Book Haven at 719-539-9629. My apologies. And my sincere thanks for your support.