Slowly inching her way to the end of her life, my mother will be leaving all of us behind.
The weight of her story tugs, urging me to give words to her struggle. To tell someone, anyone—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.
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 pounds. 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. 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 that one of those folks on the other side is there to greet her when she arrives.
Written by Catherine Shields – Miami, Florida