Sunday, September 27, 2009

"It's so close now I can smell it," Ben, 10 a.m. Sunday

The events of the past two weeks have convinced me I could run a corporation. No sweat. I've never had to deal with so many details. But then, like my friend, Mary, I never had seven kids. Now, she could run a corporation.
I don't want to. I just want to go to Nova Scotia.
I want to walk along the beach at Port Maitland, the birth place of my paternal grandparents. I want to go to Cape Forchu, the lighthouse that has sat there for more than a century (I'll have more details on that one) guiding the ships into Yarmouth Harbor.
I want to eat seafood and sit in a tavern with Ben and drink beer and listen to Celtic music. I want to go to the museums. I want to walk in the countryside where long ago ancestors farmed the land. I want to sit in the hot tub at our bed and breakfast.
On our way, I want to see my friend Surya in Maine. It's been 18 years since we have seen each other. I helped at her birth. She helped me with Jared when I was a single mom with a five year old. We have history, so it will be good to reconnect.
Then I will see "cousin" Steve Goudey. We aren't closely related, but George Goudey, 1735, was our direct ancestor. Then we will go to Massachusetts and see the ancestral stomping grounds in and around Salem, Beverly, Ipswich, Lynn and other small towns.
We will stay with cousin Jacquie and Barry. Our grandmother Porters married a Goudey, back to George again. They have invited us to their "B&B" to spend a few days visiting and exploring.
That's all. Just a trip. People do it all the time. They get in a plane and fly away to parts unseen and unknown and have new experiences and come home refreshed and start planning their next getaway.
That's all.
On our way to the McCrackens for a trip christening coffee cake, thanks to Jacob's culinary skills. more stop at mom's to finish out a few more DETAILS.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Calming the storm

I feel as if I've been in a war this past week. A resistance within and without to us getting in that car tomorrow morning and heading to the airport. So many details to attend to for mom before I could actually prepare to leave on Sunday for Nova Scotia and New England, the long-anticipated trip that felt like it was going to get aborted at every turn.
Ben has been holding his breath.
Yesterday mom was confused, disoriented, wasn't processing language very well, or simply couldn't hear. It's discouraging. But today she is sounding stronger. She is lucid...she just can't hear worth a darn. Going there this afternoon to "fix" her television.
Brother Stan arrives in six days. Amen to that.
I actually packed last night. Now just the last minute stuff. Ben needs to pack, which will happen 30 minutes before we leave.

Went into the garden this morning with Jake. The peas I planted in August (from the dried peas from the first crop) are beautiful, with many flowers. If we don't get a hard frost, there should be another round of delicious peas, soon.
We cut into the second watermelon last night. It weighed 35 pounds!! I said we should have entered it in the fair, but Ben wasn't going for that. He says it's the best he's ever had. The McCrackens, came to share the bounty and took the remaining watermelon home.
We still have many tomatoes. Again, depending on weather, we'll have more. But cooler weather is moving this way, finally. It's been in the high 80s, feeling much like August, except for the telltale gold tree, the first to turn in the fall in our neighbor's yard. Today it feels like a Santa Ana wind is blowing, except this is Washington and not Southern California. I'm listening to Nora Jones, and "our song," "Come Away with Me." Appropriate. The chimes on my patio are playing harmony.
We head from here to 50s and rain. I don't care.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

At 100 mom embarks on new chapter

Mom sat in the lobby today at Orchard Park and said goodbye to friends and acquaintances. One lady gave her a cheerful afghan that mom said to take to the Mission after we left. She felt good that people were eager to say goodbye and to wish her well. Yesterday the managers gave her flowers and acknowledged her departure, telling her they loved her and would miss her. They even acknowledged me as the faithful "awesome" daughter. Ah.
It was hard to strip her apartment, which she has called home for 16 years.
But we did it.
And now, tonight she is in her new digs.
She won't know where everything is for a few days and I imagine she'll be disoriented. But she'll settle, I hope.
When I left her this evening a med tech was giving her her evening medications and was calling her honey. I felt reassured and relieved that we have done the right thing.
And now it's time to pack.
Ben and I leave Sunday for Nova Scotia and New England. We'll be gone 13 days including travel time. Stan arrives next Friday to be with mom for a week while we're gone. He's on call while I'm gone and that gives me peace for our departure.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I keep thinking that mom's final days are upon us. There have been falls, strokes, cancer, and then healing. Then more falls, strokes...and then healing.
I keep preparing for that day. I have cried. I've heard a voice tell me, "She's not dead yet, don't cry." That was six years ago. But I still cry.
I sometimes think I will be devoid of tears by the time she dies. Relieved, even. Of course I'll be relieved. She is not happy in this ancient body that she pushes to perform, and does oh so painfully slowly.
Mom says she's ready to go, but her actions contradict her words. She gets up in the morning, puts in her eyedrops, puts on her makeup, washes her hands after every bathroom visit and after every doorknob to prevent the flu that would take her out, gets flu shots faithfully every year, eats well, takes her medications, including vitamin C, every single day, on time. Is this a person who wants, or expects, to die?
A friend who is into astrology said once that people under the sign of Taurus have a hard time letting go.
You think?
It's not that I want my mother to die. I love her. I will miss her. But it is painful. It is hard work. It is draining. It is stressful. And my life has value, too.
How many others caring for their aging parents feel the same way?
And then, the next thought? How will Jared do assuming I reach a ripe old age?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Nourishment from the garden

My garden grounds me in the middle of stress. Before an afternoon of taking mom to appointments I decided to make myself a nourishing soup from the garden. I gathered potatoes I had unearthed and had allowed to dry, carrots, green peppers, green beans, fresh basil, and new collards. I'm cooking all that with onions and the remains of a baked chicken to get the flavor of chicken and those nice healing chicken enzymes that they say are in chicken soup. But the vegetables and their nourishment is what I'm going for.
Just walking out into the garden and picking the vegetables settles me. The sun on my skin, the breeze, the greens and oranges and reds of the garden. The watermelon and pumpkin waiting to be harvested, gaining strength and nourishment to feed our neighborhood community gardeners.

Get me out of here.

I'm feeling the stress of mom's constant needs this morning. I'm waking in the middle of the night obsessing about things like how mom is going to have to get up on the right side of the bed, instead of the left as she has been doing for 16 years.
I have put her on the waiting list for another facility, worrying that they won't treat her well where she is moving, before she even gets there. Worrying about where her television will go without her scraping her leg on the corner of the table and causing another wound that festers and takes months to heal. Or, where she's going to put her cosmetics and lotions and toothpaste on the tiny sink they offer her. Or, where her dresser is going to go, and the fit she will throw if after 70 some years she has to have a new dresser.
My chiropractor reminded me this morning as he was piecing me back together, that "worry is a prayer for the worst." Let alone a sleep saboteur.
I know that! But tell that to my racing mind at 3 a.m.
This morning my brother and I were discussing postponing her move. Ben overheard us and said an emphatic, "No." He made his wishes known, watching as he has, my stress.
I feel pins and needles on the soles of my feet in the night as well, making me want to jump up and down on electrodes to stop the feeling. I hope it's just stress.
On Facebook, there was an opportunity to "express myself" about TGIF. There were options you could click on. There was one option showing two fish bowls, one full of water but empty of fish and another one full of water and gold fish. One lone gold fish was jumping through the air out of the bowl full of fish into the bowl full of water, exclaiming, "Get me out of here."
My sentiments exactly, Goldie.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Let's take the bull by the horns." Sybil, 9/17/09

Today mom is onboard with the idea of moving. I cried and she is stoic--at least temporarily. It will be a big adjustment for her--and for me--but now that she has made up her mind she is moving, she says things like, "I've moved before, I can move again."
Thankfully, she's not moving to a nursing home.
As my brother, Stan, says, "It's not exactly under the bridge."
But it might seem like that if she is neglected and isolated.
I pray not. If that becomes the case we will move her again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Harvesting watermelon

Kate is holding a giant watermelon we harvested from the garden a few nights ago. Sean is ready to cut into it to find out what is actually inside. It had beautiful, juicy, sweet fruit.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's time to move mom.

Mom doesn't think it's time to move mom. She has lived in her retirement home for 16 years, ever since she lived with me and Jared for eight months after moving up here from California.
She has been the queen. Everyone knows her. She's the centenarian. She's the special one. The managers love her. The housekeepers know her. It's a beautiful place. She has her nice little apartment. She knows her routine. It's hard to leave.
I get that.
I also get that she falls--twice this week, which resulted in a six-inch bruise on her arm, a blood blister on her shin where they plan to start lymphedema treatments Monday, and a twisted foot that required a two-person trip to the doctor's office for x-rays.
Then she had a TIA--a transitory eschemic attack--a mini-stroke, Thursday night. She couldn't speak for a couple of hours. She was dizzy, agitated, and "didn't know where she was."
The next morning she forgets that she had the TIA. She forgets that she is up every 15 minutes for several hours off and on through the night, before she finally settles down to every half hour.
It's not always like this. Typically the caregiver goes home at 2 a.m. and mom is on her own until morning, with the LifeLink button her salvation. The caregivers used to be able to stay longer, but they have both returned to college. I'm working on caregivers until morning, but mom doesn't want that.
Mom is in denial about her falls. There was the one where she fell in the bathroom and got a eight-inch gash on her arm that required an emergency room visit (twice), stitches, and a slow healing process, which is characteristic of the elderly, whose skin is friable.
She forgets about the wounds on her legs that took weeks to heal. She forgets about the broken tailbone that required hospitalization, morphine, and three-week respite care.
She forgets because that is her survival.
I remember.
But I'm only the daughter. I'm just the primary responsible family member.
I am sad, frustrated, angry, cynical, and determined that mom will be in a safer environment. She is equally determined, her will as strong at 100 as it ever was, that she will do it in her timing, not mine.
I try to turn it over, to "let go and let God," and then she falls and I'm scrambling to make sure she is okay, that caregivers are in place, that she gets to ER, or the doctor, that she has everything she needs.
The servant's heart. But at what cost.
Where does wisdom usurp empathy. Where is fear of change overcome by reason.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Garden Glow

It's not officially the first day of fall, and next week we expect more hot weather. But today, the wind is blowing and the hills are glowing and the trees are greener from yesterday's soaking rain.
The hay farmers couldn't have been too happy, since hay across the valley was baled in the fields waiting to be hauled to the barns. There's a word for that process, but I don't know what it is. Now the hay will have to dry out before it is stacked.
The garden is aglow as well. The recent planting for a fall crop will get a good start before the weather turns toward fall in earnest.
The peas are 15 inches tall. The lettuce is five inches. The spinach three inches. A late planting of beans is coming on. A late crop of green pepper plants have abundant growth. Next year I'll plant more red and yellow and orange pepper, now that I know how well they do.
Ben and I feasted on another cantaloupe yesterday. Sweet. Sweet. Sweet.
There are more on the vine, but either the bugs are the frost will probably get them first.
Tomatoes are slowing down, but I'm sure we got a good dose of vitamin c from the sweetest tomatoes I've ever eaten.
Jalapenos are getting tiny stripes, a precursor to hot, I'm told. We wait.
Potatoes are drying out underground. I wondered if the rain causes them to mold. We'll find out.

a place of peace in the center of contradiction

Each person lives within their own perspective.
Memories converge, then diverge.
Leading to misunderstanding, confusion, heartbreak.
At first, I withdrew. Then, I left town.
When I returned, her perspective still ran counter to my own.
One day, she said, "I guess I did leave you alone with him."
But then, the slide into contradiction.
"But he was always so good to me."
I threw the phone.

It has taken a lifetime to sit with my mother and love her without rancor.
Her old age has softened her will, enlightened her memories..
She still challenges.
Friends are confused when I tell them I argue with my mother.
Infrequent, yes. But I would say, "When she is no longer able and willing to argue, I'll stop."
It keeps her young, I rationalize.
She will still talk about politics, discouraged by the world's turn toward something she doesn't recognize.
She still learns. She still discusses. She fights. She repents. She thinks.
After a discussion in which I share my thoughts, she will think about what I said and come back to it.
I admire her.
I always did, but her life experience, her memories sometimes made me feel as if I was slightly crazy.
Fortunately, my mother and I have been given the gift of her longevity to reach a place of peace in the center of contradiction.
Unfortunately, we have been given the curse of her longevity. She no longer wants to be here, she says, but then gets up and puts on her makeup.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I don't remember the boat.

Sometimes mom's memories feel like an assault, usurping my memories as more important, more compelling, more accurate than mine.
It's not that I don't like to hear her stories. I've recorded her memories in each of the last three decades. I've scribbled notes on the back of photos and on the backs of envelopes when she recalls an experience.
As I've researched genealogy, she has been a resource for the smallest of details, which give me clues to follow.
I know where her high school annual is kept, which she looks at every few months. I store her high school mementoes in her old cedar chest in my living room.
I don't have my high school annual, or any mementoes.
She remembers poems her high school principal used to read.
I don't remember my principal.
She read at four, was the youngest library card holder in her hometown, was an involved member of the high school drama club, dated the high school football quarterback.
I ditched school and went to the beach with Jerry Moore, the school "bad boy." I was never involved in school activities. I finished high school, but "dropped out" emotionally.
I have my memories. But I wonder if anyone will ever be as interested in my memories as I am compelled to be of hers.
My memories feel crowded, insecure. It's as if we've each written our memoir and hers gets published and mine languishes in a box of journals, compressed by layers of ink and paper.
Sometimes I want to tell mom I don't care any more about her memories.
Enough is enough.
But I'm continually drawn in, fascinated that she can get so tired, so done with life, and then her eyes sparkles and she giggles, and out comes another story.
Her stories are funny and she laughs and I laugh and think how blessed she is to have her memory intact.
There are those times she remembers things that didn't happen, or happened to different people. But not often.
She remembers details. What a person said. What they wore. How they acted.
One day several years ago she said, "Remember when you and me and Tom and Jared went out on the whale watching boat off Carlsbad and we were on deck and Tom said...", and she told me exactly what Tom said.
I said, "I don't remember going out on the boat."