I called my brother yesterday and shared my angst over a trip to the foot doctor for mom that didn't go well. They made her wait an hour, which included two trips to the bathroom. The first time the light was out in the handicapped restroom, so I took her down the hall to a tiny employee restroom that was so small she couldn't close the door with the walker in the room with her. It also smelled terrible. She wanted to wipe off the toilet seat before she sat down and I was impatient and insensitive, asking her what she was afraid of. I'm always amazed that she says she no longer wants to be here but does everything possible to prevent her going--flu shots, cleaning off the toilet seat, Vitamin C. There are children dying every day and mom stubbornly gets up off the couch and brushes her teeth, uses her eyedrops, and cleanses her face. Truly, this is an amazing woman.
Thirty minutes later, still in the waiting room, she said she had to go to the restroom again. I took her to the handicapped restroom. They had fixed the light. She went in and I waited by the door. When she came out, the nurse took her back while I used the restroom. I looked at the toilet seat. It was covered with a sheen of crap, left not by mom, but the previous patient whose caregiver had made a half-ass attempt to clean the toilet, but to no avail. Then she left it, not considering who would come along and sit in his crap--as mom did. (I crossed paths with the caregiver and her charge in the hallway right after a very old gentleman had left his gift. As we passed each other she said, "I'm so tired." Got that, honey.) Mom said she tried to clean the seat, but I knew she couldn't see what was left there for her to sit in. I felt disgusted and embarrassed that I had not checked the seat for her. The rest of the visit wasn't any better.
Mom can't hear well. No, correction, she can only hear if you talk directly to her in a very loud voice. While the nurse was asking me medical questions, mom kept interrupting, not realizing that the nurse was talking. I finally told her I was going to answer some questions for her, and she said, "All right, if you tell me what they are." No, I said. "She just wants to know what medications you are using." Then, a few minutes later, while the nurse is still asking questions, mom began talking about my shoes. "Those aren't orthopedic shoes, are they?" "No, mom, could we wait to talk about that." When the assistant came in mom said she didn't want the foot rest up, except that's how they are able to take a look at her feet. When the assistant left she was anxious about the wait for the doctor. Then she said, "I know you would probably like to be out in the sunshine on this beautiful day." A sweet sensitive comment that sent me through the ceiling. "No, mom, that's not what I'm thinking. Just please stop talking for a minute." That hurt her feelings, but at least we were quiet for a few minutes. I texted her caregiver to tell her what was going on. She reminded me to breathe.
After my brother and I talked, he said he would call more often. We've had the same conversation a couple of times a year for the past ten years. I want him to engage with my experience, even though I know he really can't. He's not here, and even though he can use his imagination based on a week a year he spends with his mother, there is no way he can enter into this daily experience of being pulled to and fro by the forces of my emotions, the forces of a 101 year old woman who won't, will not, stubbornly refuses to die. As if she has anything to do with it.
Some say we have choice about when we go. One woman was in an assisted living home. She went down to the desk one morning and said, "I'm going to die today," and went back to her apartment and died. I've asked mom if she's told God she wants to go. "No, she replies, it's in God's hands, it's not my choice." And then I wonder what God has to do with our living and dying. It all seems so arbitrary and accidental, except for birth, which can be planned, but many times is not. I have friends who say they leave the conception of their child up to God. They don't use birth control, get pregnant, and attribute that to God. Well, I suppose if you assume that God made our bodies, then God can be held accountable for conception. But what about the unwanted babies that end up being aborted. Is that in God's plan, too?
As for dying, what about all those children who die early, while thousands upon thousands of people languish in nursing homes, sitting in wheelchairs unaware of their surroundings with few visitors. I remember visiting my grandfather when he was nearly 100, lying in a nursing home bed. The nurses told me he wouldn't be able to hear me, that he was "gone." Bullshit. I went into my grandfather's room and shouted in his ear. He sat up in bed, asked me about everyone in my life, and then began to dictate a letter. No one had been talking to him, including his daughter, my aunt, who was the administrator of the nursing home. Maybe she was angry. I don't blame her. My grandfather was a womanizer, she told me. He left the family when she was a child and then much later she was expected to be the caregiver.
I don't know how to make sense of any of it.