Yet Life Goes On…
I spoke to my mom on the way home from work yesterday and she was in a panic. She was sure my stepfather, Al, was dying. I call my mother every day during my drive home from work. I have a 30 – 40 minute drive home each day and this is the perfect opportunity to spend time with my Mother that I normally wouldn’t get to spend.
Before anyone gets worked up about my using the cell phone while driving, I use my bluetooth. It’s a hands free device that hangs from my ear. It requires no dialing and no looking at my phone. I think it’s even safer than talking to a passenger in the car because I don’t have to fight the urge to look at the person sitting next to me as I talk to them and drive…
Anyway, she sounded awful. Al is 93 1/2 years old. He’s slowly fading away. After his last stroke, he is entirely bed ridden. He doesn’t even have the strength to stand. The stroke affected his right side, he can no longer talk (he can mumble a little and nod), and he has difficulty swallowing. His eyes are glassy and barely open, he sleeps all the time, and he can only have liquids. And the liquids must be thickened to avoid getting them in his lungs.
Determined to care for him at home, my mom has a nurse who comes for two hours in the morning, Monday through Friday. The nurse washes Al, changes his diaper, and feeds him. My mother takes care of him the rest of the day and all weekend long. She’s an energetic woman, but at 73 this is wearing on her. She can’t move him by herself. She talks to him constantly and he’s barely able to respond. She feeds him and half the time he chokes on whatever he’s eating.
It’s lonely and depressing. She is watching this strong, independent man with whom she loves and has been married to for 33 years slowly shrivel away to nothing. And there’s not much she can do but keep him company and feed him. She cuddles him and sings to him. She tells him the news and what she is doing during the day. She comments on the TV that I do not believe he can even see anyway. But she keeps it on because he probably can hear it.
And so, it was Monday and I called her like I always do at 5:00. She sounded sad and panicked. She was certain Al was dying. She was upset that she did not hear from us all weekend and kept repeating that she was all alone and nobody was checking in on her. (She was fine on Friday when I told her I’d be spending the whole weekend helping friends move into their new home.)
She had called the nurse to come and see if Al was indeed dying and was waiting for the nurse to show. She didn’t want to talk so I said good-bye and immediately called Heather. Heather was in the process of making dinner so when I finally got home, we woofed it down and headed to my Mom’s house. We got there a few minutes after the nurse and my sister had left.
She was very happy to see us. We immediately went into the bedroom to see Al, who looked the same as last week. My mom tried to get his attention and he slowly opened his eyes. “Heather’s here,” she exclaimed as she put Heather’s hand in her pop-pop’s hand. He cocked his head slightly and then his whole face lit up–eyes wide and mouth open. He squeezed her hand.
So, Al is not yet dying. My mother panicked. In her loneliness, sadness, and frustration, she needed us there. She needed us to pick up her spirit. She needed us to boost up Al’s as well. She needed us to remember that she needed us. As we left, we knew that someday, probably very soon, it won’t be a false alarm. But until then, we need to be there for my mother.
It seems that death has been hovering around for quite some time. My friend James’ mother passed away over the weekend after a long illness. Her memorial is tomorrow night. She was in her 80’s. A co-worker, who I’ve worked with for 23 years, passed away a week and a half ago. He went outside because he heard a noise in the trash cans and wanted to check it out. Ten minutes later his wife found him face down on the lawn dead from a heart attack. He was 56. Another co-worker’s daughter was killed in a car accident on the fourth of July weekend. She was 19 and had just finished her first year of college.
Death comes in many forms, sometimes cloaked and sometimes out in the open. It can come quickly without any forewarning or take its time, lingering and dragging its feet. It can come softly, without a sound or loud and violently. It can stay away for years and then come at you rapid fire, leaving your head spinning. But rest assure, no matter what, it comes. It always comes.