Another week, another post that didn’t get done until the evening.
If you have issues with your parents, you may want to give this one a pass.
Life can come at your pretty fast sometimes – I think that’s what Ferris Beuller said. In the last eighteen months, it seems as if life has been going on a drunken, high-speed chase, dodging the cops at every possible turn and careening recklessly through an open-air walking mall full of elderly people with walkers while doing 100 miles-an-hour. And ripping off rebel yells the entire time.
So, sort of like Harley Quinn’s the driver.
Eighteen months ago I thought my mother was just being overly needy, wanting me to come over all the time and take her places and then getting mad and wanting me to take her home. Her behavior was getting erratic, she started calling the ambulance all the time and complaining she was “cold” and couldn’t warm up. She would be fine as long as she was at the Senior Center, but when she came home it would take an hour before she would call the ambulance. The calls increased over the next six months.
What she hadn’t told anyone was that she had had several small strokes over the course of the last few years, with some brain bleeds that left plaques. The lip and hand tremors she was experiencing were most likely the results of one of those strokes. Her changes in behavior were most likely due to the beginnings of vascular dementia, something her mother had suffered through the last 15 years of her life.
Once we recognized there was a problem, it took us another six months to get her into an assisted living facility, mostly because she had very little in the way of savings left after retirement. We did a fundraiser to help get the initial move-in money together, my aunt Terry worked with the facility, and Mom moved in for Christmas, 2016. Her health improved, she was getting regular, nutritious meals that she didn’t have to cook or clean up after, and she can still do some things for herself, such as wash her laundry or make herself a cup of tea if she wants one.
Her memory isn’t what it used to be. She has good days and bad days. She can be very verbally abusive and passive-aggressive on the bad days, and those days hurt. There is no one like your mother to peel you apart because, for most of us, she’s the one we went to when our hearts were hurt. When she’s having a good day, she’s fun to be around. She tells jokes and remembers good things, she asks how to do that corner to corner crochet pattern the other girls are working on, she takes interest in what is going on in other people’s lives.
So in the last two years, I’ve had to learn how to gauge if she’s having a good day or a bad day and learn how to communicate with her and protect myself at the same time. This is not an easy thing to learn.
My Dad and I have a lot more in common. We are both extremely curious people, very intelligent, and quite creative. Dad is always coming up with ideas he wants to monetize. He created a taxi driver board game that he tried to sell to Parker Brothers, back when they were in business. (you know, if he changed the name of the game to Uber, he might be able to sell it now.) He is one of the original Life Hack people. He looks at things and thinks of other ways to use them. He’s got a quirky sense of humor – I think I got mine from him.
My brother Chris shared a video of our Dad once. Dad was sitting on his scooter, wearing a pair of shorts and his sneakers. Dad tans up well in the summer, so his skin was a golden-brown color. He was taking the scooter around in circles, with one arm folded up into his armpit, flapping it as he went in circles.
“Dad, what are you doing?”, asked Chris.
“It’s my impression of a Rotisserie Chicken.”, answered Dad, cackling at his own joke.
Yup, that’s my Dad. Dad spends time on the phone asking about his only Grandson, asking how I’m doing, how is my Husband, how is work going? Then part of the time will be spent on whatever person, place or thing is getting under my Dad’s skin this week. Dad has opinions, and he is not afraid to share them. (Another thing I got from him.) Dad just wants the world to make sense, he mostly just wants people to leave him alone to do his thing. Which sometimes involves borrowing the picnic tables at the housing center he lives in and painting them with flowers, place-settings, and the outlines of women’s butts. I know they are women’s butts, because he paints names in them, like Mabel, Agnes, and Grace.
Dad gave us a scare last week. I got a message from my brother that Dad was in ICU 2 (where they make you wear a mask, gown, and gloves to visit) with the flu. I spent the next 2 hours and 30 minutes imagining the worst, and wondering how in the hell am I going to ask about what his wishes for his funeral were? I had no idea.
My husband met me and we drove up to the hospital.
“I hate this place. Every time one of my elderly relatives goes in here, they don’t come back out again.” I recounted the folks I had lost to this place – Both of my mother’s parents, nearly 2 decades apart. My father’s mother, in 1985. An older friend who was a mentor to me, the same age as my mother – he got the flu, he had COPD, and he passed away shortly afterward. My father’s sister Alice. Her husband, my uncle Mickey. It’s bound to happen, that’s the hospital in town and that’s where you go. I shouldn’t hold it against the hospital.
They are renovating the little hospital, the place where I was born, so the front entrance has changed – again. We walk in and are greeted by a security guard, who directs us to the elevator and gives admirable directions to ICU.
We check in with the nurse at the station. She checks – yes, he’s willing to see me. I head down. The nurses explain what I have to wear to go in the room. My husband takes my coat and purse. I put on the mask, and the disposable gown, and the gloves. They bring me a chair.
“Hey girl, I’m glad you’re here. I want to go over my final arrangements with you.”
Just like that. I’m trying not to cry and mostly succeeding because he needs me to listen and pay attention and he doesn’t have his false teeth in so he’s a little hard to understand. He tells me what he wants, which is fairly simple and straightforward. No fuss. No funeral. No headstone, don’t waste money on it. If I kick off in the winter, wait until the weather’s good and have a picnic for me up at the Park or something. He names a funeral home where most of the rest of his family have been buried out of and tells me they’d be ok to do the cremation. “Just have them throw the ashes in a box.”
He’s scared. He’s sick. He hasn’t had a cigarette for at least a day. My heart is aching, seeing my Dad scared. He does a pretty good job of putting a brave face on it. He says a few more things that make me worried – he’s seeing patterns on the walls that aren’t really there. Bricks under the paint. I don’t know what to say.
Knowing my husband doesn’t deal well with hospitals I spend as much time as I can before I excuse myself. Dad thanks me for visiting.
I drive my husband back to his car before we head out for some dinner. I came right after work, I didn’t have time to do anything about dinner. The 40-minute drive home is filled with me fighting tears because I don’t need to have the kind of ugly cry I know I’m going to have while I’m driving 65 miles per hour on the highway. I call a couple of friends, I get one on the phone. She makes a suggestion. I say I’ll meet her as soon as we’re done with dinner.
While waiting for dinner I use my phone to Google what cremation costs. It’s actually relatively cheap, about a grand if you go directly to a crematory instead of going to a funeral home. I can put it on my credit card if I have to. 90% of my anxiety goes away knowing this. I feel ashamed that my worries are so selfish, so financial.
After dinner, I meet my friend. We hear someone else talking about how he dealt with his mother passing. He had the same feelings I had that day. I feel better knowing I’m not crazy, people feel like this. It’s normal. I don’t need to feel ashamed.
I get reports over the next few days. “He’s eating more.” “He asked where his clothes were.” My brother and I spend the weekend cleaning his apartment. I buy the yarn my Mom asked for and go visit her. She’s having a good day.
Eighteen months ago, I thought my parents were still immortal.
Today, I know the time is precious.