Monday, September 06, 2010

If My Mother Knew, Day Three of Hospice

If my mother knew what I was doing, she would have my hide.  On my previous post about this end of life time with my mother, I noted that I had hit the bonanza when I found a file of letters she had written.

This find spurred me to do start digging deeper into her stashes of papers.  Stashes, stacks, files, folders, boxes, bins, and most of all, big hefty freezer bags.  That's what she put her papers in.  And, as far as I can tell, with no system. At least with no system that I can recognize.  Vitally important papers, like my dad's death certificate, are mixed in with fliers and takeout menu's for nearby restaurants.  I found her will and the various power of attorney forms under a crushing pile of printed out emails.  Her birth certificate, which we had been looking for, was under that same pile.  

The warranty deed to the house, which we also needed to find, was stuck randomly in a folder with empty envelopes and Christmas cards. 

I have about decided that my mother's determination to recycle faithfully simply gave her justification for her life-long battle with pack-rat habits.  She was absolutely adamant about recycling, and has carefully separated her trash for many years now.  But as she became more infirm physically and, I'm beginning to think, was slipping just a bit mentally, efforts to actually get things into the recycling bags and out to the curb became too much for her.  The only things that were recycled regularly were the newspapers, but that is because she and a neighbor shared subscriptions to a couple of papers and he made sure they ended up in the proper pile and were taken out.  But anything else . . .  

As I glance through each sheet of paper, I found multiple pages with yet her latest organizational plan for all this stuff.  I am keeping copies of some of these various systems.  Each would be slightly different.  Each would have thorough documentation (for example:  red folder at desk:  bank statements; blue folder in cabinet, notes for children; purple box on counter top:  to recycle).  And clearly she attempted some follow-through, but it never lasted, and paper chaos took over again.

And, again with no system that makes sense to me, mixed with folders filled with old bank statements, I would periodically unearth another folder of letters, my hidden treasures.  I've only begun to read these--am just skimming pieces of them.  Some give just normal news of everyday happenings; some offer hilarious descriptions of my dad's over-the-top reactions to the various medical procedures he subjected himself to over the years; some expose heart-rendering sadness as she wrote of broken dreams and especially her fears that she would spend her last days in grinding poverty.

She had grown up extremely poor, and knew how that kind of poverty can destroy the mind and soul.  Somehow, a brilliant and beautiful woman emerged from that underprivileged and uneducated household.  Her father had wanted her to quit school when she was 12 and go to work to add to the family income.  She flatly refused, and fought her way to finish high school.  College was not even an option for her, but she went to secretarial school and honed those skills to perfection.  And then she met my dad.

Daddy, the introverted offspring of two college graduates himself (very, very rare in those days, especially to have a mother who had a college degree), and himself already with a Master's Degree in Mathematics, must have been immediately charmed by this gregarious, gorgeous young woman.  

According to my mother, her own dad was appalled that she wanted to marry my dad.  Essentially he told her she was marrying out of her class and would regret that.  He completely underestimated my mother's ability to learn and educate herself to a point where she could become conversant on just about any subject.  I'm so glad she didn't listen to her dad, and confine herself that way.  Not that marriage to my dad was particularly pleasant in many ways, but it did open doors for her and she went happily through them.

Now, as to Mother's having my hide if she knew . . . I am filling blue recycling bag after blue bag.  Should she suddenly decide to make a miraculous recovery from this stroke, arise from her bed and walk, she would have another stroke at seeing so much of what was the structure of her life dismantled.

But she shows no interest in recovering.  Unlike this always active woman, she lays uncomplainingly in her hospital bed.  She never asks to get up (she did ask that frequently right after the stroke); she never asks for anything except that she be able to listen to the radio or that we bring her the daily crossword puzzle (which she can no longer work, even if I give her all hints possible).  

We were fortunate enough to have a nurse again last night, although this was beyond what hospice said they'd give us.  This was our second night with this wonderful woman, and I so wish she could just move in with us.  The two of us gave mother a back-rub last night plus an aspirin just before settling her down for the night.  Mother fell into a deep and peaceful sleep, and she did not want to be roused this morning.  It was almost 14 hours later before she really opened her eyes.  She then had a couple of hours of what passes for alertness for her now, and then drifted off to sleep again.  She did want some ice chips this morning, but other than that, doesn't ask for food. She will take it if we offer it, so we are working to keeping her adequately hydrated and nourished.

The hospice supervisor came out this morning and looked at me sternly wondering how on earth we had finagled that much extra help.  This supervisor, the age of my youngest son, seemed quite full of herself.  Her 30 second analysis of my mother led to this decision:  She's completely alert, shows no mental impairment, and it makes no sense to her why we wanted that much help.

I sighed, and then started explaining again.  I went through the same thing with my dad.  They come in, do this quick assessment, and think they know everything.  But they don't.  They know almost nothing.  I know that the woman who lies with such docility in that hospital bed, permitting strange hands all over her, being spoonfed, and saying sweet "thank you's" to everyone is not the woman who had the stroke nearly four weeks ago.  The sweet "thank you's" are about the only connection with that other woman.  

So, as of tomorrow afternoon, we are finally on our own with this dying process.  Hospice will send out someone three times a week to bathe her.  The nurse will check on her once a week.  At some point a "comfort pack" will arrive, full of pain medications and anti-psychotics, none of which do we need.  We do plan on hiring some extra help from a home help agency, but . . . my questions abound.

How will I do this?  How will I keep up with my work which I feel piling up with so many major concerns at the church right now?  How will I deal with my growing fatigue?  Yet, I must. This is my gift to this woman and I won't turn my back on her.  

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