Sunday, September 05, 2010

Laughing Through My Tears, Hospice Day One

I was sitting at my messy desk Friday trying to clean it off enough so that my husband, who was preaching for me on Sunday, would have a place to put his books and Bible when he showed up Sunday morning.

My Christian Education Director, Kristi, came in and sympathized with the mess. I told her, “It has always been my mother's job to have the paperwork mess. As long as she did that, I could stay somewhat organized. But now since her stroke, she's not fulfilling her part of the family bargain.”

I was joking, but not really. Mother has been at war with her papers as long as I've known her. Everytime we'd talk, she'd say, “I'm going to get all this organized.”

Saturday, I was waiting for her to be transported to her house under hospice care. I got to the house early in order to get some things ready and decided to start taking care of laundry, knowing that this would be a primary responsibility for me in the next few days and weeks. I have never minded doing laundry, so this is a good place for me to serve.

When my parents built this house in the 80's, they planned it very well. It has, among other things, a very nice and spacious laundry room, well shelved and a place to hang clothes as well.

I had cleaned it out somewhat couple of years ago when my middle son's wife's family (yes, this a bit confusing), needed a place to stay for a week around Thanksgiving. That is the last time anything material has happened in there.

As I said, I don't mind doing laundry. Mother never liked it, and avoided it as much as possible. And I'm beginning to think that for the last year at least, when something of hers got dirty, she just stuck it in a bag and put in in there. 

But dealing with the dirty clothes would be the easy part of this.

There are also multiple huge zipper plastic bags full of folders and papers. I just unzipped one and took a look. Newspapers from 2006 Investor's Daily. A folder marked “Mail D.” That had mail in it for my dad from 2006. There is another folder named “read.” Among other things, it contained a Reader's Digest from 1991. At that, I just starting laughing, and crying all at the same time.

How like my mother! And how like her I am! My stacks of books and articles piled everywhere that I want to eventually get around to reading. The only difference is that I don't actually hide things in plastics bags that I want to read. I just leave them out. My car has a crate full of fascinating books waiting for me just in case I get stuck somewhere and have some free time. I've got at least 200 books on my Kindle (all free classics) that I will eventually read, naturally.

Mother arrived early in the afternoon. The first six hours with her were pretty terrifying for my sister and me as there was a mixup with the hospice organization and the planned for first 24 hours of continual care from them didn't happen. As in no one showed up. No one gave us instruction. We had no real clue what to do except just talk with her and keep her company.

Fortunately, my sister's SOS calls were finally heeded and someone came for the night. We may have someone one more night, but that will probably be all. Mother's care primarily is in my hands, my sister's hands and in the hands of whatever other family members show up to help except for the few hours a day we will hire some home health care.  Hospice folks show up two to three times a week, but not for extended care times.

Mother can talk well. Has good use of her right arm. Can help us a bit with her legs when we need to adjust her in the bed. And that's it. Otherwise totally helpless.

She's with us, and yet not with us. She certainly recognized her golf course view, and was glad to see that again. But wondered how the golf course got to the rehab center.

We put on some old Jack Benny Show videos that I had bought her. She said, “is he still alive?” Then, “he looks younger than I remember him.”

We were mentioning to the intake nurse that Mother's hearing seemed to have improved dramatically since the stroke. Mother said, “Sometimes there are improving strokes.” I love it. One of those moments of clarity and humor that keep us going.

In the middle of the afternoon, as I was still working on cleaning out the utility room, I hit a bonanza. It had already become clear that I didn't dare throw out a single sheet of paper without looking at it closely. Most of the stuff was worthless, but I found a stash of checks written in the 1950's by my grandmother who moved in with us then. What a history of her life through those checks!

And then I hit the big time. My mother writes very well, and has always been an avid letter writer. I knew that she had written dozens, perhaps hundreds, of letters to me and my brother and sister while we were at college and I knew she kept carbons of them (she wrote on her typewriter—she's an expert typist). Stuffed in a folder with dozens of newspaper clippings were the letters she wrote in 1965, when my brother was at Rice and my sister and I still in high school and junior high. I've only just started to read them, and am seeing my family and my life described through my mother's eyes and skillful way with words.  I see my teen years all over again.  She described the parties we gave, the dresses we wore, the hours on the telephone with various boyfriends.  

I read a heartrending letter she had written to my dad who was apparently thinking of relocating to Fort Wayne, Indiana (their hometown).  She explains her fears of what would happen to my sister and me should be be transplanted at that precarious time in our lives.  Her eloquence in the descriptions of her fears moved me immensely.  How she fought for us!

So, I now choose to give back, as best I can, fumbling to learn how to turn her, how to change the bedding with her in it, to spoonfeed her slowly so she won't choke with her limited swallowing ability.  

I hope to write regularly about this over the next days, weeks, or how long this takes.  I would love responses--how do you feel about death?  Taking care of the dying?  What do you hope for yourself at that time?  How can we do this in a more holy and responsible manner?

1 comment:

Angie Hammond said...

First Christy, I want you to know that my prayers are with you as you go through this time.

You asked for thoughts on death and taking care of the dying. So here goes. I wonder what it will be like for me. I wonder will it be sudden or will I suffer something like your mom and loose my very mind. I think that is what scares me the most. I also worry about who will be there for me. I have no children or my own. I have nieces and nephews, but I wonder will they want to take care of me or will they not have time for me and then I'll wind up in some facility with no one looking after me except those at the facility.

My mom has made plans already by making a living will for herself to make her wishes known to us and those who will be taking care of her. I was entrusted with this instrument the last time she went to the hospital for gall bladder surgery. She has expressed that she does not want to be kept alive with feeding tubes etc. If ever faced with that type of circumstance with her, I will honor her wishes no matter how much I might want to do otherwise.

And Just this week my mom and I talked about dying and how my father died suddenly sparing us the task of having to put him in a facility against his will because he was becoming unable to care for himself and violent toward my mother. It was a difficult conversation for me to hear from her. She is now 78 and she often tells me that she does not take life for granted and that she probably does not have that many years left. By this she is talking years that she can function on her own at home. Her fear is that her children will have to deal with her and her stuff just as she had to deal with my fathers and then all of his stuff. She does not want that for us.It was so hard for her, but she would not let us help her with it. She explained that we didn't need to do it. She even then was the protective mother as always.

I explained to her that she need not worry about the stuff she has that we would have to go through after her death. I told her that there were things that each of us would want and would cherish and that the process was all part of that cherishing her and what she had given to us.

My mothers simple wish is to die in such a way that her children do not suffer because of her death.
How odd that she is not worried about how she will be taken care of or the what if's. She has already planned for those because she loves her children so much. And she knows her children will honor her wishes so she has no fear other than her children suffering.

You asked how we could do this dying process in a more holy and responsible manner. I think you are doing the best you can by loving and honoring your mother as you are doing. As for how we can be more responsible in this process, I'm not sure that we can do anything except as individuals or as family units. Prepare in advance for our own death experiences and then care for those we love just as your are doing.

This type of care is my personal wish for myself if faced with a prolonged illness leading up to death.

One last thought on death. I remember my Polish grandmother's death and funeral. The time leading up to the funeral lasted for a week. One member of the family was always at the funeral home 24/7 so that she was not alone. Then the day of the funeral the family all ate a meal together. I was told it was a wake and it was a celebration of my grandmother's entry into Heaven. I remember being very confused because we buried my grandmother and then there was this big party for her. Today I understand it was the family celebrating a loved ones life, but as a 10 year old, I didn't have a clue what was going on. I think I'd like for my friends and family to do this for me.

If we change the way we live and love one another as christians, then death will indeed lose its sting.