Mom is presently serving 10 to 20 at the local nursing home. A simple procedure to remove a kidney stone, resulted in sepsis and a CDC dictate for two weeks of IV antibiotics, plus twice daily PT (apparently, 4 hospital stays in 5 months has left her “unconditioned”… go figure). Since my skill set does not include IV’s or PT, Mom’s full sentence must be served at The Home.
During her last rehab stint, she bunked with an old family friend and her days were filled with rehashing, recapping and recollecting. Her appetite was strong, her hair was coiffed, and her overall demeanor was that of an elderly woman on the mend. She read her beloved Boston Globe daily, perused her mound of mail in bed, and made new friends of every attending staff member. All of this, plus 24-hour room service made for a pretty good gig.
But this time is different.
Mom is pale, bloated and barely cognizant of where she is, or who I am. Although not in pain, she’s weak, tired, despondent, and physically uncomfortable with chest pressure and difficulty breathing (never good symptoms in a 92 year old woman). She is also confoundingly confused and unable to answer the simple questions I proffer to test her cognition.
With teary eyes, Mom makes a definitive statement – I just want to die. I tell her to tap the breaks on that kind of talk, but she’s deaf to my humor. Despite attempts to adjust her attitude, I can totally understand why she wants to pack it in… That’s how bad things look.
The next day, the scene is ever so slightly improved. Mom is sitting up and wearing clothes. She’s eaten several bites of what look like scrambled eggs and says she feels a little better. More importantly, she seems to have regained her brain, rapidly responding to my political test question. She’s in sufficient condition for me to take her to two off-site doctor appointments.
Turns out, we have an hour and a half in between the two appointments. Concerned for Mom’s unintended 3-day hunger strike, I entice her with the offer of a “McDouble” at McDonalds. Void of her usual McDouble-McHappiness she requests a regular hamburg (thereby confirming my suspicion that things are still not as they should be… A healthy Sally Sunshine would never miss a McDouble…)
We drive-thru and park. Nibbling on our paltry patties in the pouring rain, I open the conversation:
I’m glad to see you’re eating, Mom. You really need those calories… Seems like you’re feeling a little better. Did they do your IV last night?
Yes. No problem…
Do you still feel like you want to die?
No… I’ll be alright.
Good. Wanna hear my most recent post?
I pull out my phone and read a piece that ends with me describing the depth of my intimate knowledge of my mother, and she is visibly moved.
You really scared me yesterday Mom… It was like you were comatose… It was the first time I really thought you might die.
We twist in our seats to face each other.
I thought I might too.
(Cue the tears…)
I’m not ready for that Mom. I thought I was ready for that, but I’m just not. I don’t think about losing you in terms of losing-a-92-year-old-mother-
I know honey. But I’ll always be with you.
Sure Mom, but we need to come up with a way that you can show me you’re here from the other side…
You’ll feel it Emily… you’ll know I’m with you… I couldn’t have asked for a better daughter. You’ve become everything I could ever hope for and more, and I’m so proud of you.
While I bawl like a bereaved baby, Mom calmly reassures me that I’ll be ok – like a mother. Still connected at the eyes, I reach for her hand.
In the midst of our love fest, I field a Facetime call from my youngest daughter (… a surprise in itself given her propensity for audio over visual connection…). After Mom wraps her head around the spectacle of TV on a telephone, she settles into a newsy conversation with her grandchild. Not being a hyper-connected family, our serendipitous assembly is even more auspicious than it might have been for those whose family members are regular interact-ors. Our cups flowethed over.
After we hang up, Mom and I rehash the call with talk of raising daughters, making choices, and letting go. She takes this opportunity to offer me the best kind of advice possible; mother and daughter, speaking about mothers and daughters. In this moment, she is incredibly present and clear… more thought-full than I’ve seen her in years. The depth of this conversation is matched only by the sadness I feel at the thought of losing it.
Something has shifted in me, and I’m different as a result of our day together. After re-depositing Mom at The Home, my tears swell again. Although caught off guard, I understand that Mom’s latest bout of aging has left me with unanticipated, pre-death grieving over the future loss of my mother.
I realize that we have, in fact, just said our good-byes.
Emily Gaffney writes about the emotional peaks and pitfalls of caring for an aging parent. A Senior Real Estate Specialist by day and writer at night, you can find Emily at her website, 50 Shades of Aging, on Facebook, and at Marbleheadhomes.net.