My mother is in her 90th year and lives in Houston, Tex. Three weeks ago, she had her appendix removed, spent three days in intensive care and seven more in the hospital regaining her ability to breathe without a ventilator. From there, she was moved to a skilled nursing facility where she is in rehab to regain as much strength as she can.
My routine with my mother is phone calls every other day. Since this current trauma and her move to a new residence facility, I needed to see her in person.
The extended hospital stay, the operation and the drugs administered during that emergency have left gaping holes in her memory. She is desperately trying to make sense of where she is and what is happening to her.
My mother has 11 children, 26 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren; however, social skills are not her strong suit. The main reason she chose assisted living rather than staying in her home or living with anyone else is because she thought it would be better to have assistance from a changing staff rather then getting in-home help that would require more extended conversations and personal friendships. As she puts it, “I don’t feel comfortable starting up a conversation. I just don’t like to talk. I don’t have any idea what to say.” Mom is an introvert.
The facility she is in is the highest rated in Houston. Their philosophy is to encourage physical and mental participation and provide the best care possible through a competent and caring staff. The food is well prepared, the rooms and the grounds are well cared for, and the staff is skilled, patient, and friendly.
I walked down the hall Sunday morning, knowing this would be my last opportunity to see mom before flying back home. I found her sitting in the main room with her wheelchair parked off to the side and one hand holding up her head, her eyes closed in an awkward sleep. I touched her arm and she slowly raised her head. It seemed that she only barely recognized me. She told me that she has been in this place for four years and she doesn’t know why. She asked where I’ve been, not remembering that I spent the last two days with her.
I wheeled her outside for some fresh air. Our visit continued with her sharing information she has been piecing together from a memory bank that has freed itself from the constraints of linear time. She shared that she wants to tell the other people there that this exact property used to be a ranch. True. Next, that she was born right there and named the street and the house number. False.
She shared other facts that were culled from many different years and then assembled into new configurations. I became her older sister; my youngest sister’s small children became three more of her children that are on loan to Mary since mom is a bit incapacitated.
We are losing her. This is a heart-squeezing, mind-jarring experience. My relationship with her is scattering in all directions, like a game of pick up stix. Each piece has landed over or under one another until it is clear that it is all but over.
Our family is so lucky because we have my brother, Joe, and my sister-in-law, Laura, who are there consistently for mom. This steady decline has been happening for over 11 years. Copious amounts of time, energy and money have been invested in mom’s care, with Laura being the mastermind behind executing the best decisions possible.
We sat outside in the warm evening air and talked about our mutual horror at seeing zombie-like men and women locked in wheelchairs as they continue to slip-slide away. We wonder out loud whether we can uncover the secrets of how not only to live fully but also to die well.
Susan is the author of: Beyond Intellect: Journey Into the Wisdom of Your Intuitive Mind. Find her at http://www.susanvelasquez.com or (949) 494-7773.