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Archive for February, 2008

Presently, the night isn’t far from tomorrow. I can’t sleep and so I pace back and forth in the darkened room where my Mother sleeps. The only thing you hear, in the quiet of the house, is the swooshing sound of the oxygen concentrator and the cycle of pressured air headed toward the ventilator. In between those sounds, is the poof of blocked expiratory air by a peep valve that helps my Mother’s lungs remain open after she exhales.

The sounds of the machines, the glow of the numbers on the oximeter and the sight of her rising and falling chest calm me as I run from the reality of her death. I can’t imagine not being able to speak to her, be with her, listen to her voice and learn from what she says. So often she worries that no one who is around her will talk to her. She sits waiting or trying to talk to anyone, to whoever is here and then feels they never hear her. Oh yes, anyone can hear her, but I don’t think they realize she has something to say. It is difficult for them to grasp that Momma lives in two worlds. There is the one that is here in my home, the one within the terms of our reality, as we understand it. The second world is from her addled memories that concoct a world filled with her childhood family, still run by her mother, even though my mother is now eighty-six. Everyone tells me it does no good to explain to her that all this has happened because of her big stroke three years ago. Its not her fault at all and now after a month of explaining this to her I see a beginning to remember that it is important to trust me when I help her through these frightening times when there isn’t a way for her to recognize the right world.

Currently, not only is Momma frightened of her tomorrows but, I feel the same. I have been her son for sixty years and I feel I have just begun to find out all she knows, or especially all that is troubling her. We often laugh that we don’t have a problem communicating. I talk for hours and she tells me what is on her mind. No one understands just how much she thinks. I told her yesterday, that I believe they have no idea how alive with thought she is, even though it is inevitable that she slips farther and farther toward her darkest hour.

Occasionally she looks at me with a woeful face. I see her right hand frantically moving her warmer and I ask why is there such sadness and her response is: “I’m going to die.” Regardless of how many times she says this, even though usually it is used as an opener to share a thought, my immediate reaction is for my stomach to flip. I answer her by telling her I don’t have time for death at that particular moment. I ask if she can wait until I no longer am busy! However, she and I know what has just happened. Momma warns me, I hear her statement and I instantly ignore it.

Presently, Momma doesn’t even understand how I feel. Now every word, every utterance, every movement must be recorded in my memory. Often I look at her with eyes that truly are a camera because I need to memorize her face as she is now. I have her faces and voice recorded from the past, although there are times when my eyes are closed that I think my image lens must be broken because I can’t see or hear her. I panic because I need those thoughts and images to be available when I call for them in the future.

Possibly, it isn’t good that she and I are close. Momma was always there as I grew up during my first seventeenn years. She wiped up my childhood spills, encouraged my adolescent dreams and applauded my teen successes. When I moved from home to further my education she beamed with pride, yet during the first months following my draft she successfully hid her fears, only to have them reappear even more poignantly when I left for Vietnam. Each day held her in a paralyzing, embrace; an unrecognized panic by the people closest to her. When I returned I looked into her eyes and knew that she had suffered even more than I had.

Our inescapable bond continued during the intervening years before my father’s death, strengthened while we lived in Arizona and continued into our move to Illinois. Beginning before our last move, I became her consul, then Power of Attorney and now caretaker, confidante and companion. Inevitably, our bond continues and is maintained and allowed to grow.

Now, it is nearly impossible for her to travel beyond her doctor’s office. Some days to move from the bed to the sofa is too strenuous, while on other days her breathing can be sustained easily with the oxygen.

Tonight, the tenebrous room intensifies my mother’s own darkness. Standing by her I yearn for her twilight to return. I know that isn’t possible and I have promised to accompany her along her path of darkness; but continually I ask myself how I will ever face that ineluctable moment when I see two golden wings guiding her spirit to eternity. I know at that moment I shall bid her my heart filled with love, but I shall never say good Bye.

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In order to understand the Addendum, please read my post “Moving from Twilight to Darkness”.

Ever since I posted “Moving from Twilight to Darkness”, I worry if I painted an incorrect picture of my father. I question if I am too sharp with my words or a bit quick painting the picture you see. Sometimes I think that I time and judged him too quickly because there were isolated times my father tried to be a part of my life, but I was resistant.

Unfortunately, I only remember my father since I was three years old. These memories are following his accident when he lost a hand in a corn picker. My mother always told me that he changed a great deal in the first days after the accident and maybe that is why when he returned home I began carrying an anger towards him, but I don’t think I will ever know why I, a three year old could be angry enough to stab his leg with a lead pencil.

I can only remember that my father asked me if I wanted a piece of cake and my mother was sick in bed. My memory of him that night is vivid as he stood by the counter with a blue work shirt on with the tails on the outside and a white bandage wrapping his left arm at the stub. In addition, I sat tightly curled up at the end of the sofa and I can see and feel the impact of the pencil. To this day, no one else has a memory of what I did, because my determination to be quiet; but I feel the anger and the decision to strike myself and I feel the pain. I also know it was an immediate reaction of mine to hide what I did! The lead from the pencil stayed with me until I was in my mid thirties; no one ever knew.

Other memories of my relationship come to mind, many warranted and I think a few that were not. By the time, in my late twenties, that I wanted revisit those events my memory of them could not let me know the why, only the action.

I think the reason I think badly of the picture I paint in my post is that I didn’t share how he functioned at particular times when I was older. If he had served in Vietnam, rather than in the Navy in WWII, eventually after diagnose his return he would have with the post traumatic stress disorder. In front of people, at the dinner, or when ever he could he spoke of his time in service; the stories never extended into his feelings or reactions to war. When alone, my father recanted aloud the bloodiest of details, his reactions and his fears. As a teenage I remember so many times looking for him and finding him in a cornfield, or a remote corner of some farm building talking to and answering himself. I never bothered him, but returned to my mother to let her know where he was.

As I look back on what I wrote I know it is true; I think, though, there are details about my father that I didn’t consider during my time with him and it is something that I can do now as I remember him. I feel that because he and I were in such a different relationship when he died, that by just presenting him as I did was only incorrect because I didn’t include the other details about him and allowed you to decide for yourself and let me go forward without regret.

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1943 Christmas 2007

Yesterday, I am sure my mother had a TIA that may have started the day before. M. wasn’t too caring in the beginning when I felt like I was in an emotional whirlwind, turning and turning and experiencing one miserable thought after the next; each wave striking out with such intensity it was impossible to stay calm. Momma finally lay quietly in her bed with a recirculating oxygen mask on. Her oxygen saturation had been very poor the last two days and now she is having other symptoms, symptoms that are very much similar to that of a stroke. Even though I am perturbed with him, I thank God, M is a retired anesthesiologist, and knows how to take care of Momma in an emergency.As I vacuum, M. never stopped lashing out his displeasure with me. He’s disappointed that I can’t accept the fact my mother will die. He thinks the last five years of my taking care of her should change the way I feel. Unfortunately, I accept death as a part of life, except that during the first seventeen years of my life my mother was continually ill. No one told me what was wrong with her; in the dark of night I sat on the stairs behind the living room door straining to hear if she was all right on the sofa. We told her goodnight as she lay there and remained in the same place until my father came home. Each night I feared for the worst. Prayers a young boy learns tumbled from my lips yet, my father was in town playing cards at the tavern. I knew I shouldn’t disturb her; I knew if he caught me, he would be mad and so I waited, waited behind that door on those steps; waiting for agonizing hours. At other times, my mother went to their room across from my room on the bridge at top of the stairs. Again, I sat quietly in my bed unable to sleep until came home. I waited to make sure he was home to take care of her.

Even when I was with my mother when she was ill the hours passed with fear. I agonized during a week in the summer when I was about eleven. My father told me my mother was ill and I should sit near her and if she tried to get up to persuade her that she needed to be with me. Outside the sky was a dismal gray and the bushes in front of the big window looked strangely deep green. Bridal Wreaths never look like that, but on this particular day, they did. Across the room from where Momma lay was a photo of my grandfather. My mother stared and stared in that direction almost hypnotized and then began to scream because she saw people in the wallpaper. The dismal light became less as the Bridal Wreath brushed against the window as a wind blew it back and forth. Minute by minute, scream by scream I sat frozen, except to hold my mother’s hand and watch the room darken more and more. As my mother’s drug-induced, tortured cries became quiescent, she reached out and hugged me. For hours that day I waited for my mother and suddenly she returned as the became the darkest from the summer storm

I received the hug throughout my life; its effect on me was powerful, even though it was physically weak when she was ill. That hug wasn’t just when she was ill, but came to me many, many times. When I was seven years old Momma and my father had a battle in their room in the trailer where we lived. Their room was between mine and the kitchen and that day, after changing my clothes I had to pass through their room to get to the kitchen. As I got near them my Father tried to hit my mother and as he did, I jumped on top of her and knocked her down on the bed. I was on top of her. My father became quiet, turned and walked away. My mother wrapped her arms around me and hugged me very tightly.

Especially memorable was when we lived in Arizona and each time I went to my mother’s apartment and after she opened the door the next thing for her to do was to raise her arms out wide to give me a hug. Now that she is incapacitated from a debilitating stroke in 2005 it is difficult for her to hug me, although every morning when I tell her good morning the first thing she tries to do is to hug me.

That Hug is missed…….now in the months following her recent hospitalization it is even more difficult for her to move her arms. My hug from her will always be with me in my memory.

Even though her hug will always be with me it is much to difficult to watch her passing from her twilight and on towards her darkest time. The other day she spoke to me about having a dream in which she died. After she told me her dream I felt it wasn’t about the way she will die, but more about how helpless she has felt in the last five years battling every major bacteria that became resident in her lungs during a hospital stay in Arizona. The dream reminded me of how an innocent prisoner responds as he goes from his cell and walks to his execution. He is unable to prove his innocence and he is helpless at stopping his execution.

My mother broke her hip and after surgery many aides cared for her without gloves. One in particular coughed continually in front of her. Nurses and technicians took care of her without gloves. In the beginning days, M saw what they were doing and immediately demanded they wash their hands and put on gloves be for they enter the room. It took some time to initiate the request and after ward, the staff was less than friendly. .One employee me she thought we were making a mountain out of a molehill. In less than a month, Momma was ill for the first time of many times. I watched her go from enjoying life to a long period closer to the beginning of darkness. It seemed to happen over night, but now I realize this happened over the past five years.

My Mother has always been strong and has always lived for tomorrow. Her memories hold her past and she uses them when someone requests something from her, although her plans are always paramount. Now, occasionally, my mother will express a hope for today; rarely can she speak of the past because of jumbled memories, and all to often, she sadly says on the days that are the worst that she wishes she died! She only says this when it becomes apparent to her that she can do so little, but usually after a few moments, she returns with a hope of survival.

Her journey through the dimly lit days in her twilight are different than my father’s. Momma talks to me and tells me of her journey; she is aware of the change within her, and she tells me of her fears. My father spoke very little about his reactions to becoming elderly and passing between a time of life and a time to prepare for death. His fears, his thoughts, always remained within him and I believe he was unable to prepare himself. I believe strongly that he thought of tomorrow and then decided not to explore it further. At that moment he knew he needed to meet is end immediately. My mother, on the hand, will treat each day as a new day to learn and plan for the next day. She will face her fear, tell me her thoughts and make plans. She will not go quietly into her darkness—

I will be there for her on that final hour, but I know I will not be able to be calm. I don’t have her strength and I will miss her terribly even though she will live in my heart until my final day.

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