Monday, April 28, 2008

Taking Care of Our Mother

We are five grown children, far flung geographically, but connected by cell phone towers and our vacant mother. We talk all the time. Mom's sick again. She fainted. The ambulance was or was not called. She went to the doctor or the hospital. She won't be discharged for a few days. They are giving her fluid. She needs antibiotics. She is bored and grouchy with the nurses. She wants to go home to her grandchildren.

Alzheimer's Disease is taking our mother away from us. The current system is so strained that it can't last. My niece is living with her, but she has three young children and a full time job and Mom is no longer able to be alone while Jessie is gone. We are looking into secure Alzheimer's facilities. Memory care, it is called. We are all torn up.

"Sometimes people flourish. Many of our residents do well," says a voice on the phone. But, also, some deteriorate, losing the anchor of what is familiar. "I feel like we are walking her to the edge of a cliff and pushing her off." How can we do that to our mother?

The last days with Dad still echo, though it has been more than 19 years. He was in the hospital, hoping to go home, but the descent had begun and there was no going back. His brown skin yellowed, his belly swelled.

We gathered around him, never leaving him alone, taking turns spending the night. There was always someone to help him stand or to guide the bent straw to his dry lips. He would wake up slowly, spurting Spanish or some dreamy English nonsense, then his mind would focus for a bit. He fought through the fog of a failing liver and spoke to each of us in a small voice. Final instructions. Last words. All that really mattered. "I love you, hija," he whispered, right in my ear. "Take care of your mother."


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