Archive for January, 2015


January 30, 2015

This picture of my mother was taken last Thanksgiving.  Jordan cropped it last night, in connection with the funeral home’s request for a recent picture.

MM Thanksgiving 20141127_140002


Need (not) to know

January 29, 2015

We got a lot of snow from the storm a couple of days ago.

The day of the storm, around midday, I shoveled the front steps and path, and when I got to the sidewalk, the snow was, I think, higher than my waist.  I shoveled a small path to the street and then went back in, to regroup.

Jordan went out next, and when I looked out a little while later to see how he was doing, I saw other people clearing our snow too.  Some I did not even recognize.  One had a snow blower and did much of the driveway.  Then the plow came and refilled our apertures.  Jordan and I worked on that and widened the opening at the mouth of the driveway, which is more necessary than people might realize, due to the misalignment of the garage with the driveway.

I got a call during this stint, during the late afternoon, from a nurse at the nursing center where my mother was, and she made me think she thought I needed to come.  I didn’t really think I could come.  On Monday, prior to the storm, I had spoken to my mother, during my visit, about the coming storm,  and I tried to say what I wanted to say to her and to let her know that whatever she needed to do was okay with me.  She was already in an unresponsive state.  The hospice social worker had discussed with me how I shouldn’t feel I needed to be present at my mother’s passing.  And, of course, there was the travel ban til midnight.

I set out in my car the next morning (Wednesday morning), took a different route to the nursing center, favoring major roads, like Mass. Ave., even though the route was longer.  I fishtailed significantly once, in Belmont, on Pleasant Street.

But I got there, to the nursing center, there was even a parking space I could pull into, and I did.  And I went in to see my mother and she had indeed declined further.  And I sat with her, read her a poem, sang to her a couple of songs she used to sing to me when I was sick as a child.  The aide who brought her the breakfast she could not eat brought me a cup of tea.  I read the newspapers I had brought and I prayed and meditated — or, the way I tend to think of it, I plugged in more actively.  The nursing center nurse came in with some liquid meds for my mom.

I mentioned to the nurse that I wished the hospice folks were available, to help me put into context what I was seeing with my mom.  When I had called them the night before, all they could say was that she was stable — no change, from their point of view.

The nursing center nurse came back to check my mother’s oxygen level.  She was already getting oxygen support.  My mother’s fingers were too cold for the machine to get a reading.

So I am thinking “Where is hospice?  Why am I doing this alone?” and then I turn that into, “I, apparently, am hospice.”  So I check in with my guidance to find out how I can help and I do, including letting my mother know that my spirit will stay with hers until there is a hand-off to what comes next, that I will be, as the line in TV dramas has it (she and I used to remark over this line), “with her every step of the way.”  I can remain anchored in the material world and connect to my spirit, and my spirit can be with hers, even after hers is leaving her body.  And something happens, not instantaneously, but it happens, and at some point my mother has grown noticeably quiet and I get the nursing center nurse and she looks for a heart beat and there is none and my mother has passed.

It was peaceful.

Had I known this was in the offing, I would have had a very difficult time getting through the storm and driving over to the nursing center the next day.  But I think I have an understanding with the forces greater than myself not to let me know when my knowing would impede.  Self-consciousness, anxiety, like anger and other things, can be a drag on sliding through those seams life seems to present us with sometimes.  If I follow my guidance, instead of figuring it out myself, including looking ahead, I do much better in such situations.

The other major theme I communicated to my mother as she was, as they say, “actively dying,” was my trust in the universe that we would get adequate help for my mother to have a safe transition.  She would be okay, I would be okay, it would be okay, it was okay.  I truly and deeply felt that, and I feel that about much of this journey I accompanied my mother on — there was help.

That being said, I did feel a huge responsibility myself, about doing my part in a way that helped.  The primary part of that responsibility — making sure my mother received the care she needed — has ended.  Now there are just secondary matters, like paperwork.

How important is it?

January 27, 2015

I find that sorting criterion looms large to me whenever someone close to me is dying.  Stuff that usually seems so urgent seems less so, other people’s or system’s demands on me seem just that — the demands of other people or systems.  Even failings and flaws and glitches in the systems and people involved don’t excite in me the same reaction as they usually do, although I do try to pursue what needs to be pursued.

I have wondered whether as these people close to me “transition,” I pick up a little of the perspective they may be experiencing.

When the death has receded somewhat and there has been a new accumulation of demands and failings, flaws, and glitches, I think I revert back to my usual attitude, but I do retain the memory of how it felt when those things truly felt much less important.  Maybe there is a net improvement in my perspective, just from that.

Keeping the focus on what’s important

January 24, 2015

I got a phone call this afternoon from one of the hospice chaplains.  One of the nursing facility nurses had let her know I had called for an update since I wasn’t able to visit.

The chaplain said she had visited with my mother and read to her and that my mother was basically sleeping and seemed very peaceful and comfortable and relaxed.

I was grateful for the call and grateful for the content of the call, and it got me thinking further along the lines I had been thinking along, in terms of interpreting the storm and its impact on the situation:  that it is sometimes unclear, while our concerns and desires and fears (and sense of responsibility) are swirling around us, what actually would serve the greatest good for all involved.


January 24, 2015

The snow is falling, my mother is on GIP care with daily hospice attention, and I was counseled yesterday not to sweat whether I can be there at all the significant moments.  I was there, at the nursing center, for hours yesterday, as my mother’s condition shifted and a cast of thousands (or so it seemed) made adjustments and provided care and support.  Seems my challenge at the moment is to sit tight.

So I figured a blog post on trying to find a balance between messiness and sterility in life might be a helpful distraction.

I wrote recently in news comments online that I am disappointed in President Obama’s current mode of combative policy proposals.  I also wrote about the deflated footballs controversy.  I questioned why teams get to provide their own balls and pointed out that all balls could be provided from a neutral source, as they are for kicking plays already.

And then I thought about what I am saying.  And I think it comes down to taking seriously — maybe too seriously — people’s complaining about unpleasant outcomes in the implementation of a system.  The systems could probably be improved and the problems reduced, but I guess I am wondering whether most of the participants in the system actually prefer a messy system in which people get harmed from time to time, to a more sterile system in which there is less harm but less excitement.  I don’t know, but I remember a tag line a Roman history professor used to use about the aspects of Roman culture we in our culture tend to airbrush away or ignore:  “That’s the way they liked it.”  Could apply here.  Could be it is people like me who don’t like it.  In which case there’s not much point in my trying to help problem-solve these situations.

My unkempt mop

January 21, 2015

I had a delightful experience the other day.

I had recently used my hair as part of an analogy in a comment I posted online.  I was making a point about whether something deemed “natural” is somehow superior to a version that is not seen that way.  The original issue was marriage, but I pointed out that plenty of permed heads of hair actually meet cultural aesthetic norms better than my natural but unkempt mop.

Win, lose, or draw on my analogy, a few days later I was listening to tunes on YouTube and I got treated to a Dove commercial about encouraging little girls to love their curls by enjoying our own.  It really struck a chord with me.  I listened to the whole thing.

Books that channel

January 18, 2015

It recently occurred to me to bring my mother one of the anthologies of poems she so loves.  She chose her replacement copy of Best Loved Poems of the American People, which I had found for her after she spoke of her regret of having de-accessioned years ago her copy from her youth.

My mother had me leave it in the top drawer of her nightstand in her room in the nursing center, and I must say that reminded me of Gideon’s Bibles in hotel rooms.

This morning, when I visited in the early morning, my mother had more energy than she’s had some recent mornings, probably because the aide had not yet come to help her with her morning routine.  So we got out the poetry book, she chose poems, and I read them.  At some points, I could feel her enjoyment — I found myself reading a closing stanza in her cadences and intonations and she was smiling, for example.

It is Sunday.  My mother is not religious, she is of the generation and culture for whom the Holocaust negatively impacted the ability to be open to belief, but poetry can be, I think, for some people an avenue to the source that inspires our spirits, to the extent possible.


January 16, 2015

After something like a month of “advocacy,” I finally was able to have the conversation with the specialist doctor that my mother has been wanting.  The doctor called me, and at this point, that was probably the best approach — I have relayed the information to my mother.

The conversation was supposed to occur in an office appointment, but my mother never recovered enough after her outpatient procedure to go to the appointment, even by ambulance.  It was scheduled long after her hospital release, and she has been declining in health since then.  One of the contributing factors to the scheduling was the doctor’s vacation.  When I was told that this was “reasonable,” it gave me the opening to point out that my mother’s wanting and needing the information nonetheless, despite the fact that the systems in place require her to do things she can’t, was also reasonable.

Yesterday I got a 21 minute, unhurried phone call and our questions answered.

It helps to know that a small localized disease diagnosed early on can cause systemic problems like general weakness and tiredness, it helps to know that an outpatient procedure can produce the same sort of domino effect as a fall in an elderly person  —  secondary consequences and all, and the person never returns to even close to the status quo ante, just keeps declining instead.

At least we got to fill in some of the information we have been missing as we try to understand what has been going on.


New paint scheme

January 9, 2015

I have been driving past the former Mitt Romney manse on my way to visit my mother at the nursing center off Trapelo Road in Waltham where she’s being cared for.

The house used to be orange —  a nice orange, as I recall it.  I was aware of work being done on the property after it was sold — lots of bulldozers on the large front lawn, for example.  At some point I noticed the house had been painted grey.  Also not unusual for this neck of the woods.  More recently I noticed that part of the building is red.  I think that that piece of the building is connected to the house, and I guess I have assumed it was a garage.

It took me a very long time to interpret the new paint scheme as characterizing the smaller part of the building as a barn, but that interpretation would help me make sense of it.