My mother and father have been living in separate places. After sharing a bed, a table, and a life for over sixty-seven years, they live three miles apart needing different levels of care. Like so many folks who have successfully managed to pass their eighty-fifth birthdays, the sands under their feet have shifted and life has suddenly become unfamiliar and frightening and often lonely for both of them.
Since my father’s fall and declining health my sister and I have made countless trips between the two facilities so that my mother can visit my father.
Some visits are difficult, but successful. My father is always in bed, but he can communicate if we write our “news” onto a white erasable board. Mom struggles to come up with much to write, and begins to tire very quickly. However over all, those are the “good days.”
On the “bad days” my Mom isn’t able to get my father to awaken. She’s kissing him, rubbing his face, or patting him (sometimes quite vigorously) on the chest and arm-still nothing. He just sleeps and sleeps. One of his nurses has suggested that this may be a manifestation of his bipolar disorder. When he is “low” he is really low!
The bad days take a huge toll on Mom. She’s sometimes angry at my father and at other times her face clearly shows the signs of intense and gut wrenching grief. She says her heart is breaking.
My mother is caught between my Dad’s life and his death. She is stuck in a place of deep mourning. She’s physically unable to care for him (as am I) and yet each parting comes with a massive load of guilt and second guessing.
Surely if he just tried harder to get well, or if he would/could do physical therapy or if he would try to eat, or sit up more, or, or, or…and all the other “what if’s” and emotional bargaining that we all do with the dying process are heavily weighing on her each time we leave.
My mother is mourning. At eighty-seven she is learning to live alone for the first time. She’s experiencing all the stages of grief while her husband is still living. It is difficult beyond words.
Some days we pray for it to end.