My Mother’s Mourning

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. 

Clueless

It has been a difficult time for us. The accident and death of one parent and now the illness and hospitalization of two more. There are no books that teach how to cope with this, no classes on protecting the lives of your elderly parents, no celebrity infomercials on how to be in this awful, exhausting place and not become a quivering mass of ineffectiveness at a time of immeasurable need.

My husband’s mother, that immovable, indestructible force of nature is gone. She was taken from us by an injury that had she been even five years younger, instead of ninety-two, would have barely slowed her steps. How can she be gone? I thought she was indestructible. Her spirit and will were legendary. I miss her.

And then, not two weeks later my father became dangerously ill. He spent agonizing days being tested and retested after gloom-filled “talks” that he could not hear and refused to listen to. He saw things out his hospital window that only he could see, and told us he preferred his alternative reality to ours. Who could blame him? Cancer might be the ugliest word ever spoken to him. Why should he agree to listen to it?

And while he lay there having test after test, mama fell, and fell again and again. And because we were focused on him and the danger he faced we didn’t hear her pain, or see how badly she was broken. And she hid her pain and just gutted it out like she always does and always had until she could no longer stand the pain. So he went home to her and she left to go to the hospital.

And her body is broken, so broken that only time can heal her. If at all.

And still, I have no idea how to do any of this. I don’t know how to let them keep their sense of self and maintain their small grasping clutch on what is left of their dignity. But I want them to have more good days. I don’t want to define those days, or control those days, I just want to make sure I do what I can to help them get those days.

Teach me God. They will be home to you soon. Hold them safely here until you call them home.