Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tossed in the Deep

We've had the talk more than once in the last week. How she hopes she falls off her chair like her father. Dead before he hit the ground, probably, she says. Not left to suffer for weeks like her mother. Heart beyond repair, but kept alive in the hospital without any prospects. Certainly not like her mother's mother. Bedridden at home. Not well cared for by her daughter-in-law. Not even washed until my grandmother went to wash her.

She wishes California were a right-to-die state, she says. Like Oregon or Washington. She was upset by this article in the L.A. Times. Says the man should have made it look like suicide. Held his wife's hand to the gun.

While all of this talk of death and dying, of mercy-killing or perhaps murder might seem morbid, I find that it diffuses the tension. It comforts me, in a way, to know that I know what my mother wants (not that I have any plans to wrap her hand around a gun.) It comforts me to know that she has an advanced directive. That she trusts me to be her medical power of attorney.

Sometimes she says she wants to go home to Iowa to die. Let me know, so I can get plane tickets, I say. Then we both laugh.

My mom is doing great. But she's 88. At her check-up with the pulmunologist yesterday, he told her he'd see her in four months. Thanks for stopping by, he said. Now he had to go take care of some sick

There have been some big changes since she stopped smoking. The icky gross smoker's cough is gone. She seems less in a fog in the morning--literally and figuratively. When she quit, C said the thing that amazed her the most was that her grandmother was focusing on the future. There's always a future until the very last moment--which is something not every young person sees when they look at an old person.

But mostly, I'm thankful for the present. Though it's easy to let that gratitude slip away when things are difficult. M coming for the weekends, visits from friends and the man who loves me are pure sustenance. And I try to remember to read "Well" and The New Old Age Blog. There is so much information on health, caregiving and aging there. It's weird, this fractured family life that's prevalent in our society. When my daughters were babies and I was struggling with getting the hang of breast feeding, I remember thinking how odd it was that I hadn't actually seen anyone breast feed a baby. I haven't seen the day-to-day of helping an old person manage life either. But here I am doing it.

I suppose I might have learned to swim by being tossed into the deep. But I'm glad for those summertime classes. For steady hands under me while I floated. For the cajoling to put my head under the water. For gradually learning to hold my breath longer and longer, and eventually to stroke smoothly and turn my head, taking in the power of each lung full of air.


Elizabeth Harper said...

I love what you've said so perfectly here.

It's touching and deep with enough humor to keep it from being morbid. I think you have a play in here or at least a playbook (handbook) for others who are doing or will do, what you are now.

As we all live longer, most of us get there at some point ... the opportunity to care for aging parents, but not all will do it with grace and humor that you do.

Thanks for sharing your " Life with Mom" stories. I enjoy all of your posts, but these touch my heart the most and I think are my favorite.

Ms. Moon said...

We are so separated from life's true events these days. Childbirth, breastfeeding, caretaking, death.
We've given over so much of that to "experts" and at a ridiculous cost. You are having to reinvent the wheel and you're doing a beautiful job of it.
I want you always to take care of yourself, though. Do you?
I hope so.

Birdie said...

I work in Palliative care and my hope is that one day patients are given a choice when to leave this planet. I have been told that to do so is playing God but is it not playing God to keep someone alive who should be dead?

Andrea said...

Damn, still not subscribed so I missed this poignant post until just now. Sometimes I wish we who have charge of our mamas could just sit in a big circle and tell stories and bring comfort, but I guess these blogs are as close as we will get to that, and I am so grateful you are in this blog circle with me. I want to say that here in Oregon, although laws are in place, it is not easy to get them to work on your behalf. There is just no easy way out, but she has you to talk to about the scariness of it when that comes to visit (NO SMALL GIFT), and meanwhile there is the future nestled in every single day.
Now if I could just make the subscriber thing work...