Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Report from Pillville: The Final Days

Mom, let's talk about socks, I said. Mother, you like all these tank tops, right? Okay, now lets talk about pajamas. Sweaters. Pants. Shirts. Skirts. Shoes. All afternoon I went through my mom's closet while she sat at the dining room table eating cookies. We discussed the pros and cons of every article of clothing. How hard it was to put on or take off. The itchiness factor. Whether or not there were pockets. (Must have pockets!) What color rocks with the silver hair. Almost of  the keepers are in the giant roller bag--except for the outfit for my sister and her husband's 50th anniversary party--which will go on the very top--and what my mom's  wearing on the plane. I have a small load of laundry yet to do and then we'll be good to go. Thank god for my Delta mileage and my free checked bags.

How are you, the hospice nurse asked when she came by for her regular visit. She meant me. My mom's pulse ox and her blood pressure were fine. I see stress, she said, locking her blue eyelinered eyes with mine. I'll make it to the plane, I said.

Years ago when I was in college and home for the holidays, I went to my mom's company (John Deere)  Christmas party with her. We were a bit late and when we walked in the room some guy shouted out, "Hey! Ethel's here!" There was a chorus of Hi Ethel, Merry Christmas, Ethel, Can I get you a drink, Ethel? Let's dance, Ethel. I felt like a geeky wallflower.

So hey, party people, if you're a relative of mine and living in northeast Iowa my mom is coming to town. I don't know about asking her to dance, but please visit her. If it's allowed, mix her up a 2-ounce martini or buy one of those single serving bottles of wine and join her for dinner. If you're a relative or friend of mine/hers and reading this, can you please share this post on Facebook to the wall of every relative/friend we know? If you're a niece or a nephew or hers, she'll tell you stories about your parents. As far as I can tell, she loved all of her siblings. Ask her who came home from the war unable to hold a cup of coffee. Ask her who was her favorite (you might get different answers, depending on her mood.) Ask her who had PTSD after the war and what he learned to do because of it. Ask her about the bobsled ride and who her mother threw out and took back when he came back with a broken arm. Ask her who became a hobo and rode the rails. Ask her who was the most talented. Ask her about bloomers and who always made her mother cry. About the baby who was a preemie, small enough to fit in a shoebox, kept warm by the wood stove and survived against the odds. Ask her about the goats and the Italian family, and the crick with the colored clay, the den of wolves, the snakes in the basement, the bounty on rattlesnakes, and the dog who would let people into the yard but not out. Tell me what you find out because after more than three years of stories almost every night, I'm pretty sure I haven't heard them all.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Monday Morning Beach Report/ Report from Pillville

Can you see it? The hint of an island? Maybe, right? Or is it just a band of fog?

Right now the music therapist is here, playing her guitar and singing "Puff the Magic Dragon" to my mom. Lifelong friendships, mists, and magical lands.

And now they're tapping on singing bowls. Tap to send out love, the therapist says. Love is magic, right?

And life itself is magic if you ask me.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Super Moon/Blood Moon and Its Eclipse

Mural by Los Angeles artist Kent Twitchell

It's been a million years or so since my regular drives on the Hollywood Freeway that took me by this mural. The mural has long since been painted over and the '66 Dodge Coronet that carried me through L.A, was consigned to the scrap heap ages ago. But the freeway lady materialized before my eyes tonight when M and I wheeled my mom outside and around the corner to see the eclipse.

Just like that the past slipped its shadow in front of the present. I was my daughter's age, windows rolled down, the heat of the freeway and southern California's 70s drought searing me to the seat of that old car. I didn't know I'd end up here and now with grown children and an ancient mother, trailing the wreckage of a life behind me as long as the freeway lady's afghan.

But here we are. Tonight my mother and my daughter and I stood outside and stared at the moon as it disappeared. Gone. Like a painted over mural.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Wednesday Morning Beach Report (Delivered on Saturday) And the Report from Pillville

Some days you're the pelican. Some days you're the fish.

Somedays I'm just me in couch limbo. From my couch, I can see the patio where my mom likes to sit. And I can see the front door if we're waiting for some one to arrive like the hospice nurse or the handyman or the music therapist.

Yesterday the music therapist (beautiful wonderful talented amazing person) was here. She encouraged my mom to strum away on her harp.

We had friends over for dinner last night so they could see my mom before she leaves for Iowa. I forgot to take pictures, but it was lovely. The best I can offer is the grocery list. Can you guess what I made? My friend Carol brought watermelon, blackberries and raspberries that we threw together with some fresh mint and it made the most delicious fruit salad. Prune juice was not served. The milk and bananas were for breakfast. That's enough clues. Oh-- and there was champagne, flourless chocolate cake and caramel bars for dessert. And espresso. And love.

Today, I feel like my mom and I are both hummingbirds. But not the way you usually think of hummingbirds. We've buzzed around and indulged in plenty of nectar. Now we're resting. Delicately. On a strand of a palm frond, balancing.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Monday Morning Beach Report: the Road to Shangri-la

They groom the beaches here and this morning it looked like a road had been laid out to take me straight to the horizon.

But life is complicated here in Pillville. I feel more like a behemoth of a cargo ship navigating a treacherous passage. I'm sitting on the patio right now with my mom. There's a breeze and the water is shimmering. Our silver hair is probably shining in the sunlight and passersby might think how darling these ladies are. Did they choose shirts the same color this morning by accident or by design? How nice they can sit on their lovely patio and enjoy the day. They have no idea. Does anyone ever really have any idea what it would be like to be in someone else's shoes? I mean their everyday shoes. Not their church shoes. Mostly, I think we do not. But sometimes we do and those people who can slip into our shoes the way that Cinderella fit into that glass slipper, they are meant to be held close and not let go.

I've been making phone calls to Iowa this morning and messaging my aunt. I've been talking to the hospice here and the nursing home in Iowa. I've been putting on my mom's shoes. We've talked. She most definitely wants to go to Iowa. She's not particularly excited about going to a skilled nursing facility but she says she knows she should. I told her I want her to have 24-hour skilled nursing care. She understands the particulars of that. She knows what's gone on around here. So we're back on track with the plan. More or less. Meanwhile, I'm fixing my eyes on that broad smooth road I took a picture of this morning and I hold close those of you who understand.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Report from Pillville: Cake and a Plot Twist

My mother turned 91 yesterday. My friend Carol turned 70. Last night we had a party celebrating their 161 years of life. My son and his family drove all day to join us. Carol invited friends. My friend Sasha's parents joined us. My friend Pete skyped in for the singing of Happy Birthday. Carol's nephew joined us after dinner and snared the last piece of completely delectable birthday cake. If Sasha had made two cakes we probably would have devoured both of them.

Sounds fabulous. It was.

What happened before the party was not fabulous at all. After my son and his family arrived and we gathered around the dining room table to talk with my mom about Iowa. How nice it will be to go home. To get her wish. How so many people there love her and will be happy to spend time with her. Then someone flipped a switch. I don't remember how it started. But my mom started to yell at us. She's not going to a nursing home, she said. (After a month of being totally in on the plans.) She's going to move in with my brother, and if they don't take her she's going to take back their bedroom furniture that used to be hers. She doesn't need a caregiver because she can make her own bed. Okay, I said. Okay. Guests are arriving soon, I said. Let's not spoil the party. 

My mom has never yelled at me. Never. Really. I've heard her yell like crazy about stuff that makes her mad and she used to yell like a maniac at my brothers when they were wild little boys. 

It could be the steroids that she's on. Which she kinda needs right now. It probably is the steroids. 

The party was perfect. Thank you for the party, she told me before she went to bed.

And not everyone in the inner circle is supportive of my retirement from caregiving. As with many big family decisions, there's dissent. I've been juggling that. I'll look like a liar now. Like I am  pushing my mom out the door. Because now I am.

Life is softening me up. That's what I think. A punch here. A kick there. I get that. I'm learning. It's the blows to the heart that hurt the most.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Last Call

The final batch
If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I ration my mom's martini intake. I mix up a batch, then pour a single martini into each jam jar and lock them away. For this batch I carefully counted out the jars we'll need to get us to our departure date. Who needs x-es on calendar squares? We have mixed drinks.

Just a bit ago, I got the automated call from the sheriff's office regarding the tsunami. We are not being asked to evacuate. Which is good. Very good. I gasped though as the message unfurled. 8.3 magnitude earthquake in Chile. Tsunami forming. Holy crap. I stopped breathing for a minute as I imagined waking my mom and getting her into the car and remembering to put the wheel chair in the car, in case the traffic jammed in a mass exodus and we had to run for it.

There's still quite a bit of martini mixed up in that gin bottle. Note to self: if you do have to evacuate, take the bottle!

My mom continues to talk about going home. I think she will get lots of visitors. Tonight at dinner she reviewed her burial plans: she wants to be cremated and then have the ashes buried in my father's grave. She has a plot next to his that I guess was purchased for her at the same time his was, but she's very clear that she does not want to be buried there. I assured her that I understood. That other grave though--she's obsessed with it. It shouldn't go to waste, she says. We own it. I should be buried there, she says. Or my brother should be buried there--it drives her crazy that good money was spent on it and no one has plans to rest eternally there.

What are you going to do with your body? she asked. I told her that I was going to be cremated and leave instructions for my children to deposit the ashes in the Mississippi, the Seine and the Aegean. I hope they'll take those trips together. Then again, who knows, maybe I'll change my mind about all of that. It would be nice if I had a good 20 or so years to think about that.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Back to Pillville

It's really pretty awesome here.

Post respite, my mom and I are back in our routine. Morning beach walk for me, snoozy day for her. Martini at 5. Dinner was a piece of diced up sausage, a sweet potato with a ton of butter, and half an avocado. There will be vanilla ice cream later.

Both my mom and I had a wonderful time. Wonderful, marvelous, such beautiful scenery, were some of her descriptors. She especially loved that her room had French doors that opened onto a private patio where she had her breakfast. When I got there, the white tablecloth was still on the table. Just a like a resort, she said. The hospice nurse and the hospice facilities coordinator said the staff thought she was the life of the party. I'm not making this up. 

And me? I had a wonderful time with my friend Pete.  Fun with his family and friends and a visit to Chicago.

Buckingham Fountain under a remarkably gorgeous sky.

Skyline reflected in "The Bean"--one of the most delightful public sculptures ever!

We caught one of the World Music Festival's concerts--Aziz Sahmaoui and The University of Gnawa.

Amazing. Look and listen.

And we paid a visit to Obama. Well...just his house. And right down the street, THIS was going on.

Seriously. Both my mom and I came home happy. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Blessings on Everyone

Blessings on my friend Lisa who drove me to the airport shuttle. Blessings on the hospice facilities coordinator Arlene who met my mom and me at the place where my mom is staying during the respite. Blessings on our hospice nurse Julie who made the respite happen and on nurse Wendy at the place who was the first of several friendly faces there. Blessings on the volunteer Sylvia who took the time to meet my mom. Blessings on my friends Sasha and Carol who will probably visit my mom while I am away. And blessings on them again if they bring her wine (it's allowed.) Blessings on Dan Paik who delivered me out of hell and talked to me everyday about tai chi which led me to T'ai Chi Chih which led me to Lisa who led me to Pete. And while we're at it blessings on my divorce and the man who left me because he left me with wonderful children and because that led me to Dan who loved me with great abandon and told me over and over right here right now. And blessings on the boyfriend before the husband who didn't want to marry me ( though I can't quite bless the loss of our son) and because of that I married the husband who left me. Blessings on my mom who needs my care and thereby also played her role in my connection with Pete. Blessings on Pete who loves me now. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Belated Wednesday Beach Report, News from Pillville, and a Brief Note from the Love Shack

Today, 10 a.m.

There was a little bit of everything at the beach today. A few surfers riding medium waves, almost visible islands, a modest variety of birds, a little drama. 

The drama: As I walked in the surf I saw a small child (I'd guess 4) trekking across the sand far ahead of his mother. The mother trudged about as slowly as a person can trudge, carrying a large beach bag and a beach chair while the kid headed straight for the water. Hi, I said. Hi, he or she said. It's pretty here, isn't it, I said, stepping between the kid and the water. I'd already gotten wet to the waist accidentally, having misjudged the waves twice. The mother was still only about half-way across the sand and the kid looked fearless, inching into the water. Aren't you going to go help your mom, I asked. The kid climbed up the sandy slope and headed her direction as she was closing the gap. I went on, looking back to keep an eye on the situation. On my return the mother was halfway back across the sand again. This time she was going away from the water towards an even smaller child who was now making the trek. The older kid splashed at the edge of the waves, the mom's back to him. Other beachgoers and a fisher woman seemed ill at ease with the situation too. We all hovered at the periphery, underneath it all a low menacing roar of some invisible something. Military aircraft, a dredger in the harbor, construction equipment, something. I couldn't see what.

Life in Pillville is mostly un-bloggable these days. My mom trudges through her days. Eats. Sleeps. Sits on the patio. Chats a bit--often with difficulty. Her body is failing, yet she does not seem to understand the significance of it. There are new physical ailments. Enough said.

Of late, I've found the situation harder than I ever imagined I would. The hospice is giving me a  caregiver respite. My mom will go to a skilled nursing facility. I will go to Indiana to go see the man who, last month, came to see me. I'll meet his family and some friends, spend time, and after a couple days, turn around and get back on a plane, ride the airport shuttle, get a ride to my house from the shuttle stop, and then get in my car to go pick up my mom. It all seems like a love shack fantasy right now, but the washer is spinning, and my suitcase is mostly packed. Tomorrow must go like clockwork if I'm going to catch my plane, but it feels possible. Easy even. Easier than any recent day in Pillville. I'll get up early. Do what I have to do, and ignore the low menacing roar that hums  beneath every day for my mom and me.

My kitchen island lined with documentation for my mom's medicaid application.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Pillville, the board game. I win!

Remember THIS?

I emerged victorious in today's round of Pillville after a fortuitous roll of the dice that landed me on a square that said this: Great job keeping all those old meds! You've saved yourself a trip to the pharmacy that would have meant leaving you hospice patient alone. You've earned a night out and a trip to the Finish Line. You win!!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Report from Pillville: The Balance of Opposites

Photo from this morning's walk along the beach in Ventura--a local artist stacks these stones.

My mom is more frail than ever but feels well.

I'm happier and stronger than I've been in a long long time but feel spent.

Those statements balance one another in a way I can't quite explain. And maybe there's balance too in the fact that my mom is sleeping more and more these days while I am sleeping less and less. And even when I do sleep, I awake feeling hung over. There's no gin involved in this, I swear--at least not for me. She is, of course, still having her martini. The balance of opposites right here in Pillville.

I almost had to sit during my T'ai Chi Chih practice yesterday. Today I opted out of yoga and took a walk. I need the sky over my head to feel the vastness of possibility. I need to be quiet.

I'm in the process of transitioning my mom into a nursing home after more than 3 years of caring for her in my house. I'm filling out the forms for Medi-Cal and Iowa Medicaid. I'm gathering documentation. I'm making travel plans and not making travel plans. I'm formulating a Plan A and a Plan B and wondering if they are mutually exclusive while wondering if both of them will fall away.

I'm sitting on the couch in my living room as I write this, wholly aware of the sound of her breathing in her room, while feeling that I'm barely breathing at all.

My heart is in Indiana with the man that I love and my heart is here, heavy as a stone, and so light it is a tower reaching for the sky.

This morning's walk took me past the estuary. Here it is looking inland--and looking out to the sea, just like me.

The path I was on took me under the freeway, framing a perfect view of the hills,
and it took me across the railroad tracks. Travel plans, vistas, hopes, dreams,manifested through a camera lens-- and if you look closely at the photo below you'll see a white cross in the lower left. I didn't see it when I took the photo.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Why We Should Eat Dessert

Pavlova by candlelight, prepared by my friend Sasha for our Friday night dessert after dinner on the patio.

I ask myself these days what I'm doing right, what I've done wrong. What I can re-do. What I don't know how to do. What I don't know how to do, but must do.

I'm hoping to move my mother into a nursing home in Iowa. Put her in reach of more people who love her. Put her in the care of nurses 24/7. Put myself in airplanes regularly again like when she was in the care of my brother and his girlfriend on the east coast.

This past weekend was as mixed as a weekend can be. A lovely Friday evening dinner with friends, daughter M here for the weekend. Then Sunday devolved into the unblog-able. There were two calls to the hospice nurse this weekend, two new meds in the past week. This afternoon the moaning was so loud that I thought for a moment I literally could not stand it. As per usual, the moaning does not really signify pain, it's an unconscious thing that my mom does not know she's doing. How can she stop it if she doesn't know she's doing it? How can I stand it when she can't stop it?

Every day I write in my little red "mom notebook" what I have to do, what I've done. I try to keep the plan moving along, but the plan might be changing. Plan A, Plan B. Maybe there's a Plan C that I don't even know about yet.

One of my favorite bloggers lost her mother Alice last Wednesday. Andrea's adventures with Alice have been sort of a guiding light for me. Now that light is out. I have plenty of support left, but I ask myself if I'm ready to let go of my mom. To really let go. I think I am. But I also think it will be harder than I imagine.

Tonight I'm remembering this dream I had when Dan was dying. How the dream helped me know what to do. How it changed the plan. How everything fell into place. How I had to let go.