Harsh Realities

#life #love #family

I originally wrote this in April of last year, shortly after my Mom's passing. This was something on the previous incarnation of my blog. I felt it was worthy of re-posting and preserving. Today would have been her 73rd birthday. When I think about her, I can still hear her laugh. Happy Birthday Mom!

My Mom's passing came quick. There's another post that I wrote but haven't published (yet, or ever)... It was written in the weeks leading up to her final moments, and it's pretty intense, and just a long rant. It was also completely devoid of the thought that she might not have much time left. We were under the impression that hospice would be able to sort our her medication and be able to place her in a nursing home. I just assumed that she would be around for a while and that her dementia would continue along a predictable path. It felt like we were close to getting her placed, somewhere she would have been looked after around the clock and taken care of. Not that my Dad wasn't caring for her, he was, and was doing a good job, but it was definitely wearing him down.

I think my Mom knew that she wasn't long for the this world, or maybe she just didn't want to be here any longer. She was talking about death on Valentine's Day. I drove my parents to my Father's doctor appointment because Dad was afraid to go to his appointment, he didn't think he could manage to watch Mom in the waiting room, and he knew that he wouldn't be able to just leave her at the house alone.

So there we were, in the parking lot of the doctor's office, Mom and I sat in my truck listening to a random selection of 60s and 70s tunes. She had moments of clarity her last few months, but they were far and few between. It was hard to know when to take her seriously and when the neurons hadn't quite fired right.

“I know it's going to happen, and soon.” (I'm not sure if that's exactly what she said, but it was definitely something along those lines.)

“What's going to happen, Mom?”


So... I put on Norman Greenbaum's Spirit in the Sky and said to her;

“Nah, you have plenty of time left.”

It was only about a month later—March 15th—that Mom went back into hospice care. I went and saw her that evening after work. She was definitely drugged up. The Andy Griffith Show was on the TV in her room, but she wasn't paying any attention to it... Although, that type of behavior wasn't new. I thought, “maybe the drugs they have her on would help her focus?” Though, even without all the drugs, my Father had said that she lost interest, or couldn't focus long enough to follow along to a half-hour sitcom. 

My Dad had to watch her pretty closely in the final months, she would have episodes like you would expect someone who has schizophrenia to experience; seeing and hearing things that weren't there, having full on conversations with people who didn't exist or weren't in the room with her, etc. So they had her on some serious anti-psychotic medication, among other things. I'm still not entirely sure what the full cocktail was. Any time there was a new medication, I would ask Dad, and he would always tell me the name and the dosage, and let me know that he looked it up online and read about it... But I don't remember what any of the drugs were. Seemed like she went through damn near fifty different pills and liquids the past couple of years. It was fine when it was only the lowest dose of Prozac, and she wasn't on anything else. But once the doctors started adding on to the laundry list of pharmaceuticals I admittedly disassociated a bit, and just let my Dad handle it.

The doctors tried to get my Dad to administer the recommended dosages, but he couldn't do it, because my Mom had never really taken drugs in the past, and she was a lightweight when she did—she could very easily fall asleep from a cup of camomile tea—her body just couldn't handle the necessary dosages of the medication they were giving her to control her mind. Both my Father and I know instinctively, that's exactly why she didn't make it. 

In just a short week she was gone. I shouldn't have been so busy with work and everything else. I should have spent more time with her that week. But I didn't. And by the time I did make it back there, it was too late.

On March 22nd I went back down to hospice... On the white board above her bed where the doctors and nurses mark their rounds, there was a section called “Today's Plan” and underneath it just read “Chaplain Joe.”

The nurses told me that she was unresponsive, I said, “I know.” But, I really didn't know what they meant by “unresponsive,” it was a nice way of putting it, I guess... I could go into details, but those details aren't really necessary. I balled my eyes out. I tried playing Spirit in the Sky again and I heard myself mutter, “a little over a month, she should remember us sitting in my truck, right?” She didn't have much of a reaction to the song. I tried playing some other songs by other artists too; Heart and Jim Croce, I was scrambling trying to find something that would wake her up for at least one more minute so I could tell her I loved her and that it was okay. The songs didn't work though. I've been telling myself that even though she didn't give a reaction, she could still hear it. Mom always had very acute hearing, even as she got older.  If nothing else it was better than the Henry Mancini bullshit they had playing in the room before I got there.

Skyler showed up. She stayed with me in the room with my Mom. I probably only gave it about ninety minutes before I realized that I wouldn't be able to stop crying, or be able to calm myself down, and Mom simply wasn't going to wake up. Her face didn't even look the same. The vessel was still hanging on to a whisp of her essence (or soul), but I could tell she was on her way out. Whatever was left inside was being hindered by a body and physical mind that wasn't functioning anywhere near within normal specifications, and that must have been incredibly frustrating.

Around 1 a.m. on the 23rd is when hospice called to inform both my Father and I that Mom had passed.  It was a bit of a slap in the face and a punch to the gut all at the same time.

“Well thank you for letting me know...”

“We can only keep the body for four hours, you have to have it off the premises as soon as possible, we don't have a way to preserve it. Which mortuary is it?”

The logistics and practicalities of death are not things that go through your head when in mourning, they're shocking and offensive things to hear, but I didn't react angrily, instead I heard myself meekly respond with something like;

“Uh, it's not a mortuary or a funeral home, it's one of those 'donate your body to science' places.”

“Do you know the name?”

“No, I'm sorry... I'll have to get the information and call you back... I know. Four hours.“ 

My eyes were beat red and bloodshot, and the inside of my nostrils were swollen from sobbing off an on all night, going on eight hours. I was trying my best to hold back the tears if only just to save myself from the discomfort of my entire face being utterly raw.

I feel terrible about the way that everything down, but I have started to realize that her condition had been progressing for six or seven years, and probably well before then. It's an abysmally slow decline. The threads of her memories were like the ends of a frayed sweater of her mind, with one string being pulled that was slowly unravelling the whole garment. I had been trying to stay optimistic and not let myself go through any of the emotions that I was feeling at the time, but the result from that at the culmination of her death meant several years of pent up and unwrought feelings that hit me like a ton of bricks. Sheer helplessness.

One of the things that my Father said has rung true, Mom hadn't been the Mom that we remembered for quite some time. Her condition snuck up on all of us, and before being able to do anything constructively proactive, it was too late, she had already started to descend. And I'm not really sure what we could have done. From what I understand, dementia isn't preventable once you're in your old age, because no one knows exactly what causes it, or rather, it isn't caused by anything specific. Doctors just have a broad range of recommendations; eat healthy, don't smoke, stay a healthy weight, get exercise, drink plenty of water, etc. It's not an honest recommendation, it's just a list of things we pretend keep people in good shape and alive longer than others. There are plenty of people out there who don't do those things; eat terrible and unhealthy foods, smoke excessively, abuse their bodies in more ways than one, no hobbies, they don't read, etc. And they live just as long if not longer than the people who do everything the doctors tell them to do.

This life is not guaranteed.

The hardest part was not really being able to say goodbye. It sounds so cliche, but it's true...

I love you, Mom. We miss you.