I feel lost these days.
I just can’t seem to get my bearings.
A year ago, I recovered my then 89 year-old mother from her husband and his family of bottom feeders. She was being abused. The situation was a mess. My significant other and I drove a rental truck to Oklahoma and came back with what we could. We returned home without even having her Social Security card or her Medicare card.
Around the time of my mother’s arrival, my teenage daughter became severely depressed. It was hard to handle both of these situations simultaneously. At one point, I was traveling back and forth between two hospitals on the opposite sides of the Atlanta metro caring (as I could) for them both. I had stopped sleeping at this point, probably due to anxiety. As a result of this, I fell asleep and ran into the back of a car. No one was injured but the incident made me realize that the stress was taking a toll.
I continued working full-time as all of this was happening of course. Resources are (and were) scant.
It took a month or so to replace my mother’s vital documents. Securing care for her was difficult. Her Social Security nearly paid for a home health aid four hours per day. “Nearly” meaning I was paying when her money ran out. I was also buying her prescriptions and paying her medical co-pays.
Four hours of care per day was insufficient. There was a gap in time during mornings and afternoons that my mom was alone. I was constantly worried about what might happen.
After a harrowing night in the ambulance bay of the ER with my mother screaming in pain due to a bowel impaction, I became completely desperate and put mom in a personal care home for a respite. Mom could still put on a brave face then. I warned the woman who ran the house that while my mother could appear capable of doing things, her dementia was much worse than it seemed.
She was in the home for three days when she fell and broke her hip. I will always believe that no one at the care home was monitoring her.
Two days before my mom broke her hip, I had to put my daughter in the hospital again. I was in a meeting with the staff, discussing my daughter’s treatment plan when the woman from the personal care home called me. I raced off to the ER shortly after.
At the ER there was a long wait while my mother screamed and cried. She was in terrible pain. I begged the nursing staff to give her something for the pain. They finally gave her a shot of Ativan.
The ER doc eventually came-in and basically urged me to do nothing about the hip. He told me to allow my mother to die. I couldn’t imagine doing something that cruel. But I was so weary at that point, I couldn’t summon any anger toward his callousness. There were some truths to what the doc was saying. But ultimately, I could not consider allowing my mother to suffer like that. She had the surgery. They put a rod and screw in her hip.
But I wasn’t confident she would survive the surgery.
She was eventually admitted to a rehab facility. From there, she went to the nursing home. The rehab facility/nursing home is adequate but not great. My mom shares a room with two other women. Her room is shabby and it smells as bad as you can imagine.
Now that I know (probably) how my death will go, I can’t seem to shake those visions of my future self. My mom’s two sisters also died of Alzheimer’s disease. I know it is coming for me too. It’s an ugly future.
The other day, I went to a friend’s funeral. This was the 3rd funeral I have attended this year. It feels as if I am reaching that age. The time when every conversation begins with “is he or she still alive?”
My first meaningful experience with death happened when I was fifteen. My older sister died. My mom and I were on the scene moments after the motor vehicle accident that took her life. My father was working overseas at that time. My family was spread-out all over. Some in Montana, Washington State, Wyoming. I do not recall where else. But no other adult was near. I am the youngest of nine and it was just me and my mother that night.
It is now just the two of us again, at her end.
I used to have terrible stage fright. I can’t really point to a correlation, but in the process of caring for my mother, administering enemas, cleaning her bottom etc., I somehow seem to have become less afraid of most things. I will still have a bout of the jitters on occasion. When I encounter this issue, I remind myself that in the overall scheme of things, it is only a moment. We are given as many as we get. That is all. In the end, nobody will be around to remember.
I also used to be squeamish. Not anymore. These days, I march into the nursing home on a daily basis and the assaulting odorous wall of pee, feces and pharmaceuticals doesn’t even phase me.
It seems I have traded fears/phobias. I suppose I’ve traded up. I dwell on the big “why’s.” Why am I here? Why is anybody? I wish I could shut-down the voice that keeps wondering why. But I can’t seem to. I guess I should take comfort in the knowledge that every human on this planet is going through tough times, or will. But this fact doesn’t provide much comfort. It only makes me feel guilty for complaining.
So please pardon my whining about my troubles.
Years ago, I wrote a poem based on an article I read in the New York Times magazine. The article was about an event that happened in the 1970’s near a saw-mill in a small town in Siberia. The Ob river ran through the town. This particular year had been warmer than usual and the river was causing flooding and chaos due to a massive ice melt. Bodies began to surface in the saw-mill pond. These were people that Stalin’s henchmen had murdered during the purge. Later a cave was discovered under the saw-mill. Stalin’s people dug this. They purged the town of all who might be some hindrance to the regime by summoning people to the cave and executing them. Their bodies were retired to the river, which flash-froze them for forty years or so.
I could never make the poem work or get a handle on what this story meant to me. I approached it from a visual place but I think I finally isolated the part of the story that resonated with me and also eluded me for a long time. Many people interviewed for the article had been children when their parents, grandparents, and other adults in the town disappeared. They found their fathers and mothers that spring. I can’t say why, but somehow I feel that this is what the universe would have. That the lost would be found. And it comforts me in an odd way. This doesn’t seem to make much sense but to me it somehow does.
Maybe I will make another attempt at rewriting the poem sometime.
For now, I navigate this forest of uncertainty and stumble upon things that confound me. Maybe they mean something. Maybe not. Maybe I will adapt to being lost. The only thing I am sure of is that life ends. And that I feel lost.