I’m sure there are hordes of people out there (well, maybe three or four) who’ve been wondering what I’ve been doing with myself since my last post a month ago. And no, I haven’t been doing that, but I have been toiling away at the computer and will be bringing forth the fruits of my labor presently in the form of a compilation of my blog posts from “The Elder Care Underground.”
I got the idea from my good bloggy friend over at Lame Adventures who produced a book of her own with the help of Amazon.com’s Createspace self-publishing website. I had no clue it was even possible to do this, especially since I was a Word program “virgin.” (I guess Bristol Palin was right—we can get our virginity back!) But Amazon makes it relatively easy with templates to download and a book cover creator that’s fun to use.
Virginia at L.A. had hoped to publish her book by the last holiday season but had to shoot for allergy season instead. I had hoped to publish mine by my birthday this year—which is today, coincidentally—but I’m shooting for one of my birthdays this century. Actually, I’m waiting for another printed proof to arrive and hope to approve the whole enchilada shortly thereafter. Then it should go “live” on Amazon’s website for the low, low price of $9.95 plus shipping. I plan to have it available on Kindle also, for you advanced individuals who know how to run one of those.
I’m kind of a Luddite when it comes to electronics and prefer to have a physical book in hand. Maybe it goes back to when I was in school in the Dark Ages and we would get mimeographed hand out sheets from the teacher and we all would swoon from the smell of the ink they used.
Anyway, stay tuned for further updates. I have to say it is a real hoot to see my name on an actual book—even a 6″ x 9″ trade paperback as this one will be.
God bless technology. (And the folks who make ink.)
I picked up my mother’s cremated remains at the funeral home yesterday. Technically, they’re called “cremains” by the funeral home folks. An odd sounding word, at least to me. A euphemistic way of stating the facts.
You’re not exactly saying “cremated,” but you’re not saying “remains” either.
It’s like, if we combine the two by saying them reallyfast, we can fool ourselves into thinking what we have in that little cardboard box is neither one.
The funeral home director brought the box out from another room and placed it on the table in front of me. The gold ring my mother was wearing when she died was taped to the top of the box. The director wanted me to be aware of that. When we spoke over the phone earlier, he’d made a point of telling me that they’d retrieved it from her when she arrived.
I guess they want to avoid any possible accusations by the family of their not returning valuables. We do live in a litigious age, so you can’t fault them for that.
The director and his assistant, an older gentleman, were both very nice and accommodating. Since my mother had pre-paid for her cremation with The Neptune Society, all I owed was $37 for the copies of her death certificate.
When you hear all the horrific tales about people spending huge sums of money on funeral arrangements, it feels a little weird writing a check for only $37. No bronze casket with satin lining, gold handles or a waterproof concrete vault.
Just a cardboard box with her name on it and a gold ring taped to the top.
Since my mother wanted to be returned to California, we shipped her off to my son today. He, along with his two cousins (all surfers or paddleboarders), will oversee the scattering of her ashes in the ocean off the beach at the end of the street where she lived with my Dad for 25 years.
Who needs bronze caskets, satin linings and all the rest of it when you’ve got the whole Pacific Ocean?
Have a good trip home, Mom.
Notes from the Eldercare Underground: Final Edition
My mother passed away unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 93. I suppose at that age death shouldn’t be unexpected, but she had been doing pretty well right up to this week.
She attended the big Christmas wing-ding at the nursing home on Tuesday last, where they really know how to put out a buffet line. One that rivals Las Vegas.
All that was missing was Wayne Newton.
(Although, they did have their one-man-band of an entertainer, the erstwhile fourth grade music teacher turned comedian, musician and master of ceremonies of these events.)
And on Wednesday my mother got to listen to the Christmas concert performed by her two great-grandkids and their school, so that was a nice touch.
So yesterday it came as a surprise when the night nurse phoned me at 5:30 am to tell me they were transferring her to the hospital ER because her breathing was labored and rapid. After I got there (and after several tests) the ER doctor, whom we’d seen before on one of her other trips there, told me he thought she was just shutting everything down and all they could offer at that point was a room and comfort care. She was constantly administered oxygen and was given a small dose of morphine to quell any pain she might be having.
I was asked by a nurse if I wanted what they call “heroic” measures, like a ventilator or CPR to resuscitate her if her heart stopped. Fortunately I had her advance directive and medical power of attorney and knew that this is not something my mother would have wished.
So I said no.
Not exactly “pulling the plug on grandma.” More like not putting the plug into the wall in the first place.
My daughter spent the day there in her room with me (a great help) and around 5:00 pm my mother’s labored breathing slowed down and became more shallow. After about five minutes, it stopped altogether.
Last Tuesday, when we went back to her room after the party, she re-iterated that she really didn’t care for it here and said she was going to go back to California. I have heard this so many times in the 13 years she’s been in Texas that it didn’t bother me like it used to.
I just said, “Well, if you can swing it, I’m all for it.”
She’s getting her wish.
Her ashes will be going back to California (as per her request), probably this summer, when we go out there to visit my son and his family.
Before we left her hospital room so the funeral home folks could take her away, I bent over and kissed her on the forehead and told her good-bye. In my mind I added, “Say hi to Dad for me.” I know they’re together again after almost 15 years.
And that’s the one good thing to come out of all of this.
(Many thanks to my faithful “Eldercare Underground” readers. I really appreciated your comments and all of your encouragements.)
Note from the Eldercare Underground: Sibling Scorecard Edition
My brother lives in Colorado with his wife, so consequently he’s not involved in the day-to-day stuff with our mother’s care in the nursing home like I am.
Prior to Mom’s moving there, I was also the one who made sure her bills were paid before penalties were levied, and I was (and continue to be) the one who schlepped her to all of her doctor’s appointments—including ER visits on my birthday and wedding anniversary and five hour marathon sessions at the retinal ophthalmologist.
Do I sound just a teensy bit resentful about the division of labor here? Well, if I do….to quote Olympic gold medal swimmer Ryan Lochte, “Jeah!”
But through all of this, at least I knew my mother was somewhat aware of what I was doing for her, and also somewhat aware of what my brother wasn’t doing.
I’d asked my brother a couple of months ago to please send some photos of his new granddaughter, my nephew’s little girl, to our mother. Mom doesn’t remember who’s who in the family but she had anticipated that baby’s birth because she had given up hope my nephew would ever get married and have kids. Well, he didn’t get married, but he and his girlfriend did have Baby H.—and she’s adorable.
Mom loved to look at the early photos of Baby H. so much I thought it would be nice to have more. And it would be a way to keep her connected to what was going on in the family, if only briefly.
So, no big deal. Just some copies of photos I’m sure they had, being the proud grandparents.
Weeks went by. No photos. Then about a month ago a package arrived at the nursing home with a bunch of “Country” magazines from my brother, along with a note that said my sister-in-law would be sending photos soon.
As of Tuesday, there still were no photos. (I had sent a terse email to them requesting the photos, please, and got a reply from SIL saying she was working on it, but her computer printer had run out of ink.)
Come on, how hard can it be? No other responsibilities but the two of them. No grandkids nearby to tend to—her daughter’s kids and my nephew’s new baby are all in California. Surely they would send the photos in time for Mom’s birthday last week….but, no.
Meanwhile, I’m down here in the trenches.
So today when I went to see my mother, I found her lying down for a nap. As I put away the laundry I’d done at home for her, she told me my brother had been there to see her today and had brought her a bunch of magazines. Hmm….There were no magazines, other than the ones he’d sent earlier.
I looked in her dresser drawer and found some new photos of the baby.
In her mind, she’d conflated the two things, the magazines and the photos, and threw in a visit from him to boot.
So now, not only do I see to her day-to-day care, but my brother gets points for showing up even when he didn’t.
Ya just can’t win.
Note from the Eldercare Underground: Birthday Edition
My apologies to my faithful readers out there who’ve followed the ins and outs of my relationship with my mother over the past year. I haven’t forgotten you, so I thought I would share the latest in our ongoing saga.
My mother has settled in pretty well at her new digs, the nursing home next door to The Hotel. She’s been there almost two months now.
It’s hard to believe we’re coming up on the anniversary of the fateful fall in her home which brought about her hospital stay and subsequent tenure in two nursing homes and the retirement center.
Time flies when you’re trying to keep your head above water.
There have been good days and there have been not-so-good days. The last three days definitely fell into the latter category. For some reason, she began listing heavily over to the right when she was in her wheelchair.
She looked like an extra on the film “Titanic.”
The nurses were just as puzzled as I was. They didn’t think she’d had a stroke, but it was difficult for them to keep her upright. They also had trouble getting her to walk, even with help, so she spent most of her time in bed. She looked godawful.
Her 93rd birthday was just days away and it happened to fall on the day the nursing home would be celebrating all the September birthdays. I really had hoped she could attend the party, but things did not look promising.
I feared she was in a downward spiral.
So when I entered her room today, I was pleasantly surprised to find her in her wheelchair, dressed and upright. Her hair had obviously been done since it was swept back and poufy and sprayed with enough hairspray to plug the hole in the ozone layer.
Whoever had done her hair had also taken the time to apply some eyebrows with a reddish-brown brow pencil. It gave her a somewhat surprised expression. She looked for all the world like Joan Crawford in her early days. (I was glad the extra clothes hangers I’d brought with me weren’t wire ones.)
Her aide, Laura, was fussing over her like a mother hen and even got her up to walk to the bathroom with the help of a walker. Amazing.
Laura told me she’d asked my mother earlier how old she was and she’d told her “Thirty-five.” I guess if you get to pick an age, thirty-five ain’t bad.
At the appointed time I wheeled her into the dining hall and we took our place at a table near the piano. A local couple was going to entertain, with the husband singing and playing guitar and the wife accompanying him on the piano.
While the other folks were slowly arriving, my mother pipes up with–
“There’s my boyfriend.”
I thought she meant the elderly gentleman from her wing of the nursing home who was just being brought in by Fernando, one of the aides. No, she meant Fernando.
(By explanation, last week she’d told me that Fernando was making “advances” to her. It turns out after he lifted her out of her bed, he’d given her a hug. This isn’t the first time she’d misinterpreted attention from a much younger male. A few years ago when she went to see our now retired dentist, he’d put his arm around her when he was leading her into a different operatory. She later told me she was sure he “wanted my body.”)
To kick things off, Larry, the activities director, read the names of the birthday honorees, asking them to state their age if they so wished. When he came to my mother, he said he didn’t need to ask her her age because she’d already told them that she was thirty-five.
(Note to self: be careful what you say because word gets around the nursing home like wildfire.)
Everyone laughed, but my mother had really set a precedent. Almost all of the ladies who came after her said they were somewhere in their thirties, except one lady who stated she was “twenty-nine and holding.”
My daughter, Sarah, and her husband, Kris, had joined us for the festivities. Kris’ 38th birthday is coming up in a couple of days. My husband, Rick, who turned 76 last March, stayed home to tackle some mowing before the rain (yay!) they’re predicting starts tomorrow.
Rick had mentioned yesterday he was 38 when Kris was born.
This is important to remember. There will be a test later.
There was cake and punch and sing-alongs and even a humorous song about Rocky Mountain oysters that got the ladies guffawing. A good time was had by all.
When it was over I asked my mother if she wanted to go back to her room and open up the gifts of new clothing I’d brought her. She looked around and said, under her breath, “we can’t just leave a houseful of people.”
In a way, it’s kind of nice that she thinks the nursing home is truly her “home.” I convinced her that it wouldn’t be rude, and I wheeled her back to her room.
After opening her presents and commenting on the lovely flowers from my brother and Sarah and Kris, Mom said:
“Rick looked pretty good today.”
I told her it was Kris, not Rick, who was here today for the party.
After I returned home, I told my husband what she’d said. He got a good laugh from her comment. He said yeah, he’d take being 38 again instead of 76.
And my son-in-law, Kris, thought it was pretty funny too, except I told him he got the raw end of the deal. Although, I did have to point out she’d said he “looked pretty good.”
I think Fernando better watch out. No telling what a 93-year-old lady with lacquered hair and new eyebrows might do next.
Note from the Eldercare Underground: Spirit edition
Since moving my mother to the nursing home, my daughter and I have come to the agreement that rather than constantly contradicting my mother when she says things that are a little loopy, we’ll just play along with her.
Really, what did it matter if she got the two of us mixed up, or if she told my daughter that she needed some bread and milk from the store? It’s a lot easier on all of us just to say something agreeable and let it go at that.
Besides, she usually forgets what she was talking about in a few minutes anyway, so trying to set her straight on the fact that my grandkids aren’t my kids is just an exercise in futility. By the time we get the matter somewhat settled, it’s disappeared like a will o’ the wisp into the air.
Speaking of will o’ the wisps…
Today I went by to see how she was doing and was pleased to see they’d gotten the humongous recliner in her room operational. It’s controlled electronically by a remote and the other day they hadn’t quite figured out how to get it working.
Today my mother was well ensconced in it in front of the TV watching the Travel Channel’s show “Bizarre Food;” a show about something called “stinky tofu.”
As I went about putting away her laundry, my mother looked up brightly and said, “Guess who came by to see me today!”
When I asked who (thinking it might have been my daughter and her kids), she said, “Honore.”
Okayyy….playing along, I said, “What did she have to say?”
Mom kind of rambled on about her doing something with her group of friends…or something. The plot line kind of veered here and there and was generally unfollowable. So I just said, “That was nice that she came to see you” and dropped the subject.
Honore was my mother’s best friend from childhood. They pretty much grew up together and remained lifelong friends. I remember my mother telling me funny stories about Honore’s pug dog, Cherry Boots. They used to paint the dog’s toenails red and it seems it had a problem with frequent flatulence.
“Oh, Cherry Boots!” became somewhat of a catch phrase in my family whenever anyone was a little…um…gassy.
Honore came from a wealthy family, whereas my mother did not. The Depression slammed my mother’s family hard (my grandfather’s quitting his job as a railroad conductor just before the 1929 stock market crash didn’t help either) but Honore’s family came out unscathed.
I remember my mother telling me that she (my mother) had good enough grades to go on to college, but that was out of the question. Honore, on the other hand, wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box, as the story goes, but she got to attend USC because her parents had the dough to get her accepted.
That was the time-honored story but, really, my mother’s version of things has never been absolutely reliable and often has a way of getting torqued around to where she comes out the aggrieved party who’s vindicated in the end.
Be that as it may, the two of them remained friends and in contact with each other all through their lives—up until a couple of years ago when Honore passed away in a nursing home in California. She had no children, but had befriended a nice lesbian couple who took care of her until she had to move to the swanky (according to my mother) care facility.
My mother has forgotten that many of her old friends have died.
One was the mother of a childhood friend of mine, and when my mother casually mentioned last year (before her fall and subsequent move from her home) that she hadn’t heard from Irene for awhile, I foolishly reminded her that Irene had passed away several years before Dad.
She looked up from the lunch we were sharing and said, in a bewildered tone, “I didn’t know that.”
I immediately felt bad that I’d told her about Irene’s death. There wasn’t any reason to set her straight about it. Now I know better. I just let her go on about Honore, knowing that, for the moment at least, she felt good that an old friend had come by for a visit.
And, who knows? Maybe she did.
I’m sure there are many of you (well, two that I know of for sure) who may be wondering just what’s been going on in The Eldercare Underground.
The answer to that is, briefly, lots.
Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version.
My mother suffered three falls in the space of five days. The last fall landed her back in the ER on the night before Independence Day. Ironic, no? Only two hours were spent at that facility this time and she was discharged back to The Hotel, with no broken bones. Luckily.
The ER doctor, The Hotel’s manager and I came to the agreement that my mother was too risky a prospect to be allowed to stay where she was. Sandra, the manager, was very concerned for her safety if there were a fire and the aides couldn’t get her out of the building under her own power. The bouts with pneumonia and the shingles (and her own aversion to staying mobile) have left her with little to no stamina for walking or even standing for any length of time.
So we moved her to the nursing home next door. This is the third facility she’s been in since her initial fall at home back in October. The paperwork has become a real snap. I could do it with my eyes closed.
I got her one of the larger private rooms (didn’t want to repeat the whole Annie debacle again) and I’m very grateful to the owners of the nursing home for taking $600 off the monthly rate on her room. Their son and daughter-in-law lived across the street from my mother and they had become quite fond of her (yeah, more irony) so they graciously offered to discount the price of her room.
The whole complex of four nursing home/rehab/assisted living facilities is run very well and everyone couldn’t be nicer.
We moved my mother in on Friday and I’ve been by every day since then to make sure she’s doing okay and also to get to know the folks who’ll be taking care of her.
Yesterday when I got there, my mother was napping, so I just put away her clean clothes and left without waking her. She looked very small and frail, lying atop her bed with a white thermal blanket pulled up to her chin.
We couldn’t bring everything over from The Hotel to put in her new room, so we limited it to an antique dry sink/dresser, a favorite chair, her TV, and a couple of pictures for her walls—one of them a still life she’d painted in her younger days that I’d always liked. There already were the hospital bed (which I covered with the new comforter I’d recently bought her–with matching pillows), and an enormous recliner that someone had left.
When my mother sat in it, she looked like Edith Ann, of Lily Tomlin fame.
So when I left yesterday, I was feeling somewhat depressed that here it had come down to this: a life reduced to one room and a few belongings.
A downward spiral.
Today, when I popped into her room, she was seated in her wheelchair, all pink-cheeked and smiling, chatting away with the activities director about what she likes and doesn’t like to do.
And, I noticed she’d had a manicure—when just last week she refused to have the one I had set up for her when she was still at The Hotel. Gah.
She was keeping up her end of the conversation pretty well, except when he asked her if she knew where she was and she said,
Then he asked her if she knew who I was, and she said,
“Yes. My mother-in-law. I mean, my former mother-in-law.”
That got a good laugh.
Larry, the activities guy, told me that she had participated in a rousing game of balloon volleyball that morning—and liked it. He had great hopes that she would become further involved in the goings-on at the home. My mother smiled and seemed enthusiastic.
Then Larry left and the litany of complaints began. She told me she couldn’t wait to “quit” this place and that she wouldn’t live in Texas if you gave it to her, etc., etc.
I left feeling much better about the whole move. If my mother is quiet or indifferent, you know something’s wrong.
If she’s full of complaints—all’s right with the world.
Yesterday, the 4th of July, was also our wedding anniversary. Thirty-six years of wedded
blister bliss! The second time around for both of us, so I guess the marriage “took” this go-round.
My daughter invited us to stop by their new two acre place out in the country to partake of an anniversary cake she’d baked and to enjoy some fireworks they got for the grandkids.
Last year the entire county was so dry from the persistent drought, fireworks of any kind were banned. Even the annual fireworks display at the fairgrounds was deemed too risky to go forward, so it was cancelled for the first time in county history.
You know fireworks are a big deal in Texas when you see a stand at every major crossroads offering the unbelievable bargain of “Buy one, get eleven free!”
Lord help us.
Our son-in-law is a police officer and had to be out at the fairgrounds to help direct traffic for the hordes of incendiary-device-starved gawkers, so my daughter wanted to save most of the fireworks for when he got home.
Now, after living out in the country for about 30 years, I get a little goosey about setting off flaming things for fun. Even though this year has been better drought-wise, we’re still not where we should be with rainfall totals.
That being said, the all-wise county officials decided it would be okay to celebrate the 4th in the usual fashion, so we found ourselves going through the pre-packaged fireworks box trying to find a couple of things just wussy enough to satisfy Memaw’s trepidations but at the same time spectacular enough for the kids’ enjoyment.
We settled on some fairly small “fountains” that, when lit, were supposed to send up plumes of colored sparks.
The first one went off without a hitch, so we moved onto a little bigger one, which performed as advertised on the warning label.
About those “warning labels”—-mainly they said “Light fuse and GET AWAY.”
All the fireworks were made in China and had flowery packages, making the contents look completely innocuous. We know better, don’t we?
So after a couple of the fountains, my daughter and granddaughter decided they’d try one of a set of three separate fireworks called “Ladybugs.”
The Ladybugs were round, flat on the bottom and about four inches in diameter. Painted red with black spots, they looked very cute and innocent. The warning label on them said they would rise off the ground, spin around and emit sparks (along with the “Light fuse and GET AWAY” standard warning.)
To me, it brought to mind images of those pin-wheel fireworks of my childhood in the 1950’s, the kind that do a lot of spinning and sparking, but not much else. Okay, we’ll give it a try.
My daughter, the official pyrotechnician of the evening, put one of the bugs down on the dirt, lit it, and ran back to stand with us chickens.
Initially, the Ladybug did as advertised—it lifted about six inches off the ground, spun around while emitting sparks—but here is where it diverted from the script.
It emitted an ear-splitting whistle, rose 40 feet into the air and arced into a trajectory that took it over the treetops, disappearing out of sight somewhere deep into the neighboring two acre property, like a failed North Korean ballistic missile.
We all just stood there with open mouths, in awe of the entirely unexpected outcome of the launch.
My daughter (in her defense) said, “But the lady at the fireworks stand said people really like these!”
I replied, “And people really like to put cherry bombs down toilets too, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”
We anxiously waited to see if there were any flames or other repercussions from the errant missile, but nothing happened. We decided the Ladybug was the capper for the evening (at least until Dad got home) and delicately put the remaining two back on the kitchen table—away from any flames.
Somewhere in China, a warning label writer is chuckling.
….Or, four and a half hours in the ER with my mother, who has a case of shingles.
Throughout the whole stay, my mother maintained a stoic composure.
The only time she showed any displeasure was when she signaled to me with her hand to come closer and said in a stage whisper, “Did you notice?”
She motioned to the nurses passing back and forth in the corridor and said,
Even with part of her torso covered in blisters, she still managed to wield her keen powers of observation.
The day wasn’t a complete washout, though. I did get to enjoy a birthday cake with my daughter and her family.
But I made a mental note to get the shingles vaccine, pronto.