Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Necklace

There is a moral to this story.

A few days ago, I realized with a palatable start that I was coming up on the first year marker of Mother's death.  I was literally stunned for a moment, thinking it could not possibly have been a year.  But, it has.  On March 24, 2010, as I had just arrived to work - literally still waiting for my computer to come up so I could clock in - I got the call.  I was so shocked, I remember, that it happened that quickly.  I never would have imagined that to be the case.  All the turmoil of the past year and a half was over like someone had waved a wand and went "poof".

Many know this story.  The worst of everything was the struggle we had over the last few months where Mom was fighting so hard to hold on to some of that fierce independence that she was being self destructive.  I had engaged an attorney and was getting ready to go to court to have her declared incompetent to try and protect her assets because she kept trying to fund her jail break to flee back to Pennsylvania, and I was afraid she'd bankrupt herself.  I struggled mightily with that decision, and had met with her team of care givers and thought long and hard on it before deciding I had no choice, but I knew as soon as it happened, she'd be done with me, our relationship irrevocably ruined.  And it nearly was anyway.  As is typical with Alzheimer's patients, I have learned, the primary caregiver gets the brunt of the patient's anger and confusion over what is happening to them.  I spent a lot of time blogging about that of course; this was originally a blog started to help me cope with the stress of caring for Mother.  Her behavior made some sense really, we all do that to an extent:  the ones we're closest to are the ones we trust to take whatever we dish out.  But, always a woman with an edge to her, her anger, honed directly at me, was cutting.  It was hard not to take things personally because that is how she meant them, and it was much harder after Kelsey died and my nerves were as shattered as our lives.

Mom had been so proud of the fact that she had not been to a hospital since 1971 for a hernia (when I learned that my dad's cooking capacity was limited to grilling steaks and making eggs - we ate a lot of scrambled eggs in those few days).  As her health deteriorated, that record couldn't stand, but she fought the hospital staff every time, slinging the most awful racist slurs at her nurses, refusing medical care, cussing at me, tearing off her monitors and IV tubes.  When she was good and worked up, one could tell she was flashing back to a hospital she had likely worked in.  She would talk about specifics of the building that were not relative to the one she was in, or she'd accuse a nurse of doing or saying something she hadn't.  I remember making this observation to one of the nurses struggling to care for her one of the last times she was admitted and wondered aloud what kind of nightmare factory she must have worked in to be so resistant to being a patient now.  We'll never know.

She told everyone that Kelsey had been murdered at a drug party.  She told me that the paramedic who responded to the call came to see her one day and told her about it.  Of course, this was all delusion, but it was hurtful because it was indicative of how she thought of her oldest granddaughter.  Mom never really understood Kelsey's angst, so she dismissed her as a bad kid.  When Kelsey died, Mother seemed to have to make sense of it by making it something seedy.  I would have other residents of the nursing home say to me, "Oh, I hear your daughter was murdered."  That was not awesome.

And she wanted so to go home.  To here, where I am now - well, technically about 30 miles south of here.  That, I think, was the hardest of all.  I discussed it over and over with her care team, and always the response was the same.  To move her, with her laundry list of medical conditions, would be disastrous.  It was doubtful any facility in or around Washington (Pa.) would take her to begin with, but she wanted so badly to be back here where she began and where most of her family, including her one remaining sister, still live.  That was heartbreaking.  Knowing that we all have to die someday anyway, if I could have reasonably gotten her back here, I would have, and when she was first admitted to the nursing home, the goal was to get her to that point, but her body, worn from a good, long life, diabetes and Parkinson's, had other plans that her mind never quite could grasp.  But it became an obsession with her at the end.  She spent her entire day scheming how to get herself back home.  Distracting her from that thought process became the nursing home staff's main focus when dealing with her.

And then there was the whole adoption thing.  That always loomed a little, my wanting to know about the circumstances surrounding my birth, but realizing Mother was in no condition to tell me, and I couldn't be sure of the information even if she did.  That is still a mystery in front of me.

All of that went away like a light switch had been thrown.  As hard as those final months were for me, I wonder how arduous, scary and lonely they were for Mother.  So, I won't lie - no one who was around me during those months would believe me anyway - there was a measure of relief when she passed.  But, she was my mother, and I loved her.  I mourned her passing.  And I try to think of other things and earlier times when I think about her.   And there is so much good to recall, I have a lot of material to work with.  I hope at some point, all of that last period with Mom is hardly on my mind at all.  Still, even so, there were those moments when my mom came through the Alzheimer's and her true spirit showed through.  When that wry little smile would pop up as she was teasing one of her nurses, or when she would see Cheyenne coming down the hall with me to visit.  And finally, there is the necklace.

I was furious when the staff handed me a package from Mom's favorite mail order company, Danbury Mint.  I could not figure out how she got on a phone and placed an order, but knew she probably had some inside help from someone there (no one ever confessed to it).  I was terrified she'd go nuts and spend thousands on useless stuff she could not possibly use.  She was like an addict with that company - I guarantee their balance sheet took a hit when she went into the hospital and I began controlling her money.  The receptionist called me when the package came in - she went to college in my home town, so we had established a good rapport and she knew what I was struggling with.  I pondered what to do with the necklace for a day or so, finally ending up in the Social Services Director's office with it in my hand.  They all had the patience of saints - trying to negotiate peace between me and Mom those last few months.  The necklace was pretty, onyx hearts strung together, but it didn't seem long enough to go over her head, and that was the only type of necklace she really wore at the end - long beads that she could slip over her head and not muss her hair - which she was very particular about always.  I didn't know if I should give it to her and pay the bill, or refuse it and send it back.  What I ended up doing was sealing it back up as though I had never seen it, letting the nursing home give it to her and calling Danbury Mint to explain the situation and ask - actually demand - that they not send her any more catalogs.  They actually were beyond wonderful.  They stopped issuing catalogs to her and put a notation on her account not to allow her to order any longer.  My guess:  they've been through similar situations before.

That night I got to her room, preparing to look properly gracious when she showed me her new prize.  I was not prepared for her handing it to me.  She had ordered it for me as a present for taking such good care of her.  She would die a few weeks later.

On the 24th, I will slip it on in her memory.  And I will remember the moral to this story:  whatever old age, sickness and dementia does to our parents, they are in there somewhere, deep down inside, and they know the sacrifices we make and the love we have for them, and they return it to us as they can.  Love you, Mom.

No comments:

Post a Comment