Finally, a day to call my own, mostly because I have a car in the garage with a flat tire. Spent some time out in the yard this morning, wearing a warm jacket and looking for signs of Spring. I found them, too, giving my heart a full boost of hope for things to come: new buds on the lilac, the pussy willow, the Japanese maple and the grape vines on the trellis outside my office window; new green leaves on the ivy, the raspberries and the holly hocks; and of course buds on the ash, maple and birch trees. I’ve told the asparagus it’s OK that they have not yet poked their tender little heads through the soil. We can wait for them when Spring is in full bloom, about the time the tulips and the grape hyacinths appear.
Waiting has been the nature of my life since mid-November when my elderly mom, at 94, began having one problem after another where she lived at a lovely assisted living facility on Spokane’s South Hill: swollen feet, wounds on her shins where another resident ran into her with a wheelchair; loss of appetite; extreme dehydration, fatigue and renal failure, with paramedics taking her to the hospital on a Saturday afternoon, and then her sudden discharge Monday morning, in a wheelchair, to a skilled-nursing facility in the valley, close to our home, for a ‘long-term placement’ in early December. I asked the RN there exactly what this meant. She told me, quite frankly, “This is her new home.”
We engaged a mover, packed up her belongings, transferred some to her new room which also came with a roommate, a big surprise to us and to my mother. We gave away her furniture, having accepted other pieces along the way into our own home as she moved a number of times from an apartment here to an independent living facility, then to an assisted living facility and finally to the skilled-nursing facility. This is the last phase of her life, with an alarm on her bed if she tries to get up alone, and placement into a wheelchair with only random ventures with her walker, always accompanied by the physical therapy staff.
We are grateful that she’s safe now, hopefully with a low risk of falling, but at the same time saddened to see our mother, grandmother and aunt in a wheelchair. She wears a ‘clothing protector’ at meals. The most distressful part of this for me, her daughter, is that it does not bother her. I’ve even come to accept it as part of the necessary plan. She follows the rules ~ gets up when they say, showers with assistance when they say, and eats three meals a day when they say. They are loving and caring, with excellent medical assistance so far. We are blessed that she can receive such care as needed. They chart her food intake when she is not eating well. She’s down to 98 pounds now.
She’s begun to repeat phrases until visitors, including myself, must leave. You can only hear a loved one say she had ‘hoped the sun would come out today ‘ a dozen times in five minutes before you know it’s simply time to go, and that she is probably not really present with you. She still calls me Ruthie, and reminds me of a little girl now, so intent on wearing only dresses and not slacks and tops. As she smooths down her dress skirt I am reminded of my granddaughter, Jamie, who around age three announced that she only wanted to wear twirley dresses, and she did, too. Now my little mom is wearing dresses, socks and black shoes, which reminds me of Mary Janes. It seems as if I am looking at a little girl all over again, except in a big girl dress and in a wheel chair.
I am blessed that I could give her a Valentine this week, with a personal note that said, ‘I will love you beyond forever.’ She smiled, called me Ruthie, and told me that was really nice, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she understood what I was saying. I was giving her permission, whenever she chooses, to make her leap into forever, with my love and my blessings.
We’ve shared this moment, and I know, even though she forgets a lot of the past, that she remembers this. She has put the card on the small cabinet across from her bed. There it sits with its three red sparkling hearts on the front … hers, mine and my brothers, I think to myself. She knows she has been loved. She knows she will be remembered. She knows she has mattered. What more can any of us ask of this life?
So we continue for now. I join her for lunch frequently, take clean laundry several times a week, go for the 2:30 popcorn snacks or root beer floats, and have just discovered they sometimes have wine and cheese snacks, as well. She loves Candy Bingo and Quarter Bingo. Loves to sit in the sun. Loves to sit and watch people. I take my smart phone and share photos of the family when they appear on Facebook, or when I have a new photo of my own to share. No matter whose photo she sees, she thinks it’s her great grandson, Asher, our 6 year old who lives in Georgia, and her face breaks into a huge smile.
She’s like a little girl now in her dresses, socks and black shoes. She’s happy to be doing the things she does. She does not mind the wheel chair or the clothing protector at meals. She eats very little, saying when nudged to eat more, “I’ve had all I want,” and I know from the look in her eyes that she means life as well as her meal. And so we wait together, for the Beyond Forever moment to take place. I feel blessed to accompany her on this journey.