pure unadulterated joy: crossing

This will be the last in a series about my mother. February 20th, 2012 will be the one-year anniversary of her passing.

The source of her constant pain that forced her into a nursing home? My fear of recurrent cancerous tumors was WAY off. She had multiple fractures in her spine. Maybe caused by taking steroids for years for her COPD, who knows?

I recall her last trip away from the nursing home. She was to go to the local hospital for an MRI of her spine. I could no longer transport Joy because her pain was intense and she couldn’t make it from the wheelchair into my car. Arrangements were made for the nursing home van to take her to the hospital and I would meet her there. I waited in the large lobby as sunlight streamed through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The van approached the door and the driver got out, went to the back and slowly lowered the silhouetted figure in a wheelchair to the ground. He wheeled her into the bustling lobby as I met them. Mom was severely hunched in her chair and she donned a pained smile when she saw me. In her hands was a large manila folder containing the doctor’s orders for the procedure she would undergo today. Her name was written in large print on the outside of the folder. The thing I noticed most about the folder were the 3-inch tall letters, written in bold black on a fluorescent green sticker DO NOT RESUSCITATE! 

Mom….you look like a school kid holding your report card.

Joy glanced down at the folder and replied, Yeah, and it looks like I failed!

The inscription inside the Big Book of Alcoholic’s Anonymous Joy gave to me in 1980

We tried to control her pain. Joy was on a cocktail of meds to regulate her failing systems; any change was a high-wire act performed without a net. The pain patch didn’t help much.

Two other developments lowered my spirits to their nadir:  Joy kept having bouts of pneumonia requiring treatment with strong antibiotics. One morning she pulled me close to her face as she lay propped on her bed. In desperation she revealed,

Kath, I can’t see!

I squeezed her hand.

I know Mom…..I’m so sorry.

I sat with her as we both absorbed the cruelty of Joy being deaf and now blind. Freakin’ macular degeneration…they say if you live long enough, you’re gonna get it.

I won’t go into details of her last days. Made the decision to call hospice, as she had given me her medical power of attorney. She trusted me to make the right decision and I did the best I could. Maybe we could have gotten her through this episode, but I didn’t see the point. It was time to let go and let Joy move on.

A letter I cherish, written to me after a girl’s trip to Dallas. We saw an art exhibit ‘El Greco of Toledo’.

One of her last lucid moments was talking to the hospice nurse. He got close to her face and told her he was from hospice and they were going to take good care of her. She was resigned, but she was definitely not HAPPY to see hospice and she told him as much. The nurse thought she was hilarious and full of spirit. Said he loved her spunk.

Thankfully, Joy wasn’t in hospice care for long….only 2 days. Not sure what I expected from a dying person. Maybe I thought there would be lots of hand-holding and Joy would slip quietly into the night. That turned out to not be her dying ‘style’. Joy fought tooth-and-nail for every last precious breath and moment on this earth. I really didn’t expect this, but her dying was like her living:  she’d overcome many setbacks and she wasn’t going west without a good fight! She didn’t need or want any hand-holding or hair-stroking…..the battle was hers to wage. I was simply an onlooker. Good thing we hadn’t left anything unsaid.

What did I learn from Joy? Here are some things I keep in my heart.

1. It’s never too late to start over.
2. Never….ever….stop learning.
3. Don’t judge a person on their possessions or lack thereof. It’s a gift to be comfortable around all sorts of people.
4. My children are extraordinary.

One of my last little notes, written in Joy’s increasingly shaky handwriting.

5. The Texan is a Saint, and I am never to bad-mouth him.
6. Surviving awful experiences can make one stronger.
7. Always trust your Higher Power…this is the path to true serenity.

Thank you, dear reader for sharing my remembrances of my mother. I wanted to write some truths of her life to help myself and hopefully shine a light on the difficulty of alcoholism and addictions in general. Seems no one is untouched these days. Redemption is always out there. Joy found it through God and Alcoholic’s Anonymous. I spent many-a-day in Al-Anon trying to find answers for myself.

This has been a difficult, but ultimately triumphant series, I hope.

Please check back, as I will be posting some lighter, more humorous blog posts. Oh…and lots of pictures of a certain grandson and an adventurous wiener dog! Did I mention I caught Roxy-Doxy Tebowing after a spectacular tennis ball catch the other day? Oh….lawd-eee, that dog!

Redemptive love to all.

pure unadulterated joy: dancing with skeletons

Everyone has skeletons in his closet, but not everyone has taught them to dance….my pastor, Burt Palmer in church last Sunday.

Joy’s big moving day dawned cold and clear. The Texan, the Sprouts, the in-laws and anyone else we could throw a lasso over helped us with the move to the nursing home. Mom remained stoic even though the move was complicated for her. While the nurse reviewed Joy’s condition and talked with me about her medications, the others dutifully brought in her precious belongings and beloved family photos. Faded photos of her parents, brothers and sisters, and lots of shots of the grandchildren were hung close to her bed.
A favorite photo of Joy’s mother and her twin sister
Joy’s hearing had deteriorated to basically ‘non-existent’ in recent days. Her hearing loss was profound, but she took pride in being able to read lips when a speaker was standing in front of her. Now, macular degeneration was robbing her of the ability to read lips. I was her lifeline to the world. I brought some wide-tipped, black magic markers and a note tablet to the home and asked the nurses to write a note and hold it in front of her to aid communication. She was different, but not demented.

If any one’s family tree had been stunted and wrecked by the disease of alcoholism…it was surely Joy’s. I experienced firsthand how the sinister disease had touched the lives of her brothers and sisters…even how it had wreaked havoc on their families. Many novels are waiting to be written filled with the unusual exploits of my family. Think Angela’s Ashes (by Frank McCourt) times 10. Once in a great while, I’d ask Mom about her childhood and she would clue me in.

She once told me of how abusive her father became when he drank. By all accounts he was a brilliant, perfectly civil man, but drinking brought out his dark side. Joy said she and her brothers and sisters hid in a bathroom when they heard their daddy hit the front door drunk. They lived in an upscale neighborhood of Oklahoma City called Nichols Hills. Seems Joy’s father did pretty well for himself during the Depression years. They often took in relatives and helped feed the neighbors and others struggling at the time. Mom recalled her dad coming home one evening and all the kids scrambled to the bathroom to avoid the destructive fallout. They could hear shouting, their mother crying and objects flying around the house. The episode must have gone on for some time and the children fell asleep in the locked bathroom. Joy’s memory was of getting up the next day and getting ready for school. As she walked from the house to the sidewalk, she saw the lovely curtains gently blowing out all the broken windows. Bits of destroyed furniture were scattered on the lawn. She said she cried as she went to school that day thinking of her beautiful, destroyed home. The incident was never spoken of again.

Another favorite Joy-story involved her preparing a speech for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union meeting. She was about 12 and she was entered in a speech contest for the WCTU to decry the dangers of drinking alcohol.

Early WCTU poster

Young Joy set her keen mind on writing and memorizing her speech. One afternoon, her father and a neighbor-friend asked Joy to recite her speech for them. She recited her speech on the front porch as her dad and the neighbor drank liberally from an open fifth of bourbon. She recalled walking over the passed out neighbor as she went back inside the house. The competition occurred a few days later in front of a large audience inside a packed church. Joy remembered hearing some of the youth delivering passionate speeches and scathing remarks about the evil of drink. Readying for her turn, she rehearsed the lines in her head. She stiffly strode to the podium. Silence. Throat-clearing. Nothing came to her. She looked at the packed house. She looked at her family beaming at her in expectation. Still nothing. Young Joy stood alone for an uncomfortable while trying to collect her thoughts and gather up the opening words to her finely prepared speech. Still nothing. She left the podium….unable to recall a single word.

It was getting late at the nursing home. The busy-ness of the first day was almost complete. The sweet nurse asked us if we would like to eat with the residents in the dining room.
Joy in her room meeting a sweet, sweet baby. This visit raised her spirits.
Might as well jump in with both feet, Kath. Let’s give it a try. Will you eat with me?

I wheeled Mom to the dining room where we sat at a nicely decorated table. Joy furtively looked at the other residents. One impeccably coiffed lady was dangerously close to falling headfirst into her mashed potatoes. Another man constantly chattered to himself and struggled to find his mouth with his fork. There were helpful aides feeding some of the residents. Everyone wore a large bib….some of them made of big pieces of molded plastic to catch the run-off. Joy and I weakly smiled at each other and tried not to notice how different this dining room and it’s residents were from her previous residence.

We ate quickly and hightailed it out of there to finish up some chores in her room. The Florence Nightingale-of-a-nurse who tirelessly helped us all day approached Joy in the hall.

How did you enjoy your dinner and the dining room? she chirped.

It’s not baaad……if you don’t mind eating in a morgue! was Joy’s acid reply.

Right then and there, Joy became one of Florence Nightingale’s favorite residents. Me?….my heart was racing and I promised myself I’d call the cardiologist in the morning.