(The first in a series about the days and events leading to my mother’s death in February 2011.)
‘Kath….I haven’t pooped in eight days’,
Joy confided to me in an embarrassingly loud whisper inside the retirement home restaurant. She’d worn bulky hearing aids for fifty-plus years and the woman lost her inside voice eons ago.
Meeting for lunch after the bustle of the 2010 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, I was ready to re-assume the mantle of more dutiful daughter. Other commitments of family and visitors relegated Mom to the back burner for the week between the big holidays.
|Joy at the 2010 retirement home Christmas party watching her elf lead the singing. She’s ready to ring her jingle bells on cue.|
Most of December found us visiting her myriad doctors to maintain our balance on
her health tightrope. Our three-ring circus included regular visits to a pulmonary physician for management of COPD (emphysema) and congestive heart failure, the nephrologist to keep tabs on failing kidney function and the weeping edema in her lower legs, and visits to the endocrinologist to keep her late onset diabetes under control. The required medications overflowed from several desk drawers.
|Christmas 2010 at our house. One of the Sprouts thought she needed her IQ challenged.|
Most days were salt water taffy moments for me-lots of pulling and stretching on my time and energy, but the combination failed to produce a sweet, tasty morsel.
Joy living in the retirement home was a godsend. A lifelong smoker, she had surgery for lung cancer some years previously. Until that time, she lived alone in a precious cottage the Texan provided for her. After the removal of a portion of the upper lobe of her lung and the follow-up radiation, we both knew her days of living alone were numbered. She stayed with us as she recuperated from her lung surgery. That mostly went well, except for the times I came home and found her smoking with her oxygen on. What makes a soul stubbornly continue to smoke when his life has been heroically spared by a highly skilled surgeon? Stupid addictions….I had the second fiddle music memorized.
‘This is totally unacceptable. I can’t work to save you while you simultaneously try to kill yourself!’
She proudly but weakly gathered her things.
‘Take me home, then.’
This arrangement did not last long. Mom was unable to care for herself. The retirement home was our answer.
Joy’s years at the retirement home were filled with friends, shared dinners, and bridge groups. Since she couldn’t hear, she studied the resident roster daily and worked diligently on learning names. She kept meticulous notes on people she met during lunch and dinner. She observed whose wheelchair was outside whose apartment and she reveled in stories of ‘rest home trysts’.
‘Why don’t you get in on the action?’ I asked.
‘Who says I haven’t?’
Before long, Joy was known as a happy resident who played a wickedly competitive game of bridge. She raced around the halls of the home like she was driving the Indy 500 fueled by her special oxygen pack. The home subsequently implemented a mandatory safe-driving education program for those residents using scooters. There had been a number of incidents. Although she denied it, I’m certain Joy was the cause of a mandatory safe-driving program. I had the tire tracks up my ankles to prove it. Sometimes Joy bristled when I christened the retirement home ‘God’s waiting room’, but mostly she chuckled.
In a week’s time, we would give anything for the happy laps and the friends of the retirement home. Today, we were off to the hospital.