pure unadulterated joy

(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.

proud ‘person of walmarts’

It was our familiar ritual for six years.

Mom and I trekked to walmarts weekly to fetch supplies. It would have been easier for me to do her shopping for her, but how much fun is that? Picking her up at the home, assisting her to the car, driving to walmarts, and situating her old bod in the zippy electric cart was the stuff of Joy legend.

It irritated Joy that the elderly advanced-aged greeter liked me. She thought his crush was unbecoming and she expressed her displeasure.

What am I supposed to do, Mom? Run from the old guy? My hugs make his day! You’re just jealous!

She would’ve LOST it had she known he stalked me while I was shopping and plied me with free candy. Texan, are you reading this?? 

I offered to help her shop. She replied she didn’t require my assistance. After she laid a tire track up the back of my skinny ankle, I was ecstatic for her independent spirit! More time for me to hang out on the ammo aisle. I was always ready to hear the announcement…..

Attention walmart choppers, because of an unfortunate motorized cart incident, we will no longer have fresh eggs available for sale today. Would the daughter of Joy please report to the security office?
****slinking out of the store****

As her world grew smaller, the forays to walmarts became more important.  It was one place she could have independence. She’d gleefully drive where she damn-well pleased in her motorized cadillac.

Sometimes I’d catch a glimpse of her in the aisles….I swear the woman touched each blessed item in the store! She’d buy everything from nicotine gum to brassieres, sugar-free yogurt to micro-fiber panties. She desired the best deal and she’d study the advertised discounts. Stopped counting the number of times she carefully checked her receipt and we had to go back to customer service for the $.50 or $1.00 they’d stiffed her.

The last time this occurred, I bribed her with $2.00 cash if we could just let it go and go home and put our groceries away. She was unamused and muttered I hadn’t learned the real value of a dollar. 

It usually required Joy about 1 1/2 hours to complete her basic shopping. The time she wanted to purchase a digital camera and a photo printer required a little longer.

What are you wanting a digital camera for, Mom?

I want to take pictures of my friends (at the home). I want to print pictures of them so I can remember what they looked like. (This was after a couple of her bestest girlfriend bridge buddies passed on)

The 83 year-old woman was a picture-snapping demon for weeks on end. She took pictures of all the residents, the office help, the girls in the cafeteria, and the maintenance workers. All photos were taken ‘down-low’…wheelchair perspective only. The photos were odd…always looking up at the subject, but she was proud of them.  On special occasions, she would frame them and give them to the person as a gift.

I went to walmarts by myself this week. Didn’t see my greeter boyfriend…must’ve been his day off. I got my shopping done….quickly….efficiently. Home in a snap. Sigh.

Check out this website and chuckle

Can you spot Joy and me?

Discount shopping love to all.

her birthday

Today would have been her 84th birthday.

Joy and her older brother, Scott
She was just six days short of the big day.

Her passing makes the memories of her 83rd birthday all the more precious. I think we devoured a dinner of steak and crab legs last year to celebrate. Had some family over. She relished every minute of her birthday.  Said they NEVER served steak and crab legs in the retirement home.

The mood of our chicken coop here On a Chicken Wing and a Prayer has been…well….sad, is what it’s been.

But we take solace in sharing our fond and funny memories of Mom….Grandma…. Aunt…Sis…….Joy. She was one-of-a-kind and we will miss her. The hospice nurse told me I would never go anywhere without her and she’d never go anywhere without me. I think that’s right.

With her ornery grandson

Birthday Joy love to all.