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.

christmas props

Some of you will remember MY BLOG POST about the Christmas Party at Mom’s retirement home last Christmas. It was my 3rd or 4th year to help lead the festivities for the residents. They are nice to ask and I’m normally happy to do it, but when the invitation came to please do it again this year…I was hesitant.

I didn’t wanna.

How could I go back out there where Mom lived and where we spent so much time?

How could I be a cheery Christmas elf when the very act of being in the retirement home would fill me with sadness?

That’s it….I’d say I couldn’t do it! They would understand my grief. I didn’t want to face the way being there would make me feel. Nope. Nada. No thank you.

But then I heard her voice…..dammit….“Kath….some of those people don’t have anybody. Nobody. It would mean the world to them for you to come lead the party” 

Really, Mom….speaking to me beyond the grave? What’s up with that? O—K, I’ll do it. Now, be quiet!

I stewed. I delayed. I hemmed and hawed. I tried to come to a certain peace about being out there and how all of this was gonna work.

Then….I came up with the perfect solution. The shiniest, most perfectest, most baby Jesus-y Christmas prop EV-ER!! I’m totally, absolutely without shame!

You guessed it precious Chicken Wing reader……Baby G!!

People in retirement/nursing homes rarely get to see a baby.

One of my favorite residents. She’s always beautiful, happy and slightly ornery. Love her!

They NEVER get to see a cute baby wearing reindeer antlers!

The Christmas party for the residents today was a slam dunk. They loved seeing baby G.

Santa made a special appearance

Of course, I closed the party with retirement home bichon FREE-SAY extraordinaire….the fabulous waving Sophie. She wished everyone a Merry Christmas with her furiously waving paws.

Sophie and Santa in 2010

I’d say it went pretty well. It’s a milestone, for sure. Many of the residents spoke to me of their love for my mother, of her fabulous bridge playing and of her black humor. At times, I teared up….but it was OK, cuz usually the friend telling me the story was teary as well. I needed to hear the stories….needed to give and receive lots of hugs.

Overflowing gratitude to the Sprout for going to all the trouble of dressing up a newborn, a bichon and a golden doodle in Christmas outfits for their moment in the sun at the ‘home’ Christmas party. You are an outstanding daughter. Hopefully, you will not hear my voice beyond the grave. Love you, Sprout.

The Texan and I have not lost the necessary skill of eating while a baby sleeps on one shoulder. The Texan said G’s pajamas might contain a stray pinto bean

The Texan says he hopes Baby G doesn’t catch a bad case of the gout from being at the home today.

Hope your Christmas is filled with joy!

Shameless Christmas prop love to all.

speak no evil, hear no evil

Once a week I take Mom on a trip to the local walmarts.  I pick her up at the retirement village, drive her to walmarts where she basically terrorizes fellow shoppers with her nifty motorized cart.  Me and the ‘greeter’ are on a first name basis…could he be in love with me?  Our friendly relationship annoys Mother.  After obtaining sustenance, I unloaded her groceries from my car, and caught the elevator to the second floor.  A lovely lady (in her own motorized vehicle…they are de rigueur at the home…or heaven’s waiting room, as I fondly call it) smilingly wheeled up to us. (This is my mom, and this is the must-have scooter)


“O, Kath…..this is my best friend, Z!  I’ve been wanting you to meet her.”  I immediately remembered Z from a harrowing story Mom related to me a couple of months back.

One icy winter day, Z was riding in her cart near the dining room.  She was looking out the large windows at the lovely frozen lake.  (At this point you should know, Z suffers the debilitating effects of a stroke.  Her speech is impaired-she speaks few words.  The left side of her body is paralyzed and she has a nasty scar on the left side of her skull.  She’s lost some skills, but she has one of the brightest smiles at the ‘home’.)  As she was gazing out, she noticed a lady ‘walker’.  Mom and I refer to some of the pre-Alzheimer’s or early dementia folks as ‘walkers’.  For reasons unknown to us, these are the most energetic of retirement home residents and they continually stroll the halls, the sidewalks and the paths around the facility.  On this cold day, Z saw the lady ‘walker’ drop her purse near the side of the lake.  As the lady leaned to pick up her purse, she stumbled and fell totally into the frigid lake.
Z helplessly looked around.  No one else saw the incident.  No one was there to help.  That’s when determined Z took action.  She wheeled that cart around and sped back to the closest retirement home employee.  Being unable to communicate verbally the frightening incident she had just witnessed, she did the only thing she could.  She gripped the questioning employee by the hand and dragged her (with her functioning hand) back to the large windows and pointed to the lady in the lake.  All hell broke loose……the lady was retrieved from the lake, the ambulance was called, her blue body was wrapped in warm blankets and she was whisked to the hospital.  It was a rough time for the ‘walker’, but she recovered and is back at the retirement home.  It was the talk of the town for days and days.  Mom and I appreciated the irony that the ‘walker’s’ savior was a paralyzed mute.  Black humor is right up our alley.
I spoke to Z in the hall that morning.  I told her Mom had told me her courageous story.  Z took my hand and placed it on the hollowed-out scar on her skull.  “So Z…..you’ve had a stroke AND brain surgery to boot!”   A dazzling smile and a uncomfortably loud “YES” with a nod of her head.  “Mom tells me you are her favorite person to visit with…..you can’t talk and Mom can’t hear.”  Giggles all around and another shouted “YES”.  My mom and Z touched hands, exchanged glances and pointed and laughed at one another.  “Well Z, that’s quite a story…..you’re my hero for finding and rescuing that walker.  Unbelievable…..good for you!”
Z gave me her toothy grin and with sparkling eyes she proudly proclaimed…..too loudly……”I FOUND HER!!”
Indeed you did, Z.  Thank God you did.