Vital Signs


The moon outside my window looks just like a wedge of lemon, the rind clearly visible and the lighter, fleshy part looking ready to be sliced and placed on the rim of a glass.   This window is my lifeline, my only reference for knowing if it’s morning or if it’s evening.  This is unsettling and not unlike the feeling of being in Las Vegas.  I never really liked Vegas, where there is no difference between day and night, the casinos reek with mysterious choky smells, bleeping bells and buzzers underscore murmurs and music, people stagger from too much booze, and gambling goes on twenty-four/seven, ad infinitum.  They say that what goes on there, stays there, like this place, where people come with wild hopes of beating the odds and conflicting premonitions of unimaginable loss.

We play the numbers, all of us.  Up and down the hallways we come, looking up at the screen where the numbers are posted.  Most of the numbers are in the 66-80 range and people smile, nod and continue to play with confidence.  Our number is up to 148.  Concern creeps in, knotting up my stomach.  A dreaded yellow ribbon cautions above her chart – AFIB.  We’ve seen this before, the other night, when the doctors shocked her, gave her miracle drugs and she converted back to normal heart rate.  We greedily grasped that straw and smiled at our good fortune.  Game on.  The doctor warned us that she couldn’t keep going back and forth like that.

Was it just this morning that her vital signs were stable and we watched the sun come up together? Momma holding on to her bed rails trying to get a better look, me wanting to put beautiful images into her failing mind.  Miles from any body of water, she had seen an aircraft carrier on the horizon. I started to correct her, tell her that it was just the trees in the distance and streaks of color in the morning sky, but she was clearly in a happy place, remembering her younger years with daddy.  I took advantage of her surprising discovery and got her to talk about the time that my grandfather put her on a bus from Richmond to Pensacola so that she could marry her handsome lover.  It was a familiar story, one that I could tell almost verbatim, but without her exuberance.

“He was a fighter pilot,”she gushed with pride and we watched together as she pointed out the airplanes taking off and landing on the ship’s deck.

“That huge carrier looked like a postage stamp to the pilots when they began their descent,” she continued.

“Oh, wow! Yes, I see it,” I affirmed, and I swear I almost could.

I’d acknowledge anything, grateful that she was her sweet, dear, childlike self again; not exactly my mother, but much preferred to the rebellious and accusatory woman who distrusted me and everyone who tried to help her. Her mood swings had become as unpredictable as her blood pressure and enzyme levels.  I was still wounded from an earlier confrontation.

Yesterday, her paranoia had been so great that she feared someone in the hospital would take her jewelry from her. She had given my sister her rings and told her to keep them safe.  Apparently, I was looking quite suspicious because she looked at me with mean, glassy eyes and yelled out, “I want my rings!  You are trying to take my rings.”

“It’s me, Momma,” I quavered, “and it really hurts my feelings you would say that.  You know that I would never steal from you.”

Yet she kept screaming, “Give me my rings, I want my rings” until we retrieved them from her purse and taped them to her thin, shaky fingers.

Her rings, one from my daddy, one from her daddy, were of very little value to anyone but her.   I shook off my own shock and hurt and tried to quiet her by looking at her frightened face and taking her hands in mine.

Her poor hands and arms are covered in ugly black bruises, evidence of failed attempts to find a suitable vein for her IV’s.  My hands are dry from gallons of hand sanitizer applied each time I help her with the potty.  I rub her nearly translucent skin, pray quietly, will her to relax, and struggle to keep my tears from bursting forth.  She did, thank God, calm down.

In the midst of her anxiety, she flashes a huge, infectious smile.  This is always her reaction to the chiming of Rock-a-bye baby on the loud-speaker, announcing a newcomer in the hospital nursery. I immediately think of the approaching birth of my own grandson, due to be born in February.  We are expecting him to enter the world within a few days of my mother’s birthday.  She will be ninety, a fact that she cannot quite comprehend, something she has proclaimed with pride since the day after she turned eighty-nine.  “Can you believe, I’m going to be ninety?” she would work into every conversation.  I skimmed over the thought that my own grandmother died at the age of eighty-nine.  “Didn’t make it to ninety,” Mom said.

So, momma has been where I am now, sitting helplessly watching her own mother tire and fade, change and die.  Next, it will be my daughter keeping vigil over me. I am filled with a mixture of fear, sadness, privilege, loss, wonder, purpose and awe.  “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”  I cannot continue this stream of thought just now.  I will try to write about it later, capture it in words, understand it better, remember how this feels.

I am glad I am not alone, I have brothers and a sister. Normally they carry the brunt of the care for Mom.  They live close by her, I’m the out-of-towner which causes conflicted emotions of guilt and relief.  My siblings and I are anchored to a place and time where nobody else was, and we affirm our collective story as we affirm each other. Sometimes, we question if we even grew up in the same house, with vastly different versions of many specific events. We are family and we lean in to each other. We are in pain and we cope using the tools we have depended upon before. When life gets hard, we react; one makes a plan, one gets drunk on beer, one flirts with denial, makes jokes and cries, all of us pray.

There will be difficult decisions ahead no matter what happens during the next 24 hours.  We say to each other, “One day at a time,” a worn out phrase from an old struggle of daddy’s, only now it seems that one hour at a time is more accurate.  There is a new language that we must rapidly learn with words like funeral arrangements, hospice, long-term care, assisted living, veterans benefits, medicare, in home care, DNR, power of attorney.  It’s confusing, overwhelming and difficult.  We wonder where the money will come from.

God forgive me, when I question if it would have been better for my brother to have found my mother a few hours later, when it would have been too late to revive her. That thought is immediately replaced by unequaled gratitude for the past few days of being in the presence of wonderful, unpredictable, beautiful, strong, hilarious, amazing, Mom. Together we are living a nightmare which is frequently interrupted with lavish blessing and I realize that life is not a mystery, it is the mystery, the miracle we cling to.   “She’s lived a full life,” I have said to others and I wonder if that will comfort me at all when my mother is gone.

The moon is lovely.  Am I the only one who appreciates its glow, its shape, its position in the black sky?  I receive it’s infusion of hope.  I want to squeeze every bitter, juicy drop of that lemon-shaped wedge into an icy drink and swallow it down.  Cheers.

59 year old Grandmother gives birth


Me in my 72nd month

I must have been crazy to attempt this at my age. Some people were very pessimistic. Then again, the people who love me most, encouraged me to go for it. There were many times that I thought I would lose her, when I had to mentally say good-bye, but somehow she managed to survive. Last night  my much-anticipated miracle baby entered the world with all the hoopla I could muster.

The gestation period began six years ago with A Boy, A ball and a Book. In the early stages of development, I timidly shared my news with a few friends. Their reaction gave me courage and though, to most people I was barely “showing”, I was glowing! And then I started blabbing about it to anyone and everyone who would listen. I am pretty sure that I bored some of you to death, you know who you are, and that you began to think that this blessed event would never happen. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Despite the odds, my book began to grow, a book created to honor the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, specifically, Janelle aka. “Grandmama.”

Preparing for this baby, I purchased a LLC agreement, a copy right, a business license, a checking account, a credit card, a web domain, an e-book developer, a pay-pal account, a Facebook page and a blog. I studied and read articles about publishing, dabbled in internet social marketing, asked advice of others, took advice from some, and weeded through scads of on-line help sites. I learned the difference between Android and I-things, tablets, pads, nooks and kindles. Apple, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Google, Go-Daddy, and WordPress, are now old friends, sometimes irritating, sometimes helpful.

Like my baby, I too have grown, especially in my struggle with control and collaboration, initiative, patience and faith. Here are a few things I have learned in the long period between conception and delivery.

Lessons About the Birthing Process

  1. You are overjoyed at the initial prospect
  2. You think and dream about her all the time/wonder what to name her
  3. You are afraid that you are inadequate for the task/self-doubt escalates as time goes on
  4. You hope that your baby will be early, or at least on time, beautiful and healthy
  5. False labor occurs over and over/you have to relax, focus, regroup and wait
  6. Real Labor eventually happens/much more is required of you than you ever imagined
  7. There is a lot of excitement and pain/labor lasts a long, long, time
  8. When you feel like you cannot push again, you push again
  9. During transition, you may feel like cussing out everyone in the room.
  10. When she arrives, you quickly forget all about the struggle to get her here
  11. There is joy
  12. You wonder about doing it all over again

To view the “baby” Click Here


( This post has been linked to:)  GRAND Social