Here today, Gone today

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I awaken to the light, the sun coming through the window. Happily drowsy, fresh from a good nights sleep, I celebrate morning. It’s morning, at last and I get to go sledding with my sister. Momma said we could last night as we watched the snow falling furiously like there’s no tomorrow.

“Mae, wake up” I whisper before turning towards her bed. “They have cancelled school and we get to go sledding,” I say, hardly able to contain my excitement. But, something is strangely different.  I do not see her bed. An unfamiliar armoire looms where her bed should be. I’m confused. How did her bed simply go away? Where did this ugly piece of furniture come from? Where did Mae’s bed go? Where did Mae go?

“Mae,” I yell. But there is still no answer. “Mae!”

It suddenly hits me.  “My God, this isn’t even our room,”  What is this place?  I don’t know this place. I don’t know how I got here. I feel sick.  I swallow the vomit that is inching up my throat.  I am rigid with fear. Panic, I think. This is what panic feels like. Take a deep breath. Think.

A stern-faced woman is looking at me from the open door to my room.  She seems tired and frustrated.  She looks mad.  I think she is mad at me.  I have never seen her before. “Where am I?” I ask her. “Where is my family?”  She shakes her head and asks me if I need anything.  Suddenly, I have to pee.  I bolt upright and put my feet to the floor.  A loud buzzer goes off.

“You know you cannot get out of bed without help,”  says the dreary woman as she helps me to a chrome walker.  A walker?

“What happened to me?” I ask.  She smiles weakly and follows me to the bathroom.  “Does my family know I’m here?”

She responds this time.  It is like she is playing a tape recorder.  “Your family comes to see you everyday,” she drones.  “Your grandson from Houston came yesterday, don’t you remember?”

I have a grandson?  Where is my mother?  She will come get me and take me home.  There has been some mistake.

I see a table on wheels beside my bed.  It holds a tray of food covered with an ugly brown plastic dome.  I curiously open the lid.  The food looks disgusting.  They tell me that I must eat.   I try, I really try, because if I don’t eat I will never get out of here.

That’s odd.  Every nauseating bite that I manage to swallow does nothing to lessen the amount on the plate.  “I can’t eat this stuff,”  I cry.  They give me thick white milky stuff to drink.

Oh, thank God.  My son is here.  He has found me.  I ask him if the other children know where I am.  He has the same look on his face that the weird lady had.  Disgust?  Pity?  Sadness?  What is that look?  He doesn’t answer me but starts to tell me about the happenings in his life.  Of course, I know he has a new grandson, but I cannot remember the name of his wife.  I do not want him to think I am loosing my mind so I smile and nod like I give a damn.  Streams of words are pouring out of him, but I do not know what he’s talking about.

“Do you want to call your daughter from Houston,”  he asks.

“No.” I’m a little concerned that I can’t remember having a daughter in Houston.  “Where’s daddy,”  I ask him.

“Daddy’s dead, Mom.  He died 20 years ago.”

Oh, now I remember.  He fell.  No, I fell.  That’s where all the bruises on my arms came from.  “Look at the bruises on my arms, son.”

My arms look wrinkly, like an old lady’s.  Who’s arms are these?  Am I old?

My son shows me pictures of people he thinks that I should know.  I pretend to be interested but what I’m really thinking is, whats my boyfriend doing right now? We are going to the football game on Saturday night, our second date.  I wonder if he’ll kiss me.  I think I want to marry him.

“Did you see that old woman across the hall with a baby doll,”  I  ask my son.  There are crazy old people in wheel chairs all over this place.

“How long have I been here?”  I hear myself say.  My son looks chagrined.

I change the subject, “How is Judy?”

“She’s great mom. She came to see you Wednesday.  I’m so happy you remember her now.”

Of course I remember my daughter-in law.  What on earth makes him think I don’t?  He’s probably confused.  He works awfully hard.

My son fills me in on his three children and his new job and I ask when I can see his new grand baby.  I love it when he comes to see me.  It feels so wonderful to talk with him, just the two of us.  He is such a good boy.  He always makes me laugh.  We talk about old times until he has to leave and go to work.  He kisses me and says good-bye.  I smile wildly as I watch my handsome husband walk away. He’ll be home for dinner tonight.  I wonder what I will fix for the two of us.

Now, where is my mother and what time is she coming to get me.

 

 

 

 

 

Vital Signs

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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.

Wealth

Occupy Wall Street, have a Tea Party, become a Democrat or a Republican, Vote, Protest, reform Health Care, Tax the very wealthy, introduce Fair Tax, Socialism, Capitalism, Welfare, Jobs, Housing, Bail-outs, Bankruptcy and Debt are the emotion-laden words and phrases that one hears ranted and spun everyday on every social media platform.

The enormous debt that we have incurred seems to be the insurmountable problem.  And it is apparent that we are unlikely to ever pay off the debt that together and/or individually we have accumulated.  Expecting people to pay when they have no means does not seem ethical any more than allowing some people to walk away from responsibilities and insisting that others fulfill theirs. Then there is the question of who falls into which category and what standard of measurement should be used.  Because debt does not magically disappear, Someone has to pay for it.

Is there anyone out there that has a solution to this crisis?

Really?

Listen up, it’s only money.

The real crisis is of the human heart and the personal debt incurred from borrowing the good, lovely, pure and holy things in life and trying to pay for them with actions motivated by envy, greed, hate, and lust. Add to that the accumulated interest of the damage inflicted upon others by such actions and the realization of spoiled opportunity and wasted life.

What would be a proper response if someone were to settle this account and pay off all debt?

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