Friday, March 13, 2015

I love you. I love everybody..

A series of text between my sister and I

Monday AM -
Me: Hows mom?
Elisa:She's been in and out of it. Her friend Sandy was here yesterday.
Me: I thought she might let go after that. I wonder if she's waiting for her birthday.
Elisa: That's what I was wondering. PS What do I get her?
Me: Hah. I was thinking that too.
Elisa : I got a cup that U can decorate. I thought maybe I'd a friend who can draw do some artwork on it.
Me: That's nice.
Elisa: Maybe flowers. She isn't eating at all. How long can a person go without eating?
Me:  I think maybe two weeks.

Monday 3:00 PM

Elisa: Mom suddenly in extreme pain. I called hospice gave her more morphine and lorazapam[anti anxiety drug]. He said he thinks that will make her sleep. He also hinted things could be settling down. I think that his way of saying she may die soon.
Me: I'm sorry. I wish I there was something I could do.
Elisa: Dad's asleep. I don't want to wake him yet. This is hard to watch...You are here with me. Thanks
Me: Sounds rough. I'm sorry.
Elisa: She's struggling to breath. Sounds all crackly. She's just staring at the ceiling.
Me: I'm sorry.
Elisa: She's just sitting here watching The Barefoot Contessa making guacamole. That's fitting for mom. I told her I loved her about a half hour ago she said I love you. I love everybody!..

5 minutes later my sister called. She was pretty sure my mom had stopped breathing. I walked her through how to take a pulse. She didn't feel anything but she wasn't sure. I'd been through this before with someone, and I knew that it was really hard to convince yourself that someone didn't have a pulse. I told her to call Hospice so they could send someone to check. 30 minutes later my sister called back. Hospice was there. My mom was gone. I had that feeling you get in an earthquake, like the ground around me was suddenly not stable. I felt a crackle of electricity in the air. I felt a deep sadness and a deep relief.

I have a tradition, partly based on Jewish tradition and partly just something that comforts me. I always burn a candle. But the only candled we had were scented and after burning those for five minutes I didn't think honoring my mo with the scent of a brothel would be fitting. I ran to to town buying as many little candles as I could. I also bought a Jewish Yahrzeit (memorial) candle. I came back and lit them. I know it seems silly, but these would keep me comforted for the next 24 hours.

As I looked at my little tribute I realized that it included the view of Mt Rainier and I remembered one of the last things my talked about was growing up in Seattle. She knew we were moving to Vashon Island and she told me about how they had cousins who had a summer house here. She got a happy look in her eye as she told me about playing on the beaches and looking at a big Mountain. "It was beautiful"

The blurry days

The week was mostly a blur of mom's dark, sad room and conversations and reminiscences that mostly avoided discussion of the inevitable. My dad, and even the hospice nurse, would talk about her care like this was going to be a long time thing. I know my dad knew there was only a matter of days or weeks but I wasn't going to be the one to burst the bubble he'd created for himself. Fortunately my mom was swimming in a drug cocktail that I'm sure at least dulled the physical and mental pain she was feeling

The big event of the week came on Tuesday when the hospital bed arrived. This was clearly something that had been stressing my sister out and I promised we'd help. The obvious thing that had to happen was that mom had to be moved to my dad's bed while the old bed was taken out. The less obvious thing to everyone but me and my wife was that the room was so filthy with bits of  food and tissue, and old clothes and newspapers and who knows what else, it had to be cleaned. We were determined to get do this. It was something concrete that could be fixed.

My sister moved my mom to my dad's bed which for a minute brought out her old self, yelling and complaining and tantruming. After 20 minutes of hearing my sister and dad pleading with her to calm down. I decided to play "bad cop." I really didn't want to do it; I didn't want me being a jerk to be one of her last memories but we needed her to calm down. So I went in to my dad's room and stared her in the eyes and told her she needed to cooperate. There was a flash in her eyes of that scary anger I remembered from my childhood, then her face softened, then a pause, then..."Okay."

My sister, Elisa, my wife Lisa, and I  scrambled like maniacs to get the bed out and the room clean before the hospital bed was due to arrive. We filled 3 bags of trash and I vacuumed for a solid hour. We finished just as the doorbell rang with the new bed. And it really was worth the work. It must have been the Lexus of hospital bed, sleek and comfy looking, not like what you usually see in a hospital.  It would be the last place she'd live and it made her comfortable. She could at least raise and lower herself and get some sleep without being contorted like she was in her old bed.

That was the night I decided to extend my time in California for more days. The routine had been to go down and eat with her. But the night before  had been busy, and noisy with my dad, sister and wife and I in the room, so this night  I went down alone. The two of us ended up talking for hours. Nothing profound, but there was a tone, and quality to her voice that was unlike anything I'd ever heard from her before. She was calm, but a little childlike, but also peaceful in a strange way.

 Food had always been her passion, even now the Food Network was playing quietly on her TV(it made me hate Guy Fieri just a little less, knowing that he was comforting my mom).  Lisa and I had eaten sushi for lunch and then gone to a Mexican market and had told my mom about it. For dinner we had ordered Chinese takeout for everyone. In between talking about her dad and our family trips she would start talking about the great ceviche she could get at the Chinese restaurant. Or she'd talk about the great Mexican Market where they had lovely sushi. I sat there politely, internally knowing that even after her stroke she was never this confused. 

At one point she reached over and grabbed a lipstick which she smeared, childlike on her lips. She looked at me, opening her eyes wide and then said "If I don't put on my lipstick I  will die." That chilled me to the bone.  I was unsettled enough that the next morning I rescheduled my flight home.

The next days were more of the same. Some nights me talking to her by myself some nights with my dad. On my last night there the three of us sat in her room(my sister was working). She was drifting more and more. And my dad was struggling to keep the conversation going. It was natural and unnatural at the same time. It was sad and not sad the same way.

When I left the next day. She asked if she'd see me again. I didn't say yes or no; I knew the answer. But I said I'd come back down as soon as I could. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said "I love you." That's not something I had heard from all that much as a kid, but I said it back with my voice choking, and meaning every word of it.

I don't really remember my flight home except that for the first time in years I was seated next to a guy who wanted to talk. I didn't want to be rude but I couldn't handle that today. Thank God airlines let you put your earphones on the whole time. I landed in Seattle starting a mental clock of how much longer I thought she'd last.

(more later)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The beginning of the end.

Time contracts and inflates and contracts again when a crisis is happening. If I look at a calendar I can say it was two weeks ago yesterday that I got the call that my mom was going to become a hospice patient. But whether in my brain it feels like 2 days or 2 weeks; I really can't say for sure.

My wife and I flew down on the Friday after that call from my sister. The day of the flight I found myself embracing time. This is something I do when I'm stressed, like when I have a deadline or a meeting I don't want to go to. It's like a way to buffer myself from the actual dreaded moment. The drive to the ferry was 20 minutes, the ferry itself another 20. The plain ride 2 hours, the drive to my parents another 90 minutes. 240 minutes before the dreaded moment where I'd see my dying mother. We got a bonus 20 minutes when our bus to my parents house got stuck in traffic.

With no more time to avoid the inevitable my dad picked us up at the bus stop. I had seen him 6 weeks earlier when I'd gotten the news that my my mother was barely eating and had lost 30 pounds. He's 83 and looked it then, but he looked worse now. Pale and maybe heavier and far more aged than he looked then. He looked exhausted and sad; my dad NEVER looks sad. He reiterated how bad she'd look. I knew she would, but somehow hearing it from one of the most optimistic people I know  made it more real.

We got to their house and after girding myself for a few minutes we made our way downstairs. The house has been, and still is in bad shape. The carpets which used to be white are stained and dirty and worn. The kitchen, which I had spent 2 days cleaning last year had dishes and dirt and boxes all over it. There was barely room to put our cups of coffee. The downstairs of their house has always been dark and a little dank. There are no windows to brighten the hallways and the rooms are hidden from light by trees. 

My head swam and I could feel my heart in my throat as we walked down the filthy, darkly lit stairs. I felt like I was in a horror movie. We walked into the room and the first thing that hit me was the smell, a deep heady mixtures of sweat, sickness, and though I might have been imagining it, death. There laying on her bed was my mother. 

During this illness she'd stopped dying her hair and it was grey, but not the elegant kind of grey that movie stars like Katherine Hepburn had; a dull sad grey. I'd seen her 6 weeks earlier and she had easily lost 20 pounds down to her current 106. Her head looked large and out of proportion to the rest of her body. Her cheeks seemed swollen. But it was the eyes that got me. A mixture of pain, sadness and despair. She couldn't even hold up her head to say hello.  I said hello and she got teary. She hadn't seen my wife in several years and when Lisa said hello my mom started to cry. My heart started to break a little like it would do a little more every day that week.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

We Need To Go Over a Few Things

A year ago I was in California when my mother went to the ER after feeling weak for several days. I was down there taking care of my parents while my sister was away and I often refer to that as the week I broke my mother. But my sardonic joke became far less funny a year later when my mother was taken to the ER, almost exactly a year tod the day, for similar symptoms. That would be bad itself, but it was her sixth hospitalization in a year.

I knew my mom had gone to the ER but the drill had been that she'd go  in for a few days, get stable and then go home. The doctors had been talking about giving her a colonoscopy for a few months so when I got a text from my sister saying  that she "needed to go over a few things" with me I figured they were about to finally do it and that my sister, Elisa, was going to tell me the risks.

For some reason I always associate bad news with the weather. It was a gorgeous late winter/almost spring day. I take a ferry to get home and I always feel like my day is finally coming to an end when I get off the ferry and take the 10 mile drive to my house. I'm usually in a good mood and this was how I felt that day. 

The sun was out, it was warm and I was ready to head home and unwind, when my sister finally called.  There was something in the tone of her voice. She'd been dealing with my parents for a long time and she was usually good at sounding detached or even calm. But not today. She started the call by saying, she had really bad news. It was still sunny, but in my memory I now see dark clouds. I don't remember everything but I remember random bit and phrases. "Too sick, frail, colonoscopy would kill her. Nothing more the doctors can do. Six months to live. Hospice"

HOSPICE. I was very familiar with the idea of Hospice because, ironically, my mom used to volunteer for Hospice. I knew it was about dying people. There was a lot of information but the takeaway was that there would be no more medical treatment of any kind. It would now be what is called Palliative Care; essentially keeping the patience comfortable. Apparently it involved getting a hospital bed delivered to the house and lots of morphine. 

I don't really remember the rest of the call or even my drive home. It remains in one of those strange clouds that my brain reserves for bad news.  I just remember hanging up with my sister and spending the rest of my drive with my brain swimming with thoughts of death and planning

(To be continued)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Get me out of here

I"m not sure how much longer I can take working in this nuthouse. The nerf dart wars are enough to drive a man crazy.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

You've got To Have Friends...

I've never been one of those people who can make batches of new friends easily. I've always admired those people who can go into a new situation and genuinely and with deep affection come away with several new friends. I'm not shy, but I'm quiet and a little guarded and it takes me a bit of time to make friends. The difference has always been that when I do make friends they stay with me, in my heart or in real life, forever.

I was an awkward kid growing up with a very affable dad who was one of those people who could make friends at the drop of a hat; still does. Unfortunately I also had the influence of my my mom who is deeply skeptical of new people and maybe a little paranoid about their intentions. There was also the matter of her being an alcoholic with an erratic and unpredictable personality and I was always embarrassed and a little scared to bring friends over because I didn't know if they'd get the Dr. Jekyll or Dr. Hyde; .As I've grown older I've begun to think that the parents of some of my friends may have been worried about having their kids at my house for those same reasons.

All of this made me guarded and reserved. But what I did have going for me was my dad's genuine interest in getting to know people. I share a bit of his reporter's nature and I love letting people tell me about themselves. But there's also that other side too,  so while I'm really loyal and genuinely interested I also don't reach out to new people quickly. Living in Seattle hasn't helped. It's a reserved place and it's hard to get to know people in the best of circumstances.

I've gotten better over the years. Between meditation and aging and a need to connect I've gotten better at reaching out. I used to have intense "social anxiety" which the meditation and trying to work though it have softened. I think the friendships that I do have are good ones based on a bedrock of genuine affection, respect and loyalty.

As I look back over my life and places like Facebook, or Linked In I see just how many people I haven't had much contact with over the years. There are so many that I've sort of let slip away. The Hersh brothers with whom I spent some of the best years of my life running a summer camp, my high school friend Jack who was by my side for years. My friend Michelle whose hunkered down and started a whole new wonderful family; though I've managed to keep marginally in touch with her via Facebook over the years. And then there's my strange, amazingly talented friend Roger who through Facebook I've learned is an improv comedy and bi-lingual theater actor in Tokyo.

Then there are those I've had no contact with like Julie, my fiercely feminist friend whose couch I spent many a night sleeping on at UC Santa Cruz. I haven't spoken to her in 20 years but I've looked her up over the years and she seems to be happy with a young child and husband.

I don't quite know how I've drifted from those people. It's probably a combination of time and distance not to mention age. When you get up past 50 years go like weeks and you suddenly look at a calendar you realize that it's been 15 years since you said hi to someone rather than 15 days.

I have more recent friends for whom I make an effort keep close. Some have moved on geographically but  with all of them I try to keep in touch either IRL or via Facebook or texts. I don't mind looking at the calendar and seeing a few days have passed without contact but I don't want to see another 15 years having passed me buy.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sometimes Life is like a Sitcom

My dog decided to give me a small heart attack today. We're temporarily living in a fairly rural area right now. We live in a  neighborhood with cul-de-sacs and lots of houses, but it sits hard against acres and acres of woods. To add to this there are many loopy streets, and virtually no street lights. It can be confusing and dark.

I get up really early and let Harry, our dog, out to do his business. I usually close the door for a minute or two and he comes running in to get his breakfast as soon as I open it. Today is a Friday and I don't work so my wife did this routine before she left this morning. He was acting like he need to pee when I got up so I let him out. When I opened the door a few minutes later he didn't come running. In fact I called him and he didn't come running. A little odd, but not totally strange. I left the door open for a few more minutes and still no Harry.

 Now I start to get a little worried. I'm wearing sweats and I throw on a coat, no shirt, put on some sandals and grab a flashlight. I walk down the driveway and stand on the corner and call him; still no dog. Then I walk to one of the spots I take him for his walk which is a little woody area with a wooden school bus shelter. I stand there and call him and still nothing. Meanwhile I can hear the occasional car on the outer streets and visions of Harry getting hit come to mind. After walking in several directions I still have no sign of him and I'm getting really scared. It's dark, it's foggy, the streets are confusing and there's precedent for Harry wandering off in the past.

Several years ago, in the neighborhood we usually live in we left the front door open and Harry wandered off. Once we realized this, I went out looking for him. And just like one of those old Benji movies I met a string of people who had "just seen him going that direction." There was the gardening guy, the older couple, the meter reader and finally, 6 blocks later, a mom who smiled at me and told me that her kids had found him and were trying to find his home. Sure enough a block or two later I saw two little kids walking Harry with a makeshift rope leash. They walked up like out of a movie and said "hey mister. Is Harry your dog". They handed him over and cooed over him just like the last seen of a Disney movie . Byyyeee Harrrry!

So now I get into a car and just like an old episode of the Brady Bunch, I'm driving around at 5 miles an hour and yelling his name. After doing that for 10 minutes I finally give up and decide I'm going to call my wife. I'm standing on the porch and I give one last call which I'm sure won't lead to anything but I hear a distant jingle like maybe a dog collar and I yell again, the jingle gets louder and on my third call I see a blur of activity from the bushes down the street. It's Harry!!!!! He comes running in the house  and I'm so relieved I give him a second breakfast. I'm standing there with tears in my eyes telling him I'm glad he's okay and in his usually calm detached manner he stares at me like I'm nuts.