Life gets harder sometimes. I have been scrambling around, trying to find a new job and getting prepared to say good-bye to all the people at work I am so fond of. It’s been difficult even to think about that without getting teary-eyed. Then something happened that knocked that whole stressful scene out of the park.
My Mom has been having a terrible problem with severe dizziness. It is worse when she’s sitting up, so she spent weeks and weeks lying flat on her back, and as a result she lost a lot of muscle. That’s a dangerous thing when you’re nearly eighty years old. Although she has Brenda to help her, Brenda told me Mom needs more help than she is able to give. In the week before I lost my job I had been trying to hire someone else to fill in for Brenda (believe me, that made losing my income even more upsetting to me). Eventually, Mom ended up in the hospital when she was unable to get out of bed. The hospital resisted admitting her at first, because she is apparently completely healthy. All the tests they have done to figure out what’s happening in her head have been inconclusive.
On Friday the 13th I called her to say hello. Calls to her have been short because her arthritis makes it uncomfortable for her to hold the phone to her ear, but she talked to me for about forty minutes. She gave me her instructions for her funeral and messages to give other people. She said, "I’m dying. I can feel all my systems shutting down," although no doctors agree with her on that point. In fact, a decision had been made to send her to a special facility for intensive physical therapy, but she indicated she wasn’t going to bother with that, as she was going to be dead in a few days. If she didn’t agree to participate and make progress, she would be booted out of the facility. As she doesn’t have the financial ability to hire full-time help (and neither do her children at this point) that would mean she’d end up in a nursing home.
Robert and I immediately drove to Michigan. We met with my brothers and Mom’s priest, Jannell Glennie, who gave us good advice on how to deal with someone in my Mom’s state of mind, to get her focused on getting better. I am glad to say we were able to use that advice and she’s doing much better now, and working very hard at physical therapy. She can walk for quite a ways with her walker, but balance is her main problem, and she needs help standing up and sitting down.
The main reason she is feeling better is that she has some hope her dizziness may be correctable with surgery. We are waiting for an August 14 meeting with neurologists, and have asked for a consult with an opthomologist. I don’t know what will happen if it turns out there isn’t anything we can do for her. She always has to be hopeful, and she has so many plans for the future. She loves living in her house and having kitties around. So please keep her in your prayers, that she’ll be able to do that soon.
I had been wondering how the hell to find the silver lining in the black cloud of losing my job, but I guess it is that I have the ability now to stay with my Mom and do what I can to help her through this tough time. (Robert had to go back to work--Mom’s friend Ed Noonan has lent me a car so I can go back and forth from the facility to see her.) I also get to help my brothers, who are going to be carrying the load of her care after I go back to New York (around August 15). I have been collecting all the stuff she needs for her medical visits and keeping her mind occupied.
I am also working almost around the clock sorting through boxes and boxes (and they go up to the ceiling in some of the upstairs rooms) of papers that my Mom, the archivist, has collected. She has saved photographs and news articles about all the things our family has been involved in for over fifty years, and THAT’S A LOT --Boy Scouts, bagpipe band, city politics, St. Katherine’s Church, hundreds of museums projects and business ventures, and artistic pursuits. She also seems to have saved every graduation announcement and wedding invitation (for every wedding) of every kid we ever knew. Many of those things are more important to other people than they are to any of us, so I am sorting out zillions of piles of things that we will eventually spend billions of dollars in postage, sending out to millions of friends and relations.
This has me feeling overwhelmed at times. I’m afraid that last night a small bottle of vodka and some orange juice (and brother Chris, too) helped.
The most overwhelming part is knowing that the work my Mom has done is valuable, but I don’t know to whom. She has been working on a history of her family and the little town in Kansas where she grew up. She has rolls and rolls of microfilm copies of old newspapers, and boxes of ancient photographs, and she has typed up perhaps 100 years' worth of old letters and diaries. I feel a great weight of responsibility to make sure it goes where it is supposed to go, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t feel that Andy’s kids are very interested in this history, and Tim’s Lindsey is too young to be interested. All I can say is, "Argh!"
Anyway, I have to get ready to go to see Mom. I am trying to spend about six hours every day with her at the facility. I have been reading old family letters to her, then I’ll box them up and send them to the Kansas contingent of cousins, as many of the stories in them are about their childhoods. I have also been reading Mom letters from her sister Joanne, who died only three weeks after Mom got married in 1949. Joanne was only one year younger than Mom, and was the sister she was closest to. Mom said she was so upset about Joanne’s death (she had an unexpected allergic reaction to a medication), and felt so terrible that her sister didn’t get to have her own family and live a longer life, that she has hardly ever spoken about her. To her surprise, Mom has found she enjoys hearing the letters. They’re all about boyfriends and dances and "wolf hunts," and she realizes now that Joanne packed so much into her twenty years of life that it makes it easier to think about her.
When Mom was at her very low point, she asked me to take her cats. This is the only time that Robert, always supportive of me, raised an eyebrow. He loves me and knows I love my cats, but poor Alice’s latest blunder (she has decided the place to take a dump is in our new library, and she soaked a shelf of his books, ruining them) (I say, hey, that’s one way to get rid of some books around here...) has been rough on him. Creaky old Alice will actually tinkle in the litter box downstairs, then crawl up a flight of stairs to do this other business on the carpet. What the hell is going on in her senile kitty head? Thank God I have a carpet cleaning machine that works like a dream.
Mom has five cats, and with the exception of her kitten, they are quite timid. I’m not saying her cats are DUMB or anything (cough-cough) but even if I get one calmed down enough to pet it, it fails to recognize me the next day as "that nice lady who petted me," and I’m once again, "The intruder! Oh, God!" Not only do her cats not recognize me from day to day, they don’t recognize me from room to room. "Intruder in the dining room! Oh God!" "Nice lady with cat food in the kitchen. She’s probably OK." "Oh no! Intruder in the bathroom! Hide! Hide!" In spite of this, I am getting quite fond of one she calls Pookie, who looks like a big white watermelon with golden eyes. Let’s hope, for theirs and Mom’s and Robert’s sake, it will be absolutely unnecessary for her kitties to move anywhere.
Anyway, I have to run. My Mom likes to get cards and letters, if you want to send them, to Patty Hogg, at 401 High Street, Williamston, MI, 48895. Keep those good thoughts comin’!