I always wonder about people who insist that we exhume the dead, fill them with adrenaline and electro-shock so they are reanimated, for the purpose of having a satisfactory reckoning with them regarding all the ways they were evil to us. People pass through our lives and leave a mark. We hope that mark will be a source of joy. It isn’t always so. Some crash into our lives and hurt us. Some blindly generate insult or injury without being aware of the pain they generate. We can’t always have the greeting card, poignant conversation where they say all the words we wish for and make it all better. Sometimes we are left bleeding to fend for ourselves.
I got a call from my Dad last Wednesday that my Mom was refusing food. She’s 83 as of this post, has had dementia for a decade or so, suffers from heart disease, is a stroke victim, is diabetic, with limbs atrophied such that she is effectively paralyzed, has trouble swallowing, can no longer communicate in much more than either, “yes” or “no”, and has severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She obsessively chews on anything within reach. She chewed on herself until my Dad started giving her old towels to chew on. She requires full-time nursing care. She is moved from a rented hospital bed to a wheelchair each day by either a home-care nurse or my Dad. The woman that raised me, that did so much that is praiseworthy, has become an imbecile who passes the time chewing on old towels and watching reruns of “Dirty Jobs”.
I believe the woman that raised me is in there, trapped and unable to cross the divide created by the strokes she has suffered and dementia. What a nightmare to be stuck inside a body that no longer does what you ask it to do. To be cognizant of the world yet unable to engage with it. Each time I visit I put on a brave face and hide my sorrow. It can’t be easy to be stuck in a husk of a body somewhere purgatorious (not a word, I know) on the living side of the river Styx. Sometimes it feels merciful to ask God to just call her home. Then I feel guilty for praying such an awful thing.
We all get to the end of our story. We reach those final days in the epilogue after we have slain the dragon and gained the boon. Our footsteps carry us nearer to our village where we will return with the prize in hand. We will pause and share a celebration at our victory then leave again to be forever spoken of in the past tense. The cowboy who wins the duel and then rides off into the sunset to his campfire and tent in the valley of the shadow of death.
My Mom is one of the good people. When she joins the immortals I’ll speak of her praises. This part of the story, before crossing the river, I’ll quietly leave unsaid. She’s won the battle, fought the good fight, and now, wounded, crawls off the battlefield slowly, too injured to make it to the medic and safety. She fought for her clients, for the right thing to do even when it defied the rules as a social worker for the State of New Jersey. She served as a volunteer at her church. She got to go to Honduras on one of those missions/tourist things where they built a church over a couple weeks. She did good.
Our family is normal. We have our share of confessional stories that could make a good chick-flick if they were ever written and filmed. At least one family member is stuck in a typical rut, “I need Mom to be healthy enough to have that hearts & violins, two boxes of Kleenex conversation where she says she loves me and apologizes for being such a bitch when I was a kid.” Remember how I’ve talked about story and how story informs our behavior? Yeah, that. I’ve got a feeling the truth of her bitchiness doesn’t quite match the story. Rent “Precious” from Google Play if you need a story about a horrible mother. In our family the Hallmark moment can’t happen because my Mom is as close to a vegetable as you can get without resuming room temperature.
Were I to go there, to dig into my little list of reasons why it’s my Mom’s fault, I could justify a rather tall drink of self-pity and self-righteous justification for all the ways I am a hot mess. I’d have Freud on my side. It’s stupid, though.
I’m past my mid-fifties as I type this. I haven’t been under my Mom’s roof for over a generation. I have a son of my own. I suffer from or benefit from the choices I make whether or not blame can be laid at the feet of my parents. Why would I embalm her so I can have her on my living room couch as an immortal reason for my miseries? Where would Ray(ro(bert))a sleep if I did? Yah, yah, he seems to do ok in his old short-bed F150. Still . . . Better to forgive and let my Mom be remembered for the ways in which she blessed those she counted as family and friends. Embalming fluid stinks worse than alien puke. Fun fact: Oxyclean works really good on alien puke. Just saying.
When the time comes to stand before my Mom’s friends and family and talk about her life I will sing her praises. These days, before that day, are hard. It’s hard to know if we are serving her best by still treating her many ailments. There are days when it feels like mercy to give her the wrong dose of pain medication and let her slip away. Other days the heart pines for some bit of answered prayer, of medical genius, that could heal her sickened body and she could tell me again what I needed to do to improve things and ask me to check in again in a week (social worker, remember?). I am conflicted as I type this. There doesn’t seem to be an easy right thing to do. Only these things: the woman that raised me is suffering and near death. My Dad is tired after so many years of being her primary care-taker. This story nears the shores of the river Styx. It is time for my Mom to cross the river and go home.