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Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Remembering Who You Are

By Karen Swift

My mother, wearing a pink velour pantsuit, stares at the soggy, beige food on her tray. May is her sixth month at Good Hope Nursing Home. The doctors say it’s a life sentence. Parkinson’s Disease and her failure to eat have reduced her to a skeleton of 89 pounds. Her cheekbones shine through her skin, and her eye sockets are rimmed with pale blue. I smooth the wispy white hair over the delicate pink scalp.

Tears course down her face and drip, unnoticed, off her chin. “Mom, what hurts?” I ask. Until she came here I had never seen her cry. “Can I get you something?”

She shakes her head back and forth. I extend a spoonful of ice cream and she clamps her mouth closed. Her lips make a straight line under her nose. Turning away, I blink back tears and pretend to look out the window. I don’t want her to see my face. As a child I believed she could read my mind.

She was my smiling, gentle Mom. Songs, like butterflies, used to come from her lips and float around the room. Those trembling hands, which can’t hold a spoon today, once sewed party dresses and braided my hair. She took me to the library and taught me how to drive a car.

Mom was the one who made me believe I could do anything I set my mind to do. She waved me off to every adventure saying, “Good luck! Don’t forget who you are.” This was to remind me that I was her daughter – strong and invincible. I want that woman back again.

“Why won’t you take me home, Danielle?” she pleads. Her eyes are on me now and she doesn’t blink.

I rub my forehead and draw a shaky breath. I have explained countless times, but I try again. “Mom,” I say, “I want to, so much, but I can’t yet. Please, just a few bites? As soon as you get stronger, you will go home to Dad. He needs you there too.”

My face flames with shame and regret. I don’t even believe this myself anymore.

Mom can barely hold her head up, can’t walk a single step. She’s had pneumonia, pressure wounds, shingles, infections, a broken wrist and three falls in the past six months alone. In her own home, she might die.

“The doctors say…” I start, but she interrupts me.

“Why do you care what they say? Just take me home. You never used to be the kind of person who gave up.”

I feel like I’ve been slapped. Maybe I have given up. Every time I think she’s improved, something new strikes her down. She doesn’t eat no matter what I bring or how much I plead. A month ago the nurses took me aside, saying, “The old folks do stop eating sometimes when they don’t want to live anymore. You just have to accept it.”

Accept it? They see only a sick old lady, but they don’t know anything important about my mother. Maybe Mom does want to die, but first she wants to go home.

I go into the hall and intercept Susan, the head nurse. “My Mother is in Room 223,” I say. “I’m going to need a list and schedule of her medications. I’ll need a meeting with the social worker and the director of nursing tomorrow.

“Tomorrow? Why?” The nurse peers at me over her medication cart and two little lines appear between her eyebrows.

“On Friday I’m taking my Mother home.” I can’t believe I’ve said this out loud.

“Home?” The nurse shakes her head. “Oh no, no, no. Mrs. Tyler can’t go home. She needs 24-hour, skilled nursing care.”

“Friday!” I say and march off, my hands shaking. Am I risking her life by taking her home against doctor’s orders? Whatever the cost, this is right.

Let’s see. Hospital bed, wheelchair, fill prescriptions, get special foods - so many supplies! Gotta hire nurses – good ones - around the clock. Good God, Mom has a feeding tube. So much to do. My feet fly down the hallway to her room.

I kneel in front of her with a grin splitting my face. My heart is pounding because the world seems almost right again. “Good news, Mom! I just remembered something."

“What did you remember, honey?” she says, touching my cheek like she always has.

“I remembered who I am.” I sit next to her, pulling a pencil from my purse. “We need to make a big list. You think and I’ll write. You’re going home on Friday.”

[As noted in this recent post, I am trying mightily to keep this elder story blog going. Everyone age 50 and older is invited to submit stories for publication. Information and instructions are here. There are already 400-plus excellent stories (you can find them through the Date and Storyteller archives in the right sidebar) and I'm looking forward to more.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


wow. I would like to know how this story ended. I would think she was better off being home and dying in her own home than wasting away in a nursing home.
We built an apartment here for our two elders and plan on keeping them here no matter what. They are happy with our company, their cat, their wine and scotch (!) and their crossword puzzles, card games, books and TV. We have had one scary experience but so far, they're doing fine. We'll just have to deal with what happens as it happens.

God Bless you! You and your mother have a very special relationship and she sounds like a special lady. I hope she has done better at home - but the point is, she will be happier and when she goes to her eternal home, you will have no regrets.

Karen, my heart feels with you. What a human, humble, courageous story this is. Thank you.


As we left the cemetary after my Mother's funeral,one of my son's put his arm around me and asked,"Are you all right, Mom? I was very pleased to be able to answer, "Yes, Chris, I am fine. There was nothing I could have done for Mom Mom that I didn't do. I have no regrets."

Karen, I don't know how the story of your Mother will turn out but I feel that you will have the very same peace of mind I had when the time comes to say good bye to your Mom.

You are a very good daughter.....

I finished reading with tears streaming. You are one in a million. Thank you for sharing. I also would like to know what happened.

Karen, your story made me cry as it is almost word for word the same as my experience with my Mother who had Parkinsons disease. She had been in the nursing home for nine months when I brought her to my home and cared for her for two more years of her life. We managed to laugh together every day and it was SO worth it. I can look back on those years of loss of freedom and loss of sleep and I would do it again in a minute. Bless you. I hope it goes well with you.

I had the same sad experience with my father and did not have the courage that you have displayed. Your story was heart-breaking, and I salute you not only for your courage, but also for your sensitive account of a situation that is becoming all too common.

Karen - This was beautifully written. I can usually keep my emotions controlled - but - that facade crumbled as you pulled me through sympathetic sadness, to joyful relief, and then apprehension. Sandy

Mom said her happiest days were at the end of her life when she lived with my sister and her husband in the mother-in-law apartment that was connected to their house. She had spent most of her life far away from family and was delighted to get a chance to meet most of the grandchildren, and re-connect with family.
I think that is perhaps the best gift -- to die happy.

wow ...what an incredible piece. Such honesty and courage. Great writing, too ... very nice details. Good luck with your stories, Karen, this one is a fine start!

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