Saturday, July 2, 2016

Just One Thankful, In Advance, Pretty Please?

Ever since I moved away from home at the tender age of 17, my mom and I have talked on the phone several times a week. Our talks progressed from boys and college and work to husband and kids and life, and I knew all about her friends and her friends' kids and grandkids. 

June 2014

The past year or two has seen a decline in my mom's health.  She had several skin cancers on her scalp removed which required what little hair she had on top of her head to be shaved off, and it has never really grown back. She walked like a drunken sailor and started using (not very well) a cane. She was also diagnosed with COPD, probably a result of her childhood asthma. Then this past October, at the age of 83, my mom fell, fell hard, flat on her back on the sidewalk of the town square, badly bruising her back and worsening existing arthritis there (including an old compression fracture that no one knew she had). Slight dementia-related signs she had been exhibiting for about a year were exacerbated by the concussion she suffered. To further complicate things, she was scheduled for, and had, her pacemaker removed and replaced four days after the fall.

And after all that, my mom stopped calling me.

I would speak to my dad often, checking on her progress (there wasn't much). And when I would talk to her, the conversations would be almost comical with all the dips and turns her stories took. Meanwhile, my dad took over the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, and everything else my mom once did around the house (and he has done a bang up job of it, too).

The neurologist said it could take three to six months for the concussion to heal. He gave her a drug that improves brain function in patients with dementia, and perhaps the combination of that, along with the healing of the concussion, improved her cognitive function. By March or so, most of the cuckoo stories disappeared, but so had her short term memory. 

She couldn't walk unassisted after the fall, even though there was no physical reason why she couldn't, and she wasn't exactly stable BEFORE she fell. Her lower legs have been swollen with edema for many years (yes, she was supposed to take a diuretic every day, yes, she had blow up, squeezy boots she was supposed to wear every day, no she did NOT do these things, and no, my dad could not make her, that leading-a-horse-to-water thing, you know), and they grew worse and worse. "My legs look like stovepipes" she would say, and the skin, stretched as far as it could go, would crack and weep.

Not only could she not walk without a walker, she couldn't get up or down from a chair, the bed or the toilet without assistance, my 81 year old dad being the assistant. Her legs were so heavy with the edema that she couldn't lift them, so he had to lift them for her, into the bed, into the car for the many, many doctor visits, onto the foot rests of her wheel chair.

Memorial Day weekend, while we were all at the lake house to celebrate my parents' 60th wedding anniversary, I discovered there was more going on than the edema, the inability to walk, and the memory loss when I heard my mom crying out in the night from the living room. I jumped out of bed and went in there, where I found my dad trying to help her to bed while she was experiencing what appeared to be a nightmare from which she couldn't awaken. We got her to bed, and after several minutes of her thinking she couldn't breathe, she finally calmed down and went to sleep. Early the next morning, I awoke again to the sound of her crying out hysterically, this time thinking she was falling out of her recliner (she had had my dad help her there a few hours earlier). We don't know exactly what she did, but she had slid a little bit towards the footrest of the recliner and then panicked, and my dad and I got her to her feet and then safely back into the chair (footrest down this time). I went back to bed but couldn't sleep, instead Googling her symptoms and finding something called "sundowning," a period of increased confusion and agitation and a symptom of Alzheimer's and dementia.

My mom could stand a little, if she had something to lean on, so she was able to put on a little make up or comb what little bit of hair she had left. The weekend following Memorial Day, though, she was standing in their bedroom, leaning against the bed and folding some laundry, her walker next to her, when she decided to sit on the little seat on her walker without remembering to lock the wheels first. The walker, of course, shot out from under her and she fell onto her bottom. My dad had to call 911 to get her up, as (1) the edema has caused her to gain about 50 pounds of fluid and (2) he's 81 - enough said. Twelve hours later, she fell again, this time in the bathroom, and the fire department had to return to get her up. 

I was vacationing in Nashville with Emma when my dad called me to tell me about the fall times two, and we decided it was time to get her in a place where she would get the kind of care my dad just couldn't safely provide for her. He called their doctor the next morning, and June 6, the doctor admitted her to the nursing home. Two days later, alarmed by the edema in her legs that had moved upwards into her abdomen and arms, the therapist in the lymphedema clinic had her admitted to the hospital.

My mom spent a week in the hospital, where she was given IV diuretics and was catheterized. Her oxygen levels were monitored, and she was put on oxygen 24 hours a day. She was moved back to the nursing home on June 14. 

It's not a horrible place, really, although it's also not a place where you would necessarily WANT to live. Compared to the other patients I saw there, my mom had it together better than probably 70% of the others there. They got her up and dressed every day, and she went to the dining room for her meals. One of her table mates is 95 and darling, and they would sit and visit during every meal. She didn't say she wanted to go home. And she proved to be somewhat ornery, which was out of character but rather enjoyable to witness nonetheless.

But she didn't know what year it was. She wasn't entirely sure how old she was. Her short term memory was crap. She had no idea that her grandson turned 21 last week. And she couldn't talk on the phone, because she couldn't seem to hold it so that she could hear AND talk, both of which are essential for a satisfactory telephone conversation.

My dad has hung out in her room with her every day, which is killing his back and knees but is better than lifting my mom to her feet day in and day out; there are people to do that for her now. He's also pretty pumped that he can eat for free in the dining room. And he's also probably gotten more sleep in the past few weeks than he's gotten in the past 8 months.

She's exactly where she needs to be right now, but it's still hard. Hard. Hard. Hard.

Three days ago, my dad called to tell me my mom wasn't doing very well, and I drove up there that afternoon. When I arrived, I was shocked at the change in her from my visit less than a week earlier. My mom was in bed, asleep, mouth open. Her oxygen had been turned up from 2 liters to 3. My dad and I filled out an advanced directive for her while she slept. An aide came to get her ready for supper, and it took all of us to get her awake and into her wheelchair. She's lost over 60 pounds since she's been there, much of it fluid, but not all of it, and she is refusing food, only taking a few nibbles of her meals. Where a week earlier, she was about 95% lucid during conversations, she was now hovering at around 5%. 

So, Jesus, if you don't mind, as much as I don't want her to go, I think it's time for you to come and get her. She's not going to put up a fight. 

Thank you in advance....

June 2016


  1. As much as I did not want to read this, I did knowing that it will be my story at some near future. It is so incredibly hard to watch our parents age and struggle. Thank you for sharing. And I know that we all never know how strong we are until we have to be. Prayers and hugs to you and your family.

    1. I cried. I do not cry easily. This really touched my heart.

  2. Oh, Dyanne, I am so sorry. Sundowning is a real phenomenon; my parents notice my grandma experiences it. It is heartbreaking to watch our family members struggle. I'll pray for peace for your family.

  3. Oh, Dyanne, I am so sorry. Sundowning is a real phenomenon; my parents notice my grandma experiences it. It is heartbreaking to watch our family members struggle. I'll pray for peace for your family.

  4. Dyanne, what a brave and loving thing to pray for. Im kind of surprised that in remembering a similar time with my father that the relief of knowing hes not suffering is actually still there and its been a few years...speaks to how difficult it is to be going through what you're dealing with right now. Prayers for all of you...xo I/Z/L

  5. Written as only a daughter who loves deeply could do. It made me cry for her and for your father, and for you. I wish that leaving this life didn't so oftem have to be a slow, heartrending experience, but you have done the very best for her, and most importantly, you have been there with her all the way. That's love, and her heart knows even if her mind doesn't. I add my prayers to yours. HUGS

  6. I'm crying as I type this, as what you are going through now is exactly what I went through ten years ago with my dad. He didn't have the same illnesses and conditions as your mom but what he did have had the same effect - my mom and me caring for him at home initially, then the nursing home when we could no longer cope, his gradual then rapid decline until it got to the point that when I left after a visit I didn't know if he would still be alive the following day. I must confess I'm not terribly religious but although I couldn't bear for him to go I've never prayed so hard in my life before for his suffering to come to an end, and in a way it was a relief when it did.

    Thank you for sharing this, I know what you're going through is hard in more ways than one. Sending you and your family hugs and prayers

  7. I have to admit that I cried as I read this. My heart truly goes out to you and your family, as mine have been through the same thing, but with my Dad, a few months back.
    When he passed, we all cried, and still miss him so very much but, like you with your Mum, we realised that Dad was finally at peace, and that does help, a little :/
    I will say a prayer for your Mum, along with my prayers for Dad, and I hope she has as peaceful a passing as Dad had - that's all we can ask for when it comes to this stage, I fear :(

  8. If I was the kind of person who cried at beautiful, heart-wrenching words, I'd be in floods. My Dyannedillion, this is such a brave thing to hope will happen soon for her, because it's for her sake and I know you all will miss her so, so much. But... I get it.

  9. Oh, Dyanne, my heart! I don't cry too easily, but this touched me deeply. I remember many in our family feeling similarly when it was time for my Grandmother to move on - she was showing some early signs in addition to her cancer. Enough, Lord. I will be praying for you and your parents. Know that. Love you and holding you in my heart. <3

  10. i am so sorry ...

    i totally understand , my mom is my rock too! seeing our parents getting old and with what comes with old age is a hard nut to swallow. then seeing them decline is heartbreaking.
    i worry for my mom always and yet i am not ready yet -
    i'm not sure if we are ever ready, yet your words and prayers are so gracious and a guidance for all of us.

    you and your family are in my prayers - XOXOXO


  11. Oh my. A hard read. I am a nurse and I admire you for being broad minded. I hope you guys the best possible outcome under this difficult situation.

  12. Dyanne, my heart is breaking for you and your mom. I will be praying your mom finds ease.

  13. Just checking in to see how you're doing. <3

  14. Wow. Tough stuff. Growing old isn't much fun. Glad your father can get his own rest now, but still visit your mom. Hope for the best for your family.

  15. The photo from 2014 looks so much like you I can't even believe it! Wow. And also wow---the changes so evident in the photo this June. The fall, the other symptoms snowballing on her. All of that takes me back to the last year or two of my mom's life.
    I am telling you, Dyanne, I wish I was there to hug you. The good daughter in you is so right to not want her to suffer. And the smart daughter in you is so right to know that even though you know it is right and good, you sooooo don't want to lose your mom. I don't care how old or lets say mature we get---we are never ready to lose our moms. We just aren't. My heart goes out to you and to her and to your dad and to your whole family. Peace be with you. That's all I got. It's hard. It stinks. It's life. Just peace---if I could wish peace on you, that would be great!