Sunday, November 5, 2017

All Saint's Day

The past week was one I wouldn't care to repeat.  Last Sunday I began the task of taking Mom's clothes that were here in our house to a charity.  It was an emotional time, even though I know Mom would be in favor of me moving forward.  She was always and ever practical; life goes on.  

Still, when I handed the bags of clothing over to the volunteer at the charity, I had to fight back tears.   He must have noticed my sadness for he said, "You will never know how much this donation means.  There are so many people who really need these things."  

I thanked him and shook his hand; he'll never know how much I needed to hear those words.  Carl and I drove off feeling much lighter at heart.

When we got home, we set about gathering up all of the geraniums I am determined to winter over for next year.  Any plant already potted stayed in its pot, and I went and dug forty more planted in the ground and repotted them, too.  It took us two trips with Carl's 1989 Oldsmobile to haul everybody up to Mom's house.  

Mom's dining room is on the south side of the house and sunny, so we carefully carried her dining room set into the living room (I'd given the couch and love seat to my dear friend a few weeks ago).  We put plastic boot trays on the floor and arranged sawhorses and shelving to the best advantage.  Mom's dining room looks like a geranium convention, but it is quite pretty.   

After moving all the furniture and traipsing in and out of the house with all the plants, I set about vacuuming and tidying up before I left.   Though I know it sounds silly, I cannot bear to see Mom's house in a total state of chaos, in the back of my mind, I keep thinking, "How hurt Mom would be!"  She always kept a very neat and tidy home.  (I wish I could say the same thing about me, but I'm working on it.)

On Monday morning (a year to the day my brother-in-law died unexpectedly) just before noon, I received a phone call from my father-in-law telling me my mother-in-law had slipped out of bed the night before and he could not get her up.  Could I come?

I was almost finished with my workout, the same workout I put off doing earlier in the morning because I was lazy, and quickly called Carl's sister as I dashed around the house trying to find my purse and simultaneously changing my clothes.  

When I arrived at their home, I found my mother-in-law lying on the ceramic tile floor, smiling up at me as I towered over her. 

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

"What are you doing down there?" I asked. "Are you hurt?"

"No, I just can't get up.  I don't know what happened."

After a little more discussion, I tried having her roll over onto her side and hoped she could get her knees under her and rest her arms on the seat of a kitchen chair, but she was too weak to try.  I finally squatted down in front of her, and trying to remember to use correct body mechanics, lifted her up.  Just as I had her almost upright, she let out a cry and I put her back down gently.  Darn!  Maybe she does have a broken hip?  She only weighs around 115 pounds, but I wrenched my back when I moved too quickly to lower her again.  

"What hurts?" I asked her, wincing at the telltale ache starting in my back.

"Nothing, I was just afraid I would fall," she said.

Oh.  One more time, I bent down and hoisted her up and finally managed to shuffle her to the bathroom.  I cleaned her up the best I could, put clean, dry clothing on her and then asked her to get up and sit in her wheelchair.  

"Don't help me, I have to learn to do this myself," she said as she tried in vain to stand.  "Why is this happening to me?"  It was obvious after a half hour of trying, she wasn't going to be able to do this on her own and every time I tried to help her, she refused to work with me.  My exhausted father-in-law (who is battling cancer) was asleep in his chair in the living room.  I really did not know what to do. 

Finally, I called Carl to come home from work and assist.  When he arrived a half hour later, he was able to get her up and between the two of us, we manuevered her into her wheelchair. 

Carl's sister and brother-in-law arrived and after many discussions, the doctor's office told us to take her to the emergency room.  We arrived at 4:30 PM as a family.  Tests were run, IV fluids were started, and after all of this, the culprit was dehydration.  She was released to go home around 9PM.  

Much like the movie, 'Groundhog Day', this was just the way last year was, to the day, with my brother-in-law's funeral, my mother-in-law falling ill followed closely by my father-in-law's hospitalization in January, my mother and I going to the emergency room at least three times and her fall on the ice when I wasn't there on time to give her medication in the morning, and finally Mom's doctor saying there was nothing else they could do for her and hospice arriving at our doorstep, ending with Mom's death in April 2017. 

All of the above started happening on October 31, 2016.  Throw in some weird health issues for me, too, and visits to gynecologists and assorted other medical personnel and the time frame was not a pleasant one. I don't look forward to repeating the same experiences this winter.  

After discussing what we should do at the hospital with a social worker, the consensus of all concerned is that my in-laws need help.  Of course, just as you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink, you can lead an elderly person to a doctor's office for a discussion on safety and aging, but you cannot make them take it seriously.  

Once more as a family unit, we made an appointment on Wednesday to seek options and opinions on what needs to be done for the pair of them.  All six of us crammed into the exam room with the doctor as a show of solidarity.  The doctor told them assisted living would be the perfect option.  They are 87 and 88 years old, respectively, and in very bad physical condition. 

 Something needs to be done; we can't handle all of their needs, especially since they are not in favor of budging on even the less invasive things we've tried in the past.  Their daughter and son-in-law arranged for Meals on Wheels a year ago, but they would not accept it so they had to cancel the service.  I talked to them about getting a home health care worker in for bath cares and grooming, cleaning, etc. but that was turned down, too.  

Though I know they do not want to leave their home (who ever does?) assisted living would be the safest option, followed by 24 hour in-home care.  Last fall and winter we were caring for my mother in our home until Mom died and were unable to care for Carl's folks much at all.  Carl's sister and her husband did all they could, too, but they live farther away and let's face it, this situation is bigger than the four of us can handle.  We all know what the answer is, but my in-law's are not asking the question.....they feel they can take care of themselves.  Sadly, they cannot.

Where this difficult time differs from last year is the fact that at 96 years old, my mother was willing to work with me; she was also willing to go into a nursing home if I wanted her to, she did not want to be a bother and realized the doctor was right.  She needed around the clock help and supervision.  As ill as she was, she accepted the move from her home to mine and did her best to be accomodating.  

Yes, I could have put her into the nursing home.   Indeed, a year before she died, in February 2016, she was enrolled in our local home, but at the last minute, I backed out.  I couldn't do it.  We made it work with the help of our sons and 'elder spy-cams' in her house and I finally learned how to operate a smartphone (somewhat) so I could watch her when I wasn't with her.  

It wasn't easy, but it worked until her condition worsened in February 2017 and she came to live with us.  I don't regret taking care of my mother at all; but I will admit it was the hardest thing either of us have ever done.  Hard for me with the sleeplessness and worry; hard for Mom with her leaving her home and trying to do her best.  But she thanked me for absolutely everything everyday, and her love was boundless.  It was the very least I could do for a woman who did everything she possibly could for me all of my life.  

The quandary we are all in is how can we best help Carl's parents?  The doctor has not deemed my father-in-law incompetent, so he is still his own person, able to make his own decisions. And drive, too, by the way.  A year ago, we were told if they do not want help, then the only option is to send them home to fail.  Apparently, this happens a great deal; people are too proud to allow help and only after a catastrophic illness, injury or sadly, death, will they realize they aren't capable of doing for themselves any longer.  

All of this brings me around to today, All Saint's Day.  I haven't been a great church-goer, I don't really know why. I have no excuse, but I have attended a few funerals lately and found some comfort in the services.  A week ago, I received a letter from our church letting me know about All Saint's Day and the service planned in honor of those in our congregation who have passed away this year.  

The first verse of a hymn was sung and the pastor read the first six names of the deceased, and if their family members were present, they could go to the altar and light a candle for their loved one.  Their pictures were displayed on the screen in front of church.  Just seeing Mom's smiling face from her obituary set my tears in motion.  I really didn't think this was still so raw, but it is.

Before the second verse, the next names were read and the process continued until all seventeen people were named.  Carl and I went up when Mom's name was read and I managed to light Mom's candle even though it was hard to see through my tears.  I had my first breakdown of the morning when Joel came to pick us up for church and David and Emily met us in the parking lot when we arrived.  I am so blessed to have a loving family!  Mom would have been so pleased, I could just imagine her smiling.

There were many hugs exchanged with others in the congregation who have lost their loved ones recently and not so recently; after all, we have all lost someone we loved, this is the human condition.  

Today we have dark, drizzly skies, and a raw wind.  Sums up pretty much the way I feel which is not great.  Lots of aches and pains abound, not sure what it's all about.  Could be stress, could be just about anything, but time will tell. 

Time will tell with Carl's parents, too.  We have to be patient, help where we can, and hope for the best.  In a few short decades, we will be facing the same questions, if we are lucky.  And none of the answers will be easy then, either.  

The one place I do feel really good though, is in my heart.  The church service did me a world of good.  Time for me to move forward knowing Mom suffers no more. She would want us all to be happy.  She always found things to do which brought her joy and she found joy in just about everything.  

Ann was walking with her grandson a few weeks ago, and she sent me a picture of beautiful fall leaves lying on the sidewalk, "I almost want to pick all of them up!  Just like your Mom!"

How true.  Going through Mom's art supplies I found a whole bunch of dried and pressed fall leaves.  Every year she would go out and select perfect leaves for her art work and inspiration, marveling at each one.  Carl said we should set them free, but I'm going to hang onto them for awhile.  After all, they are just so different and distinct.  Perfect.  

I'll gather some in your memory, Mom.




Alison said...

I'm so sorry you're going through an ordeal all over again this year, now with Carl's parents. When my time comes, I'll be more than willing to accept help. In fact, I'd take as many Meals on Wheels right now if I qualified. I know that back pain, I've felt it myself, mostly while gardening. I wake every morning with aches and pains, I'm pretty sure it's arthritis. I'm glad you were uplifted by your visit to church.

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

Oh dear Karen ~ I do hope things will work out for the best care for your inlaws. You've had such a rough year. I'm glad you received some comfort from the service.

Do take care of yourself. Oh those twists and turns, the lifting of heavy things, etc. that has our backs telling us we did something and it hurts.

Be well, know that you are loved ~ FlowerLady

Ellie's friend from canada said...

Karen, I am so glad to hear that you feel good in your heart! Sometimes, I think we must be twins in thought. One of the hardest things I have ever done is to give away my mother's clothes. I have given away quite a few but she had a lot of clothes. Some I could not bear to part with. I had a coat relined and fixed so that I could wear it. You have done a wonderful thing and the man is right that others in need will be very thankful for it. I was thinking of your mother just the other day. I had hoped to gather up the spruce cones and see if I could paint them as she did. But our beautiful fall weather ended so abruptly I didn't have a chance to pick them up. I only got the leaves raked from the lawn into the flowerbeds for mulch and then the temperature dropped to minus 10ºC and we got quite a lot of snow.

I was also thinking of how my mother made the best of every bad and difficult situation and found joy in everything. I had just been thinking how I would strive to be like that and how I feel a joy in my heart. And then I read your blog today and heard my thoughts mirrored in your comments!

Do not worry about breaking into tears sometimes. Or feeling sad or wistful. Today I stomped my boots to get the snow off of them and when I heard that sound images of my mother doing the same came into my mind.

I can't advise on what to do with your parents-in-law. Your mother being so accommodating and cheery and grateful abut everything was a blessing. If your father-in-law has cancer, though, perhaps some in home care would be helpful until he passes. If she falls again, you could phone the fire department and tell them the situation and that you can't get her up. They would probably be glad to send two firemen to lift her. It is a problem with no easy answer.

Blessings to you.


P.S. I now, on top of all of my other eye problems, have macular degeneration. I was so relieved when the retinal specialist told me that it was only in my left eye but his letter to my ophthalmologist says it is in both eyes so I was quite shocked. Still, I had a glorious summer with short day trips to see wild orchids, the golden larches n the fall... etc. Just beautiful.

Beth @ PlantPostings said...

What a beautiful tribute to your mom! It's a tough stage of life, isn't it, being available and helpful, but having to make/help make decisions for loved ones who are aging and/or dying. Gosh, you have a lot of healthy Geraniums! Your mom would be happy to hear you're filling her room with beauty!

Karen said...

Alison, oh, me too on the home delivery system! When their first Meals on Wheels delivery arrived a year ago, I happened to be visiting and boy, did it smell good. And just think, it would arrive on my doorstep, ready to, what a deal. I'm sorry to hear you have pain, too. I often wonder how it will be in a few years, kinda scary, actually. Let's hope we both get some relief.

Karen said...

Rainey, thank you so much. The last two years, my back isn't what it used to be, and you're right, the twisting and turning while lifting is a big part of the problem. I suppose the pain is like a check engine soon light? A warning that something is going to give if I fail to heed it. I took a rest day today. :-)

Karen said...

Ann, thank you for your kind words. I'm thinking our mothers were very much alike! My mother was much, much smaller than I am, so I couldn't wear her clothes, but there is one coat which could be made into a teddy bear by a friend of mine and I think I will ask her if she is willing. She's made them for many other people who grieved the loss of a loved one.

Maybe the snow will melt a little and you'll be able to find some pine cones to paint. I'm so sorry to hear you have macular degeneration, too...what a devastating diagnosis. I'm still holding out great amounts of hope that there will be emerging cures and adaptive technology available soon. I hope for many more days of glorious sight for you, too!

Good idea on calling for additional help should this ever happen again with a fall. There are people there to help. :-) Thank you!

Karen said...

Beth, thank you! Aging in place is very probably doable and I hope Carl and I will be able to accept gracefully when help is offered as we age. The geraniums should be happy in Mom's house; they certainly do brighten up the room they're in. I think Mom would approve. :-)

Ellie's friend from canada said...

What a wonderful idea to make a teddy bear out of a coat. My mother was usually a lot smaller than I am (especially as I put on weight) but occasionally I can wear something of hers. But there is a mohair coat that would make wonderful teddy bears. She had a lot of clothes because her weight varied a lot. I think that there will be better treatments for macular degeneration. I asked my eye doctor about the vitamins and he said to make my own combination of certain vitamins.

Maybe, your in-laws would reconsider Meals on Wheels if given a chance. It wouldn't hurt to gently ask if they would like to do it now. You never know...

Peter/Outlaw said...

So sorry to hear that you're going through this ordeal again this year. All Saints Day is one of my favorite services of the year when we remember those we love but see no more and a reminder of the "mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won." Your mother would be happy to see the family she loved so much continue to enjoy life as fully as possible.

As always, your writing is compelling and your pictures glorious.