Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bones and Ash

Bob and I flew to Cleveland last week and while we were there, we went out to Tinker's Creek and had a private moment about the old dog. The path that runs along there is as familiar to me as my back yard. From my front door to the middle school and back is three miles, and it was a walk that the Golden Retriever and I made regularly. She scared me to death one time, plunging into the creek in zero degree weather chasing a goose. (The water runs fast enough it rarely ever completely freezes.) She came to my call, but her coat froze while she was standing there. She was happy, panting, smiling that Golden Retriever smile. Far from hurt.

We scattered ashes in the creek and felt sad. No one gave a sermon. The creek made creek noises. It was sweet and private. I thought to myself that this felt a lot better and more appropriate than most of the funerals I've attended.

Then we walked back in the fall sunlight, the leaves just starting to turn, and drove to the airport to head home. We were at the airport when I learned that my mother had fallen and they thought she had broken her hip. They had called the ambulance and she was at Bedford Hospital.

It is all uncertainty at those moments. Part of the problem of emergencies and not knowing what to do. but we found the only rental car agency that had a car (thanks to the guy at the Dollar Rental who called every other desk in the airport until he found someone with a car.) We drove to the hospital. We made ill-informed decisions about how long we might stay and what to do. We sat in the ER. My mother was not too uncomfortable, but her dementia is getting pretty advanced.

"Are you sleepy?" I asked, after several hours.

"If they have just small, as you around," she said, "that's okay."

She is doing amazingly well for a 92 year old woman with dementia who has broken her hip. She is in a rehabilitation program in a nursing home right now. It's the best nursing home money can buy. It's part of the same complex where she lived in assisted living for nine years and there are familiar faces there. But it's a nursing home. And now that there are more choices for the elderly, now that there are places where elderly people can live in apartments and have van drive them to the grocery and the drug store, or they can live in assisted living, the nursing home has become even more the haunt of old, silent, frail people in wheelchairs. It is a place where people go before they die.

The prognosis for a 92 year old woman with a broken hip is not good. 36% of people 85 or older die within a year of a hip fracture from within 12 months--pneumonia and blood clot are the risks. My mother doesn't understand what they are asking her to do. Move your left leg, they tell her. She doesn't know left from right. She knows that she doesn't want to move things. She says no. But they flex her leg, and they get her up. She likes to sit in a chair and she hates being in bed.

"I can't get up," she tells me, perplexed.

Death on TV and the movies is usually quick. But deaths can take hours, or days, or weeks or months. Sitting for six hours in an ER with someone who doesn't understand changed my understanding of things. I cannot protect her from fear, from age, from pain. I've have had a charmed life, I have hid from death for most of it. It is a death haunted world we live in.

I walked into her hospital room on Thursday and she looked up at me and said, "I've had enough. Let's go."

I only wish we could.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched my dad die of cancer. From diagnosis to grave was 3 months. The ONLY part of it I really remember (besides keeping our store open for business while the rest of the family spent time with my dad) was the last 2 days. When he was in the coma and had pneumonia. I remember watching him breath and waiting, then another breath, then waiting, then being sure he's gone, but then he took another breath. It was a long 2 days. I hope you don't have to go through that with your mom. I hope she goes quietly in her sleep. But the good news is that although 36% die from the broken hip, that leaves 64% who live. She's a tough old woman and I bet she's part of the 64% - Michelle

October 14, 2007 5:31 PM  
Blogger dubjay said...

Sympathies, Maureen.

We've been through it. Kathy and I each had a parent die in a nursing home within six months of one another. The nursing home experience was dismal and disheartening and Dickensian, but fortunately the actual dying, when it happened, was very quick.

October 15, 2007 6:22 PM  
Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

I'm on your side.

October 17, 2007 1:21 PM  
Blogger Karen Sandstrom said...

My sympathies as well. One of the hardest parts is not knowing what to hope for while feeling like someone has pressed the "pause" button on the great remote control, and it seems like "play" will never be pressed again.
And then it is.

October 19, 2007 8:30 AM  

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