The day the world was to end

She’s been so strong through all of this: fifty-one years of caring for my severely disabled sister followed by her death, three and a half years of caring for my father through moderate and then late stage Alzheimer’s, a sudden revelation that she has advanced, considered incurable, metastasized cancer, and my father’s hospitalization followed by his move to a nursing home.

Sometimes my mother’s strength is my undoing.

Yesterday, the day the world was to end, the first day of winter with a snow storm blowing through the area, we moved Mom out of her home of 32-plus years of family memories and into a small assisted-living apartment under the same roof as my father.

As soon as we got Dad settled in his new home earlier this month, my siblings and I turned our efforts to packing Mom up and readying her to move as well. It wasn’t until the day before the move when my husband, sister, and her family, were on their way to Mom’s new home, in their cars filled with packed boxes of fragile items and original artwork from talented family members, that Mom put up any complaint. She sat on the sofa across the room from me, her shoulders hunched, the wall behind her bare in spots from removed artwork, and said, “I don’t want to go.”

“Transitions are hard,” I reminded her. “I know this must be so hard on you. And I feel very bad that you have to go through all of this change and confusion now when you are feeling so bad.”

“I don’t like anything about this,” she said.

“Do you think we’ve made bad decisions?” I asked her, knowing that after my mother’s virtual collapse at the beginning of the month she has done little more than move from the sofa to the bed and has not been able to participate very much in the the planning of this monumental transition. “Should we have done something different?” I asked her.

“Well, I would have waited until I had my doctor’s appointment and knew my test results,” she said, referring to the ultra-sound and biopsy that were done last week as an outpatient since she refused to stay at the hospital for the testing when we first took her to the ER and the cat scan revealed her cancer.

Through this whole nightmare I’ve been living, there have been a few funny moments, and there have been some all-time low moments. This was a bad moment for me.

“We thought you wanted to be where Dad was,” I said, remembering that was her only criteria for what nursing home we selected for Dad. She wanted to be in the same building and not have to travel there by car or golf cart. “Dad had to go somewhere. Dr. R. recommended this place. We were lucky they had appropriate rooms for both of you. They weren’t going to hold an empty apartment for you forever. We were afraid of losing it.”

Yesterday morning I woke up at 5:00 a.m., early again as I had done the previous two consecutive nights that I spent at my parents’ house. I slipped into Annie’s room down the hall where my mom was sleeping in her queen-sized bed we moved there when Dad started sleeping in his hospital bed and Mom in a twin bed beside him in their own room. I could see she was awake, even in the dim light that shone under the door from the bathroom. I sat down on the glider beside the bed and we talked for a while.

The five hours before we were scheduled to leave at 10:00 passed by relatively uneventfully, helping her dress, sewing patches on her blanket and afghan to label them for her, taping and labeling last-minute boxes.

Just before 10:00, I helped Mom put her coat on, walked her out through the garage and into my waiting and, courtesy of my husband, warmed up car.  As I backed out of the driveway I saw her looking at the house and I struggled not to think about the fact that this might be the last time she saw her home. Little snow flakes were drifting around although the ground had only gotten a dusting and the streets were relatively clear. My bare hands were cold on the steering wheel.  I looked at Mom’s face. She was calm and without tears.

“This reminds me of the story Dad told me about the day his family moved to Miami Street,” I said as I turned out of the drive, onto the road and away from the house. “He said it snowed the day they moved.”

“Oh yes,” Mom said as she laughed, “I remember that well. I got stuck at work downtown at Murphey’s Department Store.”

“Did you have to spend the night there?”

“No. Your dad came and got me,” she said as I stopped at a red light.

“It had snowed so hard my dad couldn’t get his car away from the curb to come and get me, so your father walked there from Miami Street to get me. I spent the night at his new house on a mattress with his two sisters. The three of us slept sideways across the mattress.”

“Was it a queen-sized mattress?” I asked as I turned onto the main road that led to the nursing and assisted-living facility.

“I think it was probably a double. When they saw how bad the weather was going to be they decided to get the mattresses moved over there first. All they had been able to move were the mattresses and an ironing board. Your grandmother had brought the ironing board over because they were  putting up wallpaper. My parents were sick with worry about me spending the night at your father’s house.

“In the morning, your grandmother cooked eggs for breakfast. They must have either moved the stove as well, or maybe it was there when they bought the house. This was the first house they ever owned. They always rented before. Anyway, she served the breakfast on the ironing board. There weren’t any chairs to sit on.

“Then your dad walked me home from Miami to Manier. It was so cold, my eye-lashes froze. The snow was deep and I think I borrowed a pair of boots from one of his sisters. We walked down the middle of the street. No cars were out.

“Your dad and I used to talk about that from time to time,” she said, as we turned into the parking lot of her new home, accompanied by Angels We Have Heard on High playing on the car stereo.

January 16, 2011

15 thoughts on “The day the world was to end”

  1. Your Mom is a very brave and strong lady, Christine. Thank you for sharing that special and difficult day with us. I wish She and your Dad get used to their new home soon, become happy and find peace there.

    Sending over my love and encouragement. May the snow lay out a pristine, peaceful and calm blanket over the world at Christmas, with blue skies overhead.

    Merry Christmas and a loving New Year for you and your loved ones.

    PS I loved to read the story about moving to Miami street.

  2. Christine,

    I agree with Marion, your Mom is so very brave and strong, as are you. I’m glad you shared this with us. Doubly glad because I was just thinking about you and wondering how things were going.

    You’re probably not aware, but my father passed last Wednesday. We said farewell to him yesterday. As sad as we are, we all believe that he simply decided it was time to go. I miss him, and I love him, but I’m glad he’s no longer suffering. My only regret is that I didn’t see him one last time before he left.

    Stay strong and keep loving.

    ❤ Lisa

    1. No, Lisa, I didn’t know. You have my sympathy, but I think I understand how it is. It is so hard to see them struggle. I hope your memories of him in better days will bring you peace and joy.

  3. Hi Christine .. such a challenging time .. I’m just so glad others of the family were there to help … your mother certainly is one strong lady … I do hope they will be ‘happy’ and contented while they are the Home ..

    With many thoughts to you – I’ll be thinking of you over Christmas and the New Year … with blessings and some peace to you – Hilary

  4. A heartfelt, heartrending story of strong women – you and all the women in your life! The love you hold for your mom will keep her AND you going. Thanks for sharing, and peace to you all.

  5. Christine, Thank you for sharing your heartwrenching story of life passages with your mother’s move, your father’s decline and your changing role. I love how you weave in the lighter moments with the sadness.You have invited me into your sacred space -so poignant and real. I feel the strength, resilience and love within your family and pray it will give you peace and healing during this transition..

  6. Christine,
    It has been hard reading your entries as things have been so difficult for you and your family. I hope things get better in the new year and that as hard as it seems you all have a merry Christmas.

  7. I just want to thank all of you who are taking the time to read and comment on my posts. I read every comment at least once, and often return to some that I find particularly supportive. So thank you for holding me up during this trying time. I hope you all have a peaceful and joy-filled holiday. I will be treasuring the moments.

  8. I’m told that it’s harder for women to transition from being in their own familiar surroundings than the men. Men are balky when they have cooked meals for them, their beddings are changed regularly, and they’re comfy. But women spend years “creating” the home environment. It is usually the women who choose the drapes, the sofa, the china, pots and pans, lamps, etc. There is, over the years, the growing attachment to “the things.” They become part if their lives. Giving these up would understandably be more difficult.

  9. Growing older is never easy with all of life’s complications as illness throws us its never ending obstacles to overcome.. Christine thank you for sharing this heart rending story… Its so hard when moving from familiar surroundings to start again… But your Mum has been so so strong along with all of your family in looking after your Dad…
    Angels are indeed walking with you .. And I send you all my love and thoughts.. I hope Christmas has its own special memories to take forward into the New Year..
    Wishing you and Yours a Peaceful and Healthy 2013 and a smoother path for each of your to walk upon..
    Love Sue xox

  10. I can’t imagine how hard this is, so many changes for everyone…a Christmas you will always remember. That’s a lovely picture of your mother, Christine.


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