Someone’s crying

On Thursday night I heard my mother stir and I rose from my bed on the floor in the corner of her room and hurried to her side.

“What’s wrong?” she asked as she roused from the deep sleep she had been in all day.

“Nothing’s wrong, Mom.”

“Someone’s crying,” she said.

In my mom’s 78 years on this planet, I imagine she heard and answered a lot of someones crying.  In the 1950s through the 1970s she was raising five children who had been born within six years, including my sister Annie who was extremely disabled.  I suspect there were a lot of times someone was crying.

Even as we grew older we were sometimes crying: me coming home from college carrying a basket of laundry when a relationship ended; a long-distance phone call to speak of a loved one who died; a conversation about one thing or the other around the kitchen table.  I know I did my fair share of crying on her shoulder.  In fact after we were shocked by the revelation of her cancer in early December, I’d wake in the morning crying, and I’d think ‘I need to tell Mom about this terrible thing that is happening.’ Then I’d wake fully and realize that the terrible thing was happening to Mom.

Although I have only a few memories of my father crying before his illness, the Alzheimer’s had the unfortunate effect of causing him to become very tearful. For quite some time, every morning Mom would have to face his tears as she rose to get him up and out of bed because Dad started most days crying.

So, yes, there have been a lot of someones crying. And Mom wiped, or talked, away many, many tears.

The nurse practitioner at Hospice where Mom spent nearly two weeks in the last month said, “Your mother is a caregiver. Often caregivers have a hard time letting go. They need to know everyone is going to be okay.”

I told my siblings and we all reassured Mom in our own way that we, and Dad, were going to be all right. I don’t know if that gave her peace in the end, or if this fight was simply too big for the fighter.

On Thursday when Mom said, “Someone’s crying,” even though my heart was breaking, I answered, “No, Mom. No one’s crying. We’re all okay. Everybody is going to be okay.”


On Saturday morning, January 12th, at 11:45, my sister, husband, and I watched my mother take her last breath, six short weeks after her pancreatic cancer was discovered. I am grateful that we, along with Hospice of Dayton, were able to give her the loving care she not only deserved, but earned each and every day of her life.

She had a joyful spirit and a compassionate soul. I will miss her dearly.

Mary K. Smith – January 3, 2013

If I were an artist

If I were an artist, or had any artistic ability whatsoever, I would paint the scene outside the window beside me where I sit with my feet elevated in a recliner beside Mom’s bed. She has just now fallen asleep so I will have to save her lunch for her when it arrives in the next few minutes, although I know she won’t eat more than a bite or two of this or that.

This room at Hospice of Dayton is comfortable and the service superb. Mom has been here under their care since Thursday afternoon when she left the hospital to transition through here before going back home to her new little assisted living apartment. “I just hope I feel good enough to be able to enjoy it here,” Mom said of her new apartment after we moved her in but before all the original artwork from family members was hung, framed pictures still setting on the floor in stacks leaning against the walls.

I do too, Mom. I do too.

Christmas evening my little celebration planned for her and Dad got derailed when the nurse taking care of Mom said, “I’m so glad you’re here. Her blood pressure is too high and we may need to send her out tonight.”

Mark and three of our kids went over to the nursing care unit to visit Dad, while I waited with Mom to determine the success of the latest attempt to lower her blood pressure to something considerably lower than the 247 it was currently at. The nurse, under the guidance of the nurse practitioner, had been working on this for over two hours. My siblings and I had been fighting Mom’s skyrocketing blood pressure ever since she found out about the cancer throughout her abdomen on December 2nd. Her blood pressure could have been high longer than that from the stress of taking care of Dad at home and helplessly watching his decline. We don’t know because Mom was unwilling to leave Dad and go to the doctor for her own medical concerns which included increasingly painful digestive problems.

“We think she should go out to the hospital,” her nurse said.

Mom didn’t want to go.

“I think we should follow the medical advice we’re getting,” I told her. “That’s what you want me to do for Dad, don’t you?”  I need to make these kinds of decisions now  that I am the health care power of attorney for both Mom and Dad.

“I don’t want to leave your dad,” she said.

Dad is a little walk away, through a door and down a long breezeway. And even though Mom’s not felt good enough since she’s been there to see him more than once, I made a promise I hoped I could keep, “You’ll be able to see him when we get back.”

So we went to the hospital on Christmas night. Hospice came there on Thursday. And we moved Mom to the Hospice care site for 5-7 days to try to get her pain and symptoms controlled and develop a care plan she will be successful with when she goes back home.

I have at least found a temporary place of rest here. I spent Thursday night in her room on the chair that converts to a bed. I lied, on the relatively hard surface, awake watching the tiny dots of green light float across the ceiling and down the walls from the projector on the shelf above Mom’s bed. It looked like a million stars in the night.

And now I sit and look out her window at the snow scene beyond. A lamplight stretches up beside a sycamore tree. They mark the edge of a pond. The limbs of the trees in the woods beyond the water are decorated with white. A bright red cardinal landed on the evergreen beside her window for a moment. It’s quite lovely really.

If I were an artist I would paint it.

Lights in the darkness

We all love bright blue-skied days full of joy, peace, contentment. But in life we have our gray days. Sometimes we even have very dark days where we can barely see past the next minute that faces us, let alone the next day, the next step. In recent weeks, even months, with my mom struggling to care for my dad with Alzheimer’s whose abilities have continued to decline, the gray days have grown ever darker.

Even with an increase in the hours of home health aide help, my mother’s strength and overall health continued to decline as she persisted in taking care of my father. She was in trouble, and we all knew it. The last week of November I ramped up my time at their house and spent 4 out of the 5 weekdays there trying to step in for her with Dad’s care. My sister relieved me on the weekend, but called me Sunday morning, December  2nd.

“Mom thinks she needs to go to the hospital,” Carol said.

“I’ll be there in a half an hour.” I was already dressed, found a pair of shoes and left immediately. Carol met me at the door and said, “She doesn’t want to go to the hospital today anymore.” Mom was lying on the sofa looking pale and lifeless. I sat down beside her legs and spoke softly to her, trying to convince her to go. I handed her the phone and asked her to call 911. I wanted her to do it. I didn’t want to force her into anything.

“They’re probably not going to keep you,” I said.

“But you don’t know everything,” Mom said.

I did know that Mom has suffered from stomach or digestive problems her entire adult life and has always been very careful about what she eats, avoiding foods that cause her problems. But she’d gotten to the point where the only foods she could really tolerate were toast, cream of wheat, cheerios, and a turkey sandwich. She was taking every over-the-counter remedy available, but had continued to refuse to see a doctor for three years.

“What don’t I know?”

“A couple of days ago I found a lump here in my abdomen around my belly button,” she said.

I took the phone out of her hands. “You can’t tell me that, Mom, and expect me not to take you to the hospital.” I called 911 because she wanted to go in an ambulance and not wait in the ER. She simply felt too bad.

I stayed home with Dad.

The first phone call from my sisters at the hospital with Mom were optimistic. Her blood work and another initial test were good. Her stomach problems were related to her nerves, we all thought.

In the second phone call my sister told me that Mom’s cat scan showed that she has cancer throughout her abdomen.

And my world went pitch black dark.

Mark packed a bag for me and brought it up. I temporarily moved in.

Mom came back home that evening because even though they wanted her to stay for testing, she wanted to come home. We found an oncologist and scheduled some outpatient testing. Meanwhile Dad started having problems and by Tuesday night we were so concerned about about his rapid and shallow breathing that we called 911 for him. He spent six nights in the hospital on IV antibiotics. We took turns staying with him or with Mom so that neither would be alone overnight.

On Monday afternooon when Dad was discharged from the hospital, he was moved to a local nursing and rehabilitation facility. I went with him bringing the basket my sister had packed at home of his labeled clothes and a few personal items from his “office,” a card table beside their living room window.

“When you leave here,” I began to tell Dad daily the last few days he was hospitalized, “you’re going to move to another place where you can do rehab.” I was very careful now to avoid the “home” word, like we were with Annie when she was in the hospital.

At first the move to the nursing home seemed okay, even fine. It was a little more home-like than the hospital. His roommate is also nonverbal and looked like he slept a lot. A nurse station was down the hall. I moved Dad’s clothes into his closet and drawers while the staff got the initial admission things done. They asked me if he wanted his dinner in his room or in the dining room. I had heard that it was good for residents to get out of their rooms and eat in a social environment so I said, “Let’s take him to the dining room.”

I wasn’t in the dining room two seconds before I realized my mistake.

The residents who need assistance eating are assigned tables at the far end of the room. These are not the people who are able to sit upright in a chair and have conversations. When Dad saw where he was, he started to cry. And so did I. I imagined he thought, “How did I get here?” I think he may even have been horrified to find himself in a place where so many people were so disabled.

But it was too late to turn back now.

I pushed him to his assigned table near a big window. A woman, P., was already there and waiting. She is a tiny little woman in a large well-padded chair with head supports on either side. She didn’t move a muscle except for the fingers of her hands which held a soft white stuffed kitten that she gently squeezed from time to time. She watched us, but said nothing. I smiled at her, but got no response.

H. arrived at the table next. He sat across from Dad. He was in a reclined geri chair, had sores all over his head, and his mouth was trembling constantly with some kind of palsy. He didn’t say anything.

I felt myself falling apart. Mark had met me there and was sitting on the other side of Dad. “I have to go to the restroom,” I managed to utter, and I got up and left the room. Behind the closed door I was able to pull myself back together, and returned to the table.

I sat down, looked over at H., smiled and said, “Hello, H.” And miracle of miracles, he spoke. Then he lifted his hand and waved to Dad. I wasn’t sure if Dad noticed, so I told Dad to wave at H., which he did. And H. waved back.

Just one small light in the midst of darkness.

A few minutes later A. arrived. She is a sweet little lady who does speak.

“My dad doesn’t speak,” I told the table at large, “but he likes to listen. He is very interested in fishing and in WWII.”

“I was in WWII,” A. said. “I was born in Holland.”

“Dad wasn’t in WWII, actually. He served in the Korean War in Baumholder, Germany,” I said.

“I was there!” A. piped up.

A. may or may not be a reliable source, I started to think. But I was happy to have someone at the table who was able to speak.

Then a whole beam of light walked into the room and up to the table. P.’s daughter, K., had arrived with bright spirits, stopping to say or word or smile at other residents along the way. She sat beside her mother and helped her drink her fluids. P. is on a liquid diet. K. explained that her mother has Alzheimer’s and has been at this particular facility for 3 months. She visits her nearly every day, but she doesn’t feel like she has to. In the nursing home P. was in the previous two years, K. felt like she had to be there daily. “This is a really good place,” K. said.

And my world got just a little bit brighter.