I made it to March

It’s March. Halleluia.

I’ve been through some dark days in December when we found out Mom had cancer throughout her abdomen. Then we found out it was advanced, incurable pancreatic cancer that had metastacized. Then her oncologist told us she had maybe 4 to 12 months to live if we provided nothing but comfort care. In retrospect, that amount of time would have been a joyous gift.

The second day after we found Mom’s cancer was a very dark day when Dad started having breathing problems and we called the ambulance to take him to the hospital. As I watched his monitored blood pressure drop and listened to doctors talk about a massive infection and sepsis, I prayed Dad could hold on a little longer. Mom needed him now.

When I pushed my dad in his wheelchair into the dining hall at his new home in the nursing care facility a week later and he started to cry when he looked around and saw the company he was in, it was a very dark day indeed.

But there were darker, pitch-black days to come. I am still not able to write about it and the vivid memories that continue to plague me at unannounced times during the days.

In fact, I have difficulty writing about anything at all right now and getting my brain and my fingers on the keyboard to cooperate.  Yesterday’s “After Mardi Gras” post took me much longer than it should have to write. But I feel more comfortable talking about non-emotional things right now, and that’s where I think I should focus my efforts.

Someday maybe I’ll share the days I’ve spent at Mom and Dad’s house, emptying drawers of memorabilia, sorting, judging, saving or throwing away their life’s small scraps of treasures. But not today.

Today it is March, even though it is still dark outside at this early hour, and even though there are snow flurries in the foreast and a high temperature prediction of only 37 degrees. I know there will be days of spring this month.

Last year my post on this date, Welcome March, oh month who brings sweet spring, received the honor of being freshly pressed. This year I am barely slogging through. This month I have a birthday to get through without the annual arrival of flowers from my mother. So many things to get through that lie ahead.

But today is March. And March gives me hope.

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The Small Things

I am reminded this morning of a book I read by Arundati Roy called The God of Small Things. It is set in India and is concerned about the sad and dangerous things that go on in the main characters’ family lives, set in a country where sad and dangerous things are happening on a much larger scale. So the main character prays to the God of Small Things.

The recent tragedy in Newtown has helped me keep my own tragedy in perspective. Although my parents are clearly suffering both physically and emotionally, there is some small comfort in knowing that they have lived full and relatively long lives. The children of Newtown have not.

We carry on and continue to march forward.

Dad is settled in his room at the nursing home. The room is semi-private and quite small which makes it difficult for his care. He is using a geri chair that takes up more space than a wheel chair, and they have to pull a Hoyer lift into the room to get him up or put him back in bed. It is quite a cramped ballet of movement when that occurs. We hope to get him moved to a larger room when one becomes available. His medical condition is a little complex because of the side effects from his prostate cancer radiation treatment years ago that have required him to be catheterized three times a day since. First he managed it on his own for a decade, then Mom took over. Recently we’ve tried the Foley cath but that probably led to the UTI and landed him in the hospital on Tuesday of our crisis week. Since we’ve had a variety of opinions recently from doctors in the hospital to the doctor at the nursing home, the Foley cath has been in, out, and now back in. It continues to be a big medical issue for him and may require a minor surgery for a surgically inserted cath. The Foley cath appears to cause him pain based on facial expression and body movements.

Dad’s swallowing ability has been evaluated at the hospital and re-evaluated at the nursing home. It continues to be a source of concern. He is on pureed foods only and nectar-thick liquids. Initially we had to give him his drinks by spoon, but a straw has been approved if it is well-monitored so that he only gets a sip at a time. We have to wait quite a while between bites of foods and sips of drinks. His swallowing reflex is very slow. The aides at the nursing home feed him most of his meals, but we’ve kept our morning home health aides working with him for a transition period. I try to visit at meal times to be able to feed him occasionally.

Mom finally got enough strength up to visit Dad on Thursday. She hadn’t seen him since he went to the hospital on the previous Tuesday night. We were in the middle of a Christmas party entertainment at the nursing home when Mom arrived with my sibling.  Dad was crying every time a new song started, so it didn’t really feel all that much like a celebration to me. He did seem to listen attentively to the jokes and trivia questions from the entertainers. Mom wasn’t sure Dad recognized her at first. He did not respond as I imagined he might. He remained fairly neutral. I have no idea what he’s thinking.

Dad is trying harder than ever to speak. Yesterday I asked him to whisper because sometimes he was able to do that when he couldn’t actually talk out loud. I leaned in close over his bed, next to his head, and felt his warm breath blowing the wisps of hair from my forehead with his efforts to expel words. The speech therapist who is working with him on swallowing, thinks he may be able to use a communication board. Today I am working on getting photos to her of family members, foods, drinks, and other things he likes for her to make the communication board with. I am afraid to hope.

Meanwhile, my siblings are getting my mom ready to move. They are sorting through things as she chooses what she wants to take with her. Yesterday the dining room table held a stack of sheets and a few mementos. I took three family photos off the wall to hang in Dad’s room in addition to what we’ve already put up there.

The little Christmas tree and the Christmas bells still decorate the living room. One day soon I will have to return and take them back down without Mom sitting in the chair in the corner. At least I won’t have to look at the empty chair. It is going with her.

Briefly on Friday

I wasn’t going to post today because:

1. I have nothing to say

2. You guys deserve a break from my incessant chatter

3. The house really needs to be cleaned

4. But I am reading a good book

5. All of the above

However, here I am, and I just can’t resist. So I grabbed my little book, Don’t Forget to Sing in the Lifeboats by Kathryn & Ross Petras and decided to post whatever was on the random page I turned to. This is it:

Hope

“Hope can neither be affirmed or denied. Hope is like a path in the countryside: Originally there was no path—yet, as people are walking all the time in the same spot, a way appears.” —Lu Xun, writer

Amidst increasing challenges for my father with his mobility, eating, tolerance of the condition he is in, and increasing demands on my mother who is bending under the burden, I continue to try to hold high a candle that I call hope, even though at times my arms grow weary.

Still singing in my lifeboat here.