In the short and cold days of January I drive to Hospice where spots of packed down and slippery snow coat the parking lot. I pull my loaded overnight case with wheels out of the trunk and settle my tote bag on top. It contains my iPad, a book to read, Werther’s original candy, some Dove chocolates, and important papers that include the Healthcare Power of Attorney documents for both my Mom and my Dad that I have been informed I need to have with me always. The tote bag also holds a small purse that I am never ever without. It contains my cell phone and a small notebook I created with all the information that I need at my fingertips including phone numbers, social security numbers, doctors numbers, medicine lists, insurance card numbers, and other pertinent information.
I turn around, pulling my bag through an inch or two of snow, and move towards the door with care not to slip and fall. The man with the silver hair in the enclosed golf cart pulls up beside me and offers me a ride. Although I accepted one the last time, today I decide it is just as easy to keep walking than to lug my suitcase into the cart and back out again for such a short distance.
I sign in at the Hospice front desk and make my way down the halls to my mom’s room with my suitcase in tow. My sister K. has packed her things back in her bag and is getting ready to go home. The air mattress she brought, after we determined the chair that pulled out into a hard bed was beyond hope even with the addition of a foam pad, is leaned on its end against the wall in the corner behind the recliner. K. was right that it fits on the floor between the two chairs in the room, but just barely.
I remove my wet boots and place them behind the door where they will make a small puddle that I will clean up later. Mom is awake and we all talk for a few minutes while I remove my hat and coat and get my slippers out of my suitcase. K. and I keep our spirits up for Mom and our tone has an element of celebration to it. We are all here together chatting. We are family and we need each other.
K. goes over the highlights of her 24 hours with Mom and hands me the stenographer’s notebook with green lined pages that we keep a running journal in. She puts her coat on and leaves, pulling her overnight bag behind her.
Mom dozes off.
I settle into the recliner and read K.’s notes from yesterday:
Lunch: 1/4 C of tea
3 small pieces of turkey
3 small bites of sweet potatoes
1 sip of milk
3 oz of vanilla milkshake
Supper: 3 spoons of chicken and noodle soup with crackers
10:00 p.m. We had to wake her up for her meds. She was very groggy. We used applesauce to make it easier for her to swallow.
4:30 a.m. Mom woke up and went to the bathroom alone. She was in pain when she got back to bed. We got an I.V. for the pain.
8:30 a.m. Breakfast. Very groggy—couldn’t focus on eating. She took 1 bite of eggs by herself. I gave her a few sips of tea. I gave her one small bite of eggs, a tiny bite of bacon, and tiny bite of toast. I put the tray to the side—
*Meds are being given with vanilla pudding now (or apple sauce).
*She can have more pain medicine at 2:10
*Ask about the IV. How does it affect grogginess?
I try to rest with my feet elevated. If tonight goes like the previous ones, I will be up a lot helping Mom to the bathroom and trekking down the hall and through the sprawling building to the snack area where I can warm up Mom’s heating pads that seem to bring her comfort.
I go through the routine of watching Mom not eat, and recording it, watching the clock and asking for her medicines on time even if she is sleeping through it. We have learned from experience that we don’t want to delay the meds. I have a few short conversations with Mom when she rouses, primarily about the minutiae of her daily life here.
“I have busy days here,” she tells me from her hospital bed from which she only rises to use the bathroom.
I do the best I can to keep her comfortable and anticipate her needs. I sleep when I can. I talk to the doctor and nurses when they come and tell me again that Mom is on a steady decline. They don’t tell me anything I can’t see for myself.
I keep detailed notes for my sisters all the while.
Sometime before noon my sister comes to replace me. I have returned the air mattress, that I wrestled into place on the floor last night, back to its spot against the wall behind the chair. I have returned my things to my bags. I pull on my hat, coat, and boots; kiss Mom good-bye and leave with my suitcase in tow.
Five months later I watch for my sister K. to arrive for an overnight visit. I’ll show her how I arranged Mom and Dad’s china in the cabinet, and the display I created with Dad’s flag and army badges and metals. I’ll show her the shadow box where I arranged my share of Mom’s costume jewelry pins that Dad always gave her. I’ll show her the scrapbooks I’ve finished and the photos I’ve still to scan.
She arrives, parks her car, pulls out her overnight bag and enters our house, suitcase in tow.
We are family.
We need each other.