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A Month in the Lives of Two Extraordinary People

The voice on the other end of the phone is that of a child in distress. "I c-c-c-can't do this. I I I just caaaaaaan't." she cries.

My heart goes out to her. She has been pushing for this for seven months. Begging and cajoling, cantankerous and fighting for her right to do this. And now the time is upon her. Everything has finally been arranged. All the obstacles have been overcome. She is finally getting what so desperately wanted... to go to the nursing home.

"I understand how you feel, Mom." I say in as soothing tones as I can manage. I wish I could be there for her, but live too far away. My sister is close, but has a job that keeps her from being there at Mom's beck and call. So, the best I can do is phone duty.

A part of me deep underneath is a little angry that she is acting like such a baby. But, I know, I truly know, how terrifically overwhelmed she must really be feeling to face that which she has feared all her life, even though this has most recently been her wish. She says she is a burden to Dad.

At 82, she is 85% blind with Macular Degeneration. She is becoming deaf. She has heart disease, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. She has had three strokes already. Sometimes it seems she's not all there. She has arthritis so bad that just watching her attempt to walk upright with her walker is painful. Tiny little inch-by-inch steps, she can barely lift her feet off the ground, her hips so bad that it looks as though her knees are fused together, her ankles splayed outwards to hold her up. She cannot take care of herself. She has not been able to for a long time. Dad, at 87 has had his hands full trying to count out her pills day by day. His hands that are so arthritic and deformed, he cannot button a shirt or do any fine handwork. How he picks up each pill and puts it in the containers for the week is a mystery to me. He does not complain. He is devoted to her making up for all those lost years when he worked double shifts.

Mom is taking 37 pills per day. Dad has a chart on the wall to remind him which pill is to be taken at what time of day, with or without food. He recently got out of the hospital with pneumonia, a repcurrent complication he has faced these last few years because of his COPD. I'm glad all the arrangements have been made, and Dad will be relieved of his charge. (July 28, 2002) ~~~~~

I get a call from Mom in the nursing home. Dad comes to visit her after driving his golf cart along the busy road the couple miles it is from their home. I think maybe he is late and she's worried.

"All he does is watch the TV! And now, he's asleep on my bed again!" She is indignant sitting in her wheelchair watching him snore. "I don't know why he even bothers to come to visit!" I'm not surprised that Dad has gone to such lengths in the smoggy Los Angeles August heat. "Because he loves you, Mom, and I'm sure his misses you."

This seems to appease her and we talk of other things, how the aide was rude to her, how the food tastes terrible, how noisy the place is and she hates that man who yells all the time, even though she knows he can't help it. She's suspicious that her room mate has disappeared, even though I remind her that the family had arranged a transfer. She says they treat her like she's senile. They wont listen to her. She can't poop, she says. They wont do anything about it.

"This place is a Hell Hole!" she mutters in resignation.

By this, I know she is done complaining and I steer her into a direction of a younger time, where the thoughts are happier, a time when we lived near the lake, a time when life was full for her. I love these parts of our conversations. She always brings forth a new tidbit of information that opens the door to the past. She reminisces, calmer now. (August 20, 2002) ~~~~~

My sister calls me. "Do you know what Mom did?"

"Now what?" I'm thinking she cussed out an aide, or threw something.

"She called 911"


"She called 911, and told them she was in terrible pain and needed help!"

"Oh, my God!"

"And you'll never guess what! They came right into the nursing home and took her to the emergency room at the hospital. She really was in pain. She hasn't been able to go to the bathroom for a week. They're going to clean her out and send her back in a day or two."

I am stunned. I can't believe what I am hearing. I'm annoyed at myself that I didn't take her problem more seriously. I'm annoyed the nursing home didn't keep track of things, or take her seriously. On the other hand, I am so proud of Mom. She's sharp as a tack. She's not losing it, after all! What a clever woman to take the initiative to call 911, and get the help she needed. I'm so glad the emergency team took her seriously. That's my Mom, Mrs. Feisty!

I'm laughing now as I picture the ambulance screaming into the parking lot, the emergency team entering the nursing home, asking where is room 134. I can see the shock on the faces of the aides. I can see the administrator swallowing his bile, as he realizes he will be reported to the state for neglect.

My sister laughs, too. "The nursing home administrator called Dad and told him to come in after she is released and take her home." (August 28, 2002) ~~~~~

I can see it now. Mom making sure things get done, running things the way she used to when we were kids. I can see Dad working double shifts helping to fix the electric problems to keep the lights bright in order to provide for her. In his spare time he sings with the choir. I can see her telling the angels what to do while he's away, maybe taking her to the thrift shop to buy some more knick-knacks to clutter up the place. I can see Dad coming home to their cloud and the two of them quietly, or probably not so quietly, spending the evening together while they discuss whether or not they will be watching Jeopardy or Star Trek on their heavenly TV. But, every night Dad will sing to her, "Good Night, Sweetheart" and she will be comforted. I can't imagine it any other way, and I know they are happy. (April 6, 2009)

Dad lived until age 90. Mom survived one year without him. But that is another story


  1. Elizabeth,
    This is a wonderful tribute to your Mom and your Dad. I loved reading this because I could just see her calling 911! What a hoot! (Did she go back home after that event?) Those memories are probably just as precious as all the growing up ones because it showed how strong you mother was. Thank you for sharing this great story, I really enjoyed it.

  2. Thank you, Ciss. As soon as Mom was returned from the hospital, the nursing home administrator called Dad and told him to take her home, which he did with my sister's help. I never learned what the state did about the neglect charges, though I know they were filed. Mom's example to me of her long-lasting strength gives me hope for my next 20 years (if I will have them).


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