Thursday, April 29, 2010
As of May 1, 2010...
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Ah, yes. Christmas.
I started playing Christmas music early...even found some new stuff for us to enjoy. I wasn't in the mood to plan for us to traipse down to the Valley on Christmas and discussed this frankly with Mom. Although she mentioned that she "always enjoys" seeing the relatives, she confessed that "the trip makes it a hard day" for her and was fine with us staying up here. As you know, early in the season I put together an unusual and festive menu for Christmas Dinner. Then, I settled down in front of the computer with our Christmas budget to my right and began to order gifts. That's when the Christmas wind went out of me.
Can't really say why I found myself skidding through this holiday season without the tiniest scrap of The Spirit of Giving left in me. All I know is what I told my mother after I'd thought through, selected and ordered one family's gifts: "Seems like it's been a hard care giving year for me this year, Mom. I just don't have any desire to give left in me."
As I reflected on the year, I couldn't come up with any concrete reasons for feeling this way...maybe it was all the energy I put into Daily Strength; maybe it was the recent surprise of Mom's need for a second transfusion; maybe it was Mom's 90th birthday celebration, over which I'm still boggled to the point of refusing to think about it; maybe it's that, this year, it's become necessary for Mom to be on continuous flow oxygen all the time, so I've had to push my nose further up her ass than before. All in all, I couldn't point to anything in particular and I had to admit that when I review the entire year, it seems like yet another blessedly easy year...and yet, before it ended I was bereft of Giving Resources.
I thought about how our Christmases usually unfold: Careful, thoughtful gift ordering (I've missed a few Christmases with this but mostly I've been good about it in the last few years); maybe not always Christmas decorations here, but always lots of Christmas talk and music and usually some special baking; forays about town to see community decorations; we typically don't buy gifts for ourselves, neither of us is particularly materialistic and we're rather like an old married couple in this respect, since we tend to get what we want when we want it (assuming we can afford it) so gifts that we receive are left up to whomever we're visiting, a regular box received from one branch of the family, an irregular box from another branch and late, maybe-sometime-the-following-summer gifts from a third branch; a snuggling down with Christmas movies and holiday specials, especially between Christmas and New Years, then a special New Year's dinner here at home, no company, to polish off the season before putting it away.
"Mom," I said, after shoving myself through the first wave of gift ordering, "just thinking about gift giving exhausts me this year. I feel like, this year, you and I need to get. We need to pluck presents for us from the tree of abundant human productivity this year. I think we should take the rest of our Christmas budget and spend it on us. Get things that we really want; delicious things that we've been putting off or don't get because we don't really need them." Much to my surprise, my mother agreed. Enthusiastically. So, I spent our money and my thought on us, this year. I was able to run all my ideas for Mom by her with the confidence that her dementia would obliterate the memory of the selections and she'd be delighted anew as she unwrapped her gifts on Christmas.
I diligently wrapped gifts as they were purchased and set them around our trees as the season progressed. I reinstated "Mom's Stocking", which I hadn't done for several years, even though, up to about 2000, I ALWAYS, no matter where I was and where she was, bought her a startling new stocking and sent or gave it to her along with so many little things I'd collected through the year for her that the stockings have never held even a third of their stash. Each morning for the week and a half before Christmas Mom's face lit up like a third tree as she studied the gift tableau and noticed another package here or there. I also wrapped things I got for me so that Mom wouldn't feel as though she hadn't participated in the gift exchange.
At one point a tug of guilt had me call the car rental place a little over two weeks before Christmas just to see how their inventory of holiday rentals stood. Much to my delight I discovered that it was already too late to reserve a car, taking care of any misplaced shame about not traveling.
By Christmas morning Mom was stoked. She was up and bathed well before noon. I made her wait until after her ham and egg breakfast to attack the presents, the technique my parents practiced. It was like reining a child. With each gift I "passed" and she or I opened, she fairly squealed with delight! I was beside myself with joy that we were having such a wonderful Christmas.
As the gift giving subsided, Mom came to and realized that she'd had nothing to do with collecting the gifts that were under the tree. She started talking about all the gifts that she'd bought and wrapped but hadn't yet put under the tree. I was a little surprised, but not fazed. My first tactic was to assure her that she'd already put her gifts out and we were almost done unwrapping everything. She was satisfied with this for a few minutes, then reverted back to her insistence that she had gifts to put under the tree "for everyone". My second tactic was to accompany her to her room, where she said she had stored the gifts. As you know if you're a regular reader, she is neither very spry nor flexible, so, while she sat on her bed, I perused the room for her, looking under the bed, opening drawers, moving this and that about so she could see that "everything had already been put under the tree." I even went so far as to tell her that I had sneaked into her room "last night", gathered her gifts and placed them under the tree.
She reluctantly left the room. Once I'd gotten her back in her rocker, she began to recount memories of having gone out "a few days ago" or "a week ago" or "right after Thanksgiving" and shopping for "everyone". She even remembered things she'd bought, although when I asked her what these "things" were, she smiled wickedly and teased me that I'd have to wait to open them.
Suddenly, she remembered all the boxes stored in her closet. She was sure she'd put "all the gifts" in the boxes and wanted to return to the room and go through the boxes to retrieve them.
I was becoming exasperated. No, I said, the boxes haven't been touched for years, and, besides, she wasn't capable of pulling them out of the closet so she couldn't have stored gifts there. At any rate, I said, I wasn't going to "waste" several holiday hours box hunting on her behalf.
She remained adamant. She stood determinedly out of her rocker without my assistance and made to shuffle for the bedroom. I placed my body in front of her and blocked her. I decided it was time to tell her the truth. That usually works, even though I expected it might be an unpleasant shock.
I spilled all the beans. I told her that I had been the only one in the household (I put it this way in case there were holiday visitors from The Dead Zone Mom was entertaining during the holidays but of whom I was unaware) to purchase, wrap and place gifts. When she argued about her shopping trips I told her that the only way she would have been able to shop was if I'd taken her, and I hadn't. I reminded her of all the conversations we'd had about this or that item. I reviewed, in detail, the entire holiday season from the weekend before Thanksgiving on, trying to drop kick something familiar back into her brain. Nothing worked. Additionally, she spent our entire exchange trying to push her way past me to return to the bedroom to scavenge through the boxes in the closet.
Fifteen minutes later, the effort of standing and trying to push her way around me exhausted her and she sank back into her chair. By this time her legs were wobbly and she was panting, so I knew the rest of the day was going to be a little touchy, but I was far from upset.
Soon after collapsing into her rocker she decided she needed to take "a little nap". I agreed. I figured she'd digest all this "new" information while sleeping and that would be the end of the Christmas Gift Dilemma.
Her naps usually last anywhere from an hour to three hours, depending on how long she's been awake, how much she's moved and how confusing her "morning" (most of which occurs in the early afternoon) has been. Thus, I was surprised when, at the half hour mark, I glanced down the hall and noticed that her light was still on. I entered the room. She was sitting on the floor wedged between her bed and her open bottom dresser drawer, her legs awkwardly sprawled, surrounded by stuff she'd taken out of the bottom drawer. She was struggling in vain to arise. I panicked. It's been awhile since I've had to pick her up off the floor and I wasn't sure I was still capable of doing this. I freaked while visions of having to pay paramedics to get her up off the floor whirled through my mind.
"What were you thinking, Mom!?! You know better than to sit on the floor! You know you can't get up on your own!"
"I can get up any time I want," she indignantly insisted, and twisted her legs into an even more impossible position, trying to prove her point.
It took us twenty minutes to figure out how to get her to her knees so she could prop the upper half of her body onto her bed. I squatted from behind her and shoved until her flailing legs were able to achieve purchase with the sheets and we were able to move her full onto the mattress. The effort again exhausted her.
Always one to take advantage of the opportunity to add insult to injury, especially when I'm perplexed and angry, I sternly instructed her that she was to relax, take a nap, and remain in bed. "No more sitting on the floor," I told her. I shut the doors to her closet (surprised me, actually that I was able to do this, her closet is so loaded) so she wouldn't get any ideas about her ability to haul large, heavy packing boxes down. "I have to start the Sauerbraten," I told her. "I'm going to be checking on you every couple of minutes until you've gone to sleep, to make sure you don't end up on the floor, again."
This was when she asked why we couldn't just have ham sandwiches for dinner. That sounded fine by me...less work, more time to keep an eye on Mom and her gifting delusions.
For the next two days, Mom complained about "not feeling quite right," and, you know, if she's complaining about how she feels, something is clearly wrong. She mentioned that she felt like she had a cold but she knew she didn't have one. She further articulated that she "ached all over." Although I made a mental note to be prepared for a trip to the emergency room, when I suggested this, she poo-pooed the idea and insisted we wait for a couple of days to see how she felt later. I decided to gamble on the probability that the indignities involved in raising her off the floor and onto her bed probably took a muscular toll on her eccentrically weak muscles and she'd feel fine after a couple of days and some judiciously administered ibuprofen. I was right. She collapsed once more the day after Christmas, as she was negotiating the two steps into the living room, but once I picked her onto her feet and pull-carried her to her chair, she recovered and was fine. I've made a mental note to look into the possibility of physical therapy for her, since our unevenly applied routine of sitter- and stander-cises don't seem to be doing her much good. She doesn't take them seriously and complains about my insistence on their necessity, puts no effort into doing them (since I'm not someone she feels she needs to please), so they do little to improve her strength or range of motion.
Since then I've spent much time considering what seeing her through to the end of her life is going to take. She is, after all, ninety. The word "decline" would not be an unfair description of what she's going through, although from day to day she doesn't seem to change and I feel I can still count on revivals. So does she. "Improvement" of any aspects of her physical condition is unlikely. And, yet, I feel obliged to take into heavy consideration her strength of will and her spirit and honor her belief that she has many years to go and many more steps to take, aided, as they are, by her mechanical walker and me as her human walker.
There are times when I scold her, during an exercise session, for her lack of application to the seriousness of the task and desperately confess that if she becomes any weaker I may not have the ability to care for her here at home...even though I'm also aware that home care to the end of her life will surely happen and I am determined to fight victoriously to keep her here. When I suffer one of these break-downs, she ramps up her exercising efforts and we usually have a good session. I am loathe, though, to constantly threaten her, especially when I know the threat is full of fevered, exasperated air.
Still, I am tired. Very tired. Besides the Buddhist fable I mentioned in a previous post, I've been contemplating a couple of my own epistles: The Wouldn't it be funny if... post and the No one would blame me post: The former when I am hopefully urging myself back into compassion mode; the latter when I am drowning in the difficulty of resisting compassion fatigue.
Last night we watched Grizzly Man, playing on the Animal Planet Channel. This is not the first time I've viewed this movie. I am attracted to it primarily because of the occasional sharpness of Herzog's commentary, specifically something he says in the middle of the film: After documenting that Treadwell, a.k.a. The Grizzly Man, had faith in the "harmony" of life, he says, "...I disagree." He feels that life, in fact, rotates around an axis of "chaos, hositility and murder." In an interview in the May, 2005, issue of Documentary Magazine in which he talks about the film, he continues: "I have the impression by simple observations that there is no harmony in Mother Nature, and I don't like this romanticized New Age approach. I cannot take it any longer...It doesn't matter how the universe is organized. Since we are here and we are part of the creation, as faulty as it can be, we have to give meaning to this planet."
Last night, I took special note of this because I've been considering how, just as human society colludes in determining our births, it also colludes in the timing of our deaths. When we talk, innocently, about "it" being someone's "time", we imply that some sort of god is ticking off our life plan. In fact, I've been thinking, it is our society that does this. We can't help but do it. Life is, fundamentally, a matter of resource distribution. One way or another, although some of our cultures allow themselves less awareness of this, some more (see The Ballad of Narayama), we plot to determine the length and breadth of everyone's lives. I'm convinced that my intervention in my mother's life has extended it beyond what relatives and the medical providers have thought possible (although not what my mother has believed about how long she'll live). I've been wondering, lately, what my part in the timing of my mother's death will be: Whether increasingly frequent episodes of compassion fatigue, combined with my mother's reaction to my fatigue, will ultimately determine the timing of her final moments. It's not a depressing subject to contemplate. Neither is it easy. Hard questions, hard facts, hard truths, hard insights. This seems to be the overriding concern of my personal Holiday Season, this year. My mother's holiday season seems to have been about stoic endurance and sometimes dangerous delight...although I can't be sure about this.
In the meantime, Mom is feeling "herself" again. She can't remember the few days during which she insisted that "something's wrong but I don't know what", so I must have been right about her body's need to recover from the trauma of being hoisted onto her mattress.
Our New Year's dinner will most likely be ham, or perhaps ham and bean soup, as she was not satisfied with the ham sandwiches on Christmas, which depleted our supply of her favorite food. The trees continue to remind her of Christmas, although she's aware that "Christmas is over" and a new year is about to begin. I'm surprised that her sense of time and its markers is heightened...but, mine has been philosophically acute, as well, lately, and this may be rubbing off on her.
Happy Holidays. I believe this is appropriate, in a skewed sort of way.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
I'm cooking Christmas dinner.
Not that we didn't have dinner on Christmas. I'd bought what was called a quarter HoneyBaked Ham® (no bone, sliced) so that I could serve Mom her very favorite breakfast (after pancakes, that is, which didn't seem like a good idea, considering all the refined carbohydrates I expected to slosh through her system that day, although I added the breakfast accompaniment of Wildflower Bread Company's cranberry scones, of which I am endlessly envious and haven't yet managed to duplicate), ham and eggs. As the day progressed, despite the mounting oddities, the one item that had been a resounding success from Mom's point of view was the ham at breakfast. About the time I needed to begin preparing what I'd planned for Christmas dinner, Sauerbraten, Mom announced that she'd "just as soon" have ham again for dinner.
No problem. The roast could marinate for a few more days. How, I asked, would she like the rest of the ham prepared?
"How about ham and cheese sandwiches with MCS's pickles (MCS had sent us some jars of her much appreciated home made Bread & Butter pickles for Christmas, yet another favorite of Mom's; when we opened the package right after breakfast Mom insisted on having some)?"
That was doable. I assembled ham and cheese (Cheddar and Jalapeno Jack for Mom, aged, grated Parmesan for me) between slices of sourdough bread slathered with whiskey mustard and skillet toasted the sandwiches. With the pickles, it made a perfect Christmas dinner, especially considering what had gone before.
Dinner was followed with a light dessert, also not on the original menu. I'd planned a See's Apricot Delight Cake. I'd noticed it while I was ordering some very special candy for Mom's stocking. The cake recipe sounded delicious, so I ordered the type of candy it required and made sure I had all the ingredients. I followed the recipe exactly, which is a miracle for me. Unfortunately, the recipe was a dud. The cream cheese/candy filling sunk to the bottom of the upside-down Bundt pan as it baked and fused to the pan. When I attempted to drop the cake out of the pan (after the requisite hour of cooling) the cake broke in half. The cake part baked up nicely, but the filling part had turned into a gooey glue that I had to scrape out of the pan. The entire production went down the garbage disposal. On Christmas Day, though, I got an idea to bake up a batch of Date Bars, a delicious family recipe from waaay back that put standard oat crust date bars to shame. My plan was to serve these (which I did bake on Christmas) with French Vanilla ice cream and home made rum-date sauce. After dinner, though, Mom wanted, "just a little something sweet", so I okayed her foray into her box of special candy. Amazingly, although she loved it, she ate only one piece. I was surprised. I even told her that it would be okay if she had more since I'd doubled her glipizide dose, but, "...no, that was enough." I never fail to be amazed at her sugar restraint since she developed Type 2 diabetes in 1999 and slowly but surely changed her sugar habits.
So, we're having our originally planned Christmas Dinner tonight, Sauerbraten and Date Bars with ice cream and rum-date sauce, tonight. I just finished the dessert sauce...oh, my, it is the sauciest of sauces!
In case you're curious, the Sauerbraten recipe is straight out of Joy of Cooking, the 1997 edition. I followed that recipe exactly, as well, right down to the marinade, except that I did something my mother used to do when cooking pot roast: I added the chunked companion vegetables I'd planned (not the vegetables that flavor the braising liquid) to the braising meat throughout the cooking cycle. They'll be removed just before I make the sauce. I followed the recipe on this one, too, because, although I may, at some time, have had Sauerbraten, I don't remember it so I figured I'd better not get too creative with the cooking. From all indications, the main dish will be delicious...as will the dessert. I'll publish the recipes for the Date Bars (you won't find this recipe anywhere else, I don't think; I suspect that the woman who passed it on to us created it) and the rum-date Sauce (not my recipe) later, over at the cooking section. I'll add links from here to there.
I think the meat is just about ready to harvest, which means I need to get busy, awaken The Mom from her nap and make the gravy (yes, I'm going to use crushed gingersnaps, as the recipe recommends...even though the idea of cookies in a main dish gives me pause).
Good idea to put my feet back in the journaling water by writing around what's been going on. I think I'll be dunking myself further...
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
I've been feeling a desperate need for snow, lately.
Mostly, lately, I've had that familiar Buddhist fable in mind. You know it: The one about the two monks, belonging to a sect that prohibits the touching of women, about to cross a river, on the banks of which is a woman who needs help crossing. One of the monks carries her across the river. Once the monks complete their crossing and the woman is deposited, the monk who denied help to the woman grouses at the other as the two continue on their way. In response, the "guilty" monk says, "Ah, but I left the woman on the bank of the river. You're still carrying her."
It seems I'm carrying a variety of "women", not the least of which is an actual woman, my mother, much further than is probably necessary and am experiencing some difficulty because I can't figure out how to put any of them down.
Funny, because almost hourly when I'm awake, as my day progresses, I mentally write in this journal, keeping up a running commentary on what is happening and how I'm feeling about it. When I get to a point, though, where I can fire up the computer and record the commentary, the words evaporate in bewilderment.
So, in case you're wondering, that's why I haven't actually been here much, although I've been here "spiritually" almost constantly. I even surprised myself by dreaming, about a week ago, about writing here! The dream was immensely satisfying...awakening from it was frustrating.
How's The Mom doing? I'm not sure. That's another perplexing aspect of these last few months. On the surface she seems okay, but I'm suspicious. Perhaps she is simply reacting to my fairly apparent confusion. Christmas turned out to be an unsettling day...remind me to tell you about it.
Hmmm...I notice that my fingers remain familiar with the keyboard, even anxious to skitter from letter to letter...maybe I'll be getting back here sooner than...
Sunday, December 16, 2007
By way of explanation...
Later? Of course...eventually...
Thursday, November 22, 2007
I'm thankful for my anger, this year.
No, no, no, not anger at myself. I've never been much for that little bit of keep-'em-down-on-the-farm propaganda.
Outward facing anger. Feels right. Feels good. Even makes me smile...no, make that "grin".
I've been lax at getting back here. So much catching up to do in so many areas. I'm turned this way, though. I'll be back more frequently as the days go by.
Is it still Thanksgiving here? Ah, yes, it is.
[Happy] I salute the gods [Thanks] who've been busily fanning [Giving] the flames of my anger.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I just awoke from a dream...
I'm mentioning the dream because, as it closed, Jessica mentioned that she would be returning to her "favorite place"; for her, in the dream, it was Wales. She urged me to do the same.
The idea sounded perfect, I agreed, and told her, in answer to her query, that my favorite place was Seattle, Washington, any time but the summer, but that I would be deferring my return.
"What's stopping you?" she asked.
"My mother and I live together and she can't take Seattle weather. If she doesn't enjoy it, I won't." My voice and mood in the dream were matter of fact. No sorrow. No regrets.
Jessica smiled, nodded approvingly and wished me well, "...until we meet again," [presumably in Dream Land to solve another murder mystery].
I awoke as Jessica donned another disguise and headed toward Wales. I was surprised to realize that, even in my dream life, now, I am satisfied with where I am, my commitment to my mother and what I consider that it asks of my life. Partnering with Jessica Fletcher in a dream is one indication. My mother's been on a Murder, She Wrote binge, lately, and, this time, I'm not annoyed by it; not even by hearing the theme over and over (which may or may not have been atmosphere music in my dream).
It's funny, too, because I have a recent info-blip with which to compare my staunch refusal to return to my favorite place at this time. Yesterday Mom and I were watching the weather segment of a "local" (from Phoenix) news program. The meteorologist mentioned that the Western United States is in a La Niña pattern: Cooler and wetter for the Pacific Northwest (he mentioned Seattle specifically); warmer and drier for us.
I remember thinking, "Damn, I'm missing a La Niña winter in Seattle! Oh well, it won't be the last."
Simultaneously, my mother was saying, "Oh, good, looks like it's going to be warmer, here, this year!" She added, "I'm sorry you're missing Seattle, though. Why don't you visit there for a week? I'll be fine."
My mother, of course, was thinking that she'd be fine on her own...not in a nursing home, which she'd refuse and in which, frankly, after our skilled nursing facility adventure, I'd refuse to harbor her unless I could check on her care daily; and, you know, if I'm going to be here to check on her daily, why not just be with her here at home? Much better for both of us.
I grinned, thanked her, and told her, "I think I'll do that."
This satisfied both of us, even though I fear I'm suffering a bit of Seasonal Affective Disorder because of this winter's uninhibited sun. Makes it easy, though, to get my mother in the car for a blood draw during the winter. Which I'll be doing shortly.
Off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of blood.