My father is so incredibly selfish.
I will get to that in a while, but first:
Six years ago my mother was diagnosed with senile dementia, and with the dementia associated with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. She wasn’t too bad, but sometimes she didn’t recognize us. There were moments that were so awful they were hilarious; you had to laugh or you’d cry. Like the time I went to her doctor’s appointment, met her there, and she didn’t know me. As I helped her up the steps she said, kind of being cute, “I don’t know your name. Are you new here?” I thought she was kidding so I played along. When we were inside the waiting room she asked me again and I realized she didn’t know me. So I told her, “I’m your daughter, Jeanne.”
Without dropping a beat she replied, “Of course you are.” as if I’d forgotten who I was, then proceeded to introduce me to everyone there. It was a bit stunning, but then it was funny the way she covered for her mistake.
Another time Dad called me and complained that she had locked herself in the bathroom and told him to go away or she’d call the health department.
“Don’t you know who I am? Come out of there.”
“No. You’re that snotty floorwalker and you’ll just be rude to me.”
I started laughing and he was bewildered. “Dad, she thinks you’re Captain Peacock! From “Are You Being Served?”
Two years later we were moving into the house we own now. I spent three weeks painting and cleaning it before we moved in, but some of our furniture was now in the house.
On a Saturday in June I picked up my parents and drove them to spend the day at my new house. It was a good day. Mom sat and talked to me while I unpacked and organized books, and Mr Pie and Dad walked around the overgrown backyard, talking about the garden we were planning. They ate lunch with us and Mom had a little nap in the guest room, then she sat outside and watched our rabbits play and listened to the birds. The weather was perfect and she was really happy because she hadn’t been able to sit in her own garden for several months because of mobility problems. She was using a walker almost all the time by then. The house they owned was a nightmare of sunken sitting rooms, steps up and down between dining room and living room, bedroom and sitting area, and Dad didn’t want to help her into their patio because he said he was afraid she’d fall. They moved into this house because the neighbor kids in their old neighborhood skateboarded in their driveway, and Mom thought one of the younger neighbors was nosy, the family they were best friends with moved away, and they decided the neighborhood was going downhill. It wasn’t, but they wouldn’t listen to us.
I worried constantly that they’d fall, and they did, but no serious injuries.
So Mom sat in my backyard and enjoyed herself for that one day in June, she knew who everyone was. When it was time to go she went into my bathroom and didn’t come back out. She cried to us that she’d hit her head, and we helped her out and asked her what she’d hit it on. “No, not here. I hit my head at home. Yesterday. It hurts.”
I looked at Dad. “Yes, she fell and banged her head on the portable toilet but she didn’t complain afterwards so I didn’t think anything of it.”
I put them into my car and started to drive them home, and when I took the curving freeway ramp a little too fast she yelped, and then said that she wanted it smooth. I said something to her and she didnt’ respond. I looked at her and she was slumping down in her seat, but her eyes were open. Then they were closed.
“Dad, something’s wrong with Mom.”
“No, she’s just tired. I’ll put her to bed when we get home. Just drive us home.”
I glanced at her again and there was a tiny trickle of blood and vomit showing at the corner of her mouth. She was unconscious. We were in Diamond Bar, heading for San Dimas, really in the middle of nowhere; lots of houses and small businesses, but no hospitals. I thought if I pulled over and dialed 911 it would be 20 minutes before they found us and I was afraid she’d aspirate the vomit. We were 3 miles from the San Dimas offramp, the one that goes to Raging Waters.
“Dad, where is the nearest hospital to you.”
“I told you I just want to take her home…”
“No Dad, something’s really wrong. I need to know where the hospital is by you.”
It took me less than 8 minutes to get her there but it was the longest 8 minutes of my life. They rushed her inside and stabilized her, and then took her for tests. In the meantime they asked me what had happened, and it was that kind of question you get when there is suspicion of abuse. I didn’t know anything except what she and Dad had told me, and I told them what I knew. They brought her back after a while and the doctor on call said that she had had a traumatic blow to the head and she had a large clot in her brain and that the shunt had drained it for 24 hours but was finally overwhelmed. (She had a shunt for 18 years to drain a benign cyst in her brain.)
They transferred her to Arcadia Methodist, and I became the person the doctors spoke to. I had to answer the questions again, and couldn’t tell them much about the accident.
The clot was huge. They showed us the CAT scans and it covered one side of her brain. I read about clots and what pooled blood does to the brain. I talked to my family and to the doctors, and then we checked Mom’s Advance Directive. She didn’t want “heroic measures”, she was really clear about it in the AD. I asked her neuro-surgeon if the surgery he proposed amounted to “heroic measures” and he said yes, but he was dismayed even though tests showed she was nearly brain dead. We told them to take her off the oxygen; they told us she’d die. I said to my sister and Dad that it isn’t that simple, and she began breathing on her own once she was unplugged. My youngest child came to see her, bought her a stuffed tiger in the gift shop, and Mom clutched it in her fingers but Mom was gone, mostly.
They moved her to a “skilled nursing” facility across the street. Our doctor joked that it was really unskilled nursing. The tiger disappeared but when Mr Pie and my sister raised Holy Ned it reappeared. She was in a double room with a middle aged woman who’d had back surgery who would recover but her husband couldn’t take care of her at home; not a good combination. Her guests were noisy and rude. They were partying on the other side of the curtain while Mom was dying. My sister asked them to please be a little quieter and they told her to go to hell.
After a couple of weeks of this my sister was so distressed by them that one evening when they were being particularly loud, I did my best Sarah Bernhardt and suddenly began sobbing and moaning. I did a great job, to judge by my family’s faces. They didn’t know what to make of me, and I really threw myself into it. It was cathartic, and one by one the voices on the other side of the curtain quieted until my sobbing was the only sound, and as their volume had lowered so had mine. They trickled out of the room and left us in peace.
Then I winked at my dad and sister; they thought I’d lost my mind.
Mom hung on until my parents’ 56th anniversary. She died the next day. On her anniversary we spent the entire day with her, Dad, Mr Pie, my sister, my daughter, my son and my nieces. The kids were in and out, but we four adults stayed the entire day and talked to her and told stories about the family. The next morning, Saturday, the phone rang at 7am. “Mom’s dying now. Pick up Dad and bring him as fast as you can because I don’t want him driving.” We rushed onto the freeway and the phone rang. My sister was incoherent with rage and grief. “What? What’s going on?”
“It’s that woman in the other bed! Get here!”
We raced to Dad’s and then to Mom, but my sister was standing outside the building and I knew Mom was gone. My sister grabbed me and told me that the bells at the Catholic church next door had suddenly started ringing next door and Mom opened her eyes, seemed to smile, and was gone. Why were the bells ringing at that hour? It was an odd time, like 7:23am. We couldn’t think of a reason. Too early for a wedding, and we hadn’t heard the bells at all the day before, or any other day.
Then she told us that the woman in the next bed had started yelling at her, telling her that she hadn’t really loved her mother, that she was just putting on an act, and other miserable things. I must have had a funny look on my face because my sister stopped and said, “What…?”
Mom’s nurse told me they’d had to restrain my sister; they thought she was going to kill the roommate, so they’d sent her outside while they straightened out the witch in the next bed.
I was the last one to go into the room. The nurse asked if I’d like to see my mother, and I was suddenly afraid. I hadn’t considered this, but she encouraged me and told me it wasn’t awful, so I did. I leaned over and kissed her and told her I loved her. Mr Pie was in the room with me and my sister and Dad were in the hallway with the nurses. Mr Pie turned to leave and I stepped around the curtain and surveyed the roommate. She was asleep so I kicked the edge of her bed. Hard. Her eyes flew open, and then focused on me and she smirked. “You are a hateful old bitch. When you die you will die alone, and you will surely go to hell for what you’ve done to my sister.” I said this with force but just enough volume that I know she heard me, but the nurses did not. Mr Pie heard me and he just stood there in shock.
And I left, taking him by the arm and guiding him outside.
I went into the hallway and looked at my sister and grinned, then turned it back off because the nurses were there. We went out to the car and I cracked up and told her what I’d done. My nieces thought it was great, and my sister laughed, and Dad was puzzled, and then we all laughed. My kids showed up and they laughed. We laughed for several hours, because of the relief that it was all over. Three weeks of pure hell, and not just Mom dying although that was the worst thing that happened. There was an accumulation of terrible events while she was dying, one after the other ….and we just laughed.
We went to breakfast, and laughed and laughed and you’d never know that we had planned our mother’s funeral that week. The toy tiger was buried with her, everyone came except my middle child who was in Europe and couldn’t get back in time.
On a Saturday in June, one week before Mom fell and hit her head, Dad asked my sister to stay with Mom because he was going Out. Who with? Marilyn.
Marilyn is in the background throughout this story.