Honor Thy Mother

As I wrote in my brief posting last week, Steve and I took the weekend to go see his 84-year-old mother. Although it wasn’t an easy trip, it feels good to have gone.

It had been six months since our last visit and Steve’s sister had recently emailed us that the dementia had gotten worse and there are indications that their mom’s internal systems are beginning to shut down. And though his sister does a great job keeping us up to date on Doris’ condition via emails, there’s no substitute for going in person. We really didn’t know what state we would find her in. I was afraid that she might be like my mother was the last time I saw her before she died ““ unable to speak and incredibly frail.

Because we weren’t even sure that Doris would recognize Steve and know that he had even been there, we were also making the trip to support his sister. She has done an amazing job over the past several years making sure their mother was well cared for ““ from researching the care facilities, moving Doris several times as she became less able to care for herself, managing the finances, keeping track of the diagnoses and numerous medications ““ and doing Doris’ laundry twice a week when she was unhappy with the service at the facility. In my mother’s case, it was my older sister who took on these responsibilities. All I can say to both Steve’s sister and mine, is thank you for the sacrifices you have made to honor our mothers.

We also recently got the news that his sister’s husband was diagnosed with cancer and was going to start radiation treatment the day after our visit. So it definitely seemed like an opportune time to spend some time with them and share some love and support.

When it became apparent from the emails that it was time to make a trip north, I wish I could say that I was eager to do it. But the truth is that I really didn’t want to go, even though I knew it was the right thing to do. After a couple of days whining to myself and sometimes out loud, I got my head wrapped around knowing that I would feel awful when her life comes to an end and we had not made any effort to stay involved.

But though the trip was going to be emotionally draining, there was something about it that I could look forward to: the two hour drive from the airport to the little town of Sequim where his sister and mother live. After numerous visits, we know the way so it’s an easy drive and the scenery on the Olympic peninsula is beautiful. Steve and I get a chance to be together without the distractions of the email and phone of the home office or demands of the household chores and kids.

When we got to Sequim, I really wanted something stronger to buck me up before going to the Alzheimer care facility where Doris lives, but since I don’t drink, a latte was the best we could do. Once we arrived at the facility, the staff led us to sort of a large family room where Doris was dozing in one of the recliners. When she was roused, she immediately recognized Steve but at first thought he was her husband ““ not surprising given Steve’s resemblance to his dad. When she was corrected to tell her that Steve was her son, her face lit up. She was so happy to see him. When she looked at me, she knew she knew me, but she wasn’t sure from where. That wasn’t surprising; she has only known me for the last fourth of her life.

Although she is certainly weaker than when we last visited, we were relieved to find her confused but still alert. She asked where we lived and the ages of our the kids several times and each time she commented that she was amazed they were that old. From the neck up she looks very good; she has far fewer wrinkles and gray hair than I do. She commented over and over what a good looking family she has.

As we chatted with Doris, I watched the other old people at the care facility. I wondered what the old guy who was trying to move the DVD console was like when he was in the prime of his life? And how about the little lady who carried a large purse and came over several times “to make sure we knew she was here.” What place of her life was she stuck in? And watching the range of personality characteristics they exhibited such as agitated, alert, vacant, or worried, I couldn’t help but wonder which type would I be? Would I be angry and swearing and drive the staff crazy or sweet and malleable? I hope I never get to a time in life that I find out.

Later we chatted with Steve’s sister. She commented on how their mother would have wished for the same thing. It’s probably a blessing that Doris isn’t aware of who she is now and what she’s lost in terms of mental and physical abilities; she would be horrified at the amount of care she requires. As it is, she’s very content getting the care she was denied as a little girl.

It was getting close to dinner time for Doris, so a very sweet gal wheeled her to her room, combed her hair, and put some lipstick on her; Doris would have never gone out in public without wearing lipstick.

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