Thursday, May 5, 2016

Putting it out there so I don't have to talk about it

So, my mom is dying.

I don't mean to be blunt. It is my nature, but I suppose some of you will find it offensive, even cold. I guess it's just the way I deal with what's happening. In general, I don't do sentiment very well, nor very often. It takes too long, makes a bad thing worse to me, and puffs my eyes until I'm unrecognizable. No, thank you.

Anyway, my mother has been dying for a while now. And yes, I realize that we're all dying; out of 1,000 people here on Earth, 1,000 of them will die. The odds are sort of stacked against us.

But my mom is dying in a slow, observable way. And it's been pretty damned difficult to watch.

Dementia is bad enough. Dementia combined with ill health is worse. Dementia plus general poor health plus the ticking time bomb of cancer? That, my friends, is the trifecta no one wants to hit. It happens, daily, probably to more folks around you than you realize. Once you become one those folks, then you begin to grasp how common this type of situation is. But you wish you didn't know, and you wouldn't wish it on anyone else.

As her memory faded, she began to fail physically as well. We all noticed, pushed the memory meds (which I suspect do nothing), and saw the general deterioration become a bit pronounced. And then a bit more. A urinary tract infection caused the first landslide, and we all saw the woman we know retreat into herself and become, temporarily, an unhappy and uncooperative person who wanted only her husband and to be left alone. A short stay in a rehab facility to help her regain strength was a necessary but difficult period of time; she was not a model patient. Finally, the infection cleared and she returned to us, somewhat less muddled but permanently affected.

That was 2 1/2 years ago. Since then, there have been more infections, falls, scans, biopsies, the deadly diagnosis of the "C" word, and a continuing decline. Help has been enlisted, then compounded. Some friends and family have been amazingly, touchingly supportive. Seeing this good in people, and spending time around the biggest helpers, have been humbling moments for me; I am a better person simply for proximity to these kind-hearted blessings in human form.

But the kindnesses and offerings and visits have not stopped the progression of the decline. Only God can do that, and I have to believe He has His reasons for permitting this. My heart has been softened considerably; never again will I be able to see a family dealing with a health crisis and not remember these days. I will certainly be slower to judge anyone facing terminal health problems; I will try to never take for granted my basic faculties and abilities. These are good ends, because I should never judge, and I should always be thankful. I wish there were easier means to acquire such wisdom.

She was never my best friend—we didn't have that kind of relationship. I was the third of three girls; I imagine that both of my parents were weary by then from the drama of all those female hormones. I didn't tell her my secrets, or give her every detail of my crushes at the high school dance. In the end, though, none of that matters. She is my mother, who protected me and bathed me and sat through my band concerts and made me do chores and helped me pick out clothes (until I was a teenager, at least). Her blood runs in my veins. I am here because of her, and thanks to her.

It feels now as if we are caring for a shell of the person we knew. Is she still in there somewhere? Does she remember bits and pieces, or is it mostly just gone? Sometimes she remembers me, but mostly she just knows that I am familiar. That's what she craves: the familiar. She is moving away from me, from us. I know we must be nearing the end because she has ceased to brag about her childhood singing voice; it has been months since she's told me that she was the smartest in her family, in her class even. Now she has begun to turn down sweets. My mother! Refusing a cookie! Not finishing a piece of cake. She used to declare how she loved to read—and she did, much more than housework!—and even though she hasn't read anything since this long, ugly journey began, it pains me that she doesn't even mention it anymore.

The person we knew is already gone, really. It's as if I'm watching a cheesy episode of Star Trek, where the crew members step onto those round platforms and disappear a little at a time (cue the shimmery, space-age sound effect). That is what's happening to my mom. She is getting more and more faint, even as I physically help her rise from her chair, even as we have to stand closer to each other than ever before so I can assist her with delicate matters in a way that the woman I used to know would never have permitted... Even then, she continues to vanish. She is disappearing right before my eyes.

I pray for her quick departure, that it is easy and light. Recently after waking, she announced to one of the wonderful ladies who help care for her, "Jesus loves me." Yes, He does. I trust He is preparing the arrival party.