Thursday, April 8, 2010

Is it Okay?

I haven't written about G'ma in a while.

That's actually a very powerful sentence.  I've been looking at it on the screen, feeling the wave of - of what, exactly? - rising from its hiding place under my heart, perilously close to my stomach, that wave of not quite sadness which washes over me from time to time.  

When things are going well, as they have been for months and months now, I relax into the delusion that this is the way it will be from now on.  I stop having G'ma at the top of my worry list.  Our routine is comfortable and settled and suits both our needs.  She's glad to see me and I'm glad to see her and the pod-castle people keep her safe and well-fed and provide just enough human companionship throughout the day.  I can move on to worry about one particular 1st Lieutenant riding convoy duty in Iraq, about the disappearance of corporate America's pension plans, about the effect UConn's dominance is having on women's college basketball... things that are less fraught with whatever it is that I keep hidden down there, in the G'ma-space.

And then I go away for a week, and return with the cold-from-hell, and it's been 14 days since I've seen her last and am I crazy or is there less of her now?  I didn't expect her to remember that I'd been gone, I wasn't looking for her to jump off the couch and throw her arms around me, but she seems frailer to me now, somehow less connected to world around her.  Was that always there?  Did it take absence to make the realization available to me?  Should I call the doctor?  

Should I call the doctor -- another powerful phrase.  It speaks to my need for facts, for definitive answers, for a road map,  a plan, a vision, something anything that will tell me what to do.  And what will the doctor say?  What will he do?  What should he do?  And, if I'm honest with myself, what can he do?  

She's old and that's not changing.  Not-Kathy's mother-in-law may be traveling alone across the country at 95, but G'ma is not.  I've come to terms with that.  She should have, deserved to live, wanted and planned for an active, engaged dotage, but that's not what she got.  And she, like Seret, believes that it is what it is, so smile and move on and that's exactly what she does.  She's not afraid of death, though prolonged illness and debility do seem to get her attention.  I remind her of her DNR order and she smiles.

Honestly, it's not as weird as it sounds.  

The most wonderful 30 minutes of our time here in Tucson were spent, kneecap to kneecap, with Dr. Birkenstock, he of the blue jeans and polo shirts and sandals and blackberry, he who listened and questioned and smiled and patted, who probed but didn't pry, who cared and wasn't overwhelmed and pushed us to consider ramifications and implications and verities and feelings.  At the end of that interview, we three were in agreement on what constitutes a life plan for G'ma.  Our basic goal?  To keep her happy and healthy and outside the hospital.  We all understand what we mean by that; we talked about it for half an hour.  Every time I hear political bloviating about Death Panels I fume.  We had the hardest conversation of our lives, we examined our connections and our desires and our fears and we came out at the end of it with smiles and a clear understanding.  Will there be bumps along the way?  No doubt.  Though her plan has always been "To get hit by a bus.... from a solvent municipality...."  while strolling across a busy intersection, that's probably not on the horizon.  But I know that she trusts me, she trusts the doctor, and she's not afraid.

That helps, but it still doesn't get me over this week's hump.  Knowing that the end has been discussed, I wonder why I never spent time discovering my mother's relationship to the concept of locus of control.  I've written before about deciding who makes the decisions, and how the little things are actually more painful than the mega-choices.  Who's your physician?  I'll choose.  Where will you be able to live safely?  I'll decide.  Should you have surgery or wear a brace for 10 weeks?  That's on me, too.  But what about naps?  Joining me at bowling?  Going out to lunch?  Who is to say that 9am is a better time to get out of bed than 11am?  Does it really matter if she never attends the afternoon musicales?  The empty flower pots on the wrought-iron stand, waiting for love yet sadly neglected.... those pots call to me but not to G'ma.  "I'd have to take care of them" and that's it, she's finished.

But she's a gardener.  It's part and parcel of my mother.  And it's not there any more.

So, we went to lunch on Tuesday and then, I thought, we were off to bowling.  But she was tired.  As always, I offer a choice: "Come watch me bowl, or I could take you back home for a nap."  And when she smiles and nods happily at the second alternative, I begin to argue.  "Are you sure?  Don't you want to get out and see the Happy Ladies?  I need your encouragement... I suck when you're not there"  to which she merely smiles, tells me I'm not that great when she is there, am I? and would I please let her nap.

Feeling like a failure in the amuse-my-mom department, I arrive at bowling.  Where's Mom? I tell my story and, to a woman, the Happy Ladies all agree -- it's perfectly okay to let her nap.  She's 87 years old.  She's allowed to be tired.  We went out to lunch, so it's not that she's done nothing all day.  And, over and over, with warmth and love and the wisdom of having been there and done that, they reassured me :  it's okay.

I didn't need to call the doctor at all.   I just had to call on my friends.


  1. Oh, my dear. I know this situation well and you write it so beautifully. The Happy Ladies are right, naturally; given that your mom has always been a doer and a go-getter (love the bus from the solvent municipality), you have to trust her now and you are. She's not napping because she's "giving up too soon." She's napping because that's what she needs now...and your tenderness in writing about it shows how well you get that. It does seem to happen suddenly, doesn't it? Just like our last birthday, my right hip, and...well, you know...,good daughter.

  2. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Nance. I'm ever so grateful for you, my friend.

  3. That was a beautifully written post. I think of these things often, as my Dad passed away last year, and my sister and I watch over Mom to make sure she's is on top of things. I think I'll tuck your piece aside for future thoughtfulness!

  4. Oh, Meg, thank you for that. I worry that I'm whining aloud when I write these pieces. It's nice to know that you found it helpful and that you have the time to consider the subject before you're drowning in a sea of "Gee, I wonder...."

    It's the nuances that gnaw at me....

  5. Beautiful.


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