Monday, March 4, 2013


I keep a delicate balance between howling and showing respect. This story is about my I can't have distance, I can't feel comfort because someone else has had a harder time. I can't turn my back, I can hardly take a few days off. I treasure my time with her, in these twilight years of her life, and I also wonder, how long will this go on? 

Mom flying

I am in the situation unexpectedly. Yet it's all predictable. At 96, She's a widow. She needs help. I'm one of her eight children. I have the time to be with her. I am glad for that. I can support her, show her love, be her advocate, be the chief worrier about her, be her daughter while not having to work full-time. The process takes its toll on my marriage, on my time, on my mental health. Lynne feels disappointed by the trips we have had to cancel, by my being late for dinner when I stay and visit with my mother, by my many absences. I miss having more down time: time to hang out, time for our dog, time to write. I miss sleeping through the night without worrying: about her, about my decisions, about her $8000 monthly rent, about my future...

Mom with one of her teddy bears
  Yesterday my mother and I played music together. She gets to choose which songs. Christmas carols are among her favorites. I played the lap harp, a super simple stringed instrument like a dulcimer. Anyone could play it. My mother cannot. Because of her glaucoma, she can't see the strings. Plus, she no longer grasps how to pluck. So, she reads the words out loud ahead of each line. Then, we  both sing while I play the melody. I really had fun, and she did too. Before we knew it, the clock showed 5:20 pm, time to go to dinner.

My mother, Cooie, occasionally forgets my name, Sky. Sara, who stays with her for three hours every week day, says my mother sometimes calls me Spy. The other day, at the time I had told her that I would be there, my mother was waiting for someone named Coo. We don't know anyone named Coo. She has already forgotten that my sister Peg was just here for a week, that Peg stayed with her for major parts of every day, played the lap harp, tied her bib around her neck, pushed her wheelchair, bought her more coloring pens, and rode back from church on the bus with her.

My mother may remember what day it is, but sometimes she doesn't know if it is morning or night. One afternoon she took a nap, and when she woke up, she thought it was morning. She was furious that the kitchen served her dinner that night, when she was expecting her Rice Krispies.

The view out her window
Both her legs are in "knee immobilizers." Its been 10 weeks since she fell in her Assisted Living bathroom. An aide was standing next to her. She broke both her femurs just above her two prosthetic knees. For the first month she was in matching hip to ankle casts. She has graduated to removable braces, but she is not allowed to bear weight on either leg for the foreseeable future. To get from her bed to her wheelchair (her only two options), she is a "three person transfer." In other words, of the four or five aides on duty at one time at her long term nursing facility, three of them have to interrupt what they are doing to transfer her. They use the Hoyer lift, which is something like a crane with a cloth sling attached. They lift her in the air from bed to wheelchair or back. She calls it flying. Now that she is feeling better, she tries to tickle the aide with her toes.

Notice that I did not mention a commode, or a trip to a bathroom. Because of her non-weight bearing status, she must perform all bodily functions in place. This limitation led her to complain that she wished she lived back in Assisted Living where they allowed her go to the bathroom, not comprehending that her two broken legs, not the facility, limits her from using a bathroom. One of her greatest desires right now is to sit on a toilet.

Mom in church

 People ask how she is doing. She is doing well. She likes the attention she gets from her caregivers, she likes going to Bingo, she has a successful bird feeder right outside her window, and she has gotten back to her book of large print word find puzzles (deed, foreclosure, precipice.) She rarely complains, although she will admit that she sometimes has pain in her legs. She spends part of every day coloring line art posters. I frame them and hang them on her walls, creating a lively activity room atmosphere around her. Recently, we have been going to church every Sunday morning on the city specialized transportation bus.

When we go to the orthopedist for an appointment, the nurse croons how sorry she is that my mother has had such an ordeal. My mother doesn't see it that way. She doesn't use words like "ordeal." She delights in the pink fluffy socks that we put on her feet, particularly when they match her blouse. She likes the mocha shake that I buy her in the lobby of the medical building, and she is intrigued to find that underneath her braces, she is wearing full length cotton stockings. She gives directions to the bus driver.

 She also keeps telling me that she could fit in our new Prius. When I point out that she can't walk, she says she thinks that she could, and that sometimes she is just pretending. When I point out that the doctor says she can't walk, and that she will probably not ever be able to walk on her right leg again, she says, "Let's not talk about that."
One of the posters that she colored

People ask how I am doing. My answer is different. Or I should say, I have lots of answers.

I am grateful for so many things. The overwhelming support from our friends and community since my mother's fall has been a life lesson for me. Many gestures, however small or huge, have helped me survive this challenge.

I keep a litany in my head of all the things that I thank people for. The list is long. I would start:
If you have sent a card, if you have come to sing hymns with her, if you have sent a photo, if you have traveled from out-of-state, if you have called, if you have brought her purple footies, if you have complimented her earrings, if you have helped her put lipstick on her cheeks for rouge, if you have searched your jewelry box and found a pair of clip on earrings for her, if you have brought her a stuffed animal that sings Joy to the World, if you have given up your free time to sit with her so I could have a break, if you have brought your daughter to play violin for her, if you have brought her chocolate pudding, if you have brought a New Year's Eve party to her bedside, if you have listened respectfully when she was confused, if you have given her a hug, if you have told her you love her, then I am eternally grateful to you.

If you have given me medical advice, if you have helped me back off, if you have welcomed my siblings who have come to visit, if you have talked with me about God, then please hear my heartfelt thanks...and I know we have received many more gifts, including some that I didn't recognize.

Mom on New Years Eve
I am stressed but it's not the time spent that upsets me, it's not the sense of responsibility, it's not the constant concern that I carry around. I recognize that this situation is temporary. My mother is 96. In as many ways as my mother's situation asks extra of me, I remind myself that I am happy to give it to the person who raised me and spent far more years caring for me than I have spent caring for her. Plus, she makes me laugh; she gets me to sing Christmas carols in March. She invites me to sit in the sun in February, and because of her I relax in the back of the bus on Sunday mornings. I color posters with her in my retirement. She thanks me every day and when I overcome my lifetime of reserve to tell her that I love her, she says, "That's beautiful."

The answer to the question, "How are you?" is that I feel, up close and personal,  grief that life is hard. The "loving and gracious God" that I pray to doesn't guarantee anything, it turns out, for me or anyone. I write these sentences trying to avoid the words tragedy, hardship, pain, loss. Yet those are words that are in my heart, not just for me, but for all of us. Life is hard. That's how I am.


  1. It does me good to read what a large-hearted person like you has to say about the toll caregiving is taking. You communicate the joy of being with your mother, too, and both messages heal me, but it's the honesty about hardship that gives me hope and reminds me that you and Lynne are extraordinary people.

    1. Thanks, Jo Ann. I was conflicted about even publishing this blog, so your supportive response is very much appreciated. Sky

  2. Hi Sky,

    Your blog regarding your mother is very moving, and yet soothing to me in knowing Aunt Cooie is still alive. I only hope she isn't suffering. Please keep me posted on how she is. I know this time is very trying for you and I pray you are able to keep your positive outlook. I truly understand your feelings about waiting for the sad new of her passing.

    Congratulations on your marriage. The wedding sounded amazing and I'm glad your mom was able to attend. Lynne sounds like a truly supportive spouse.

    Again thank you for your blog. You are an amazing writer.

    Your cousin,