A different kind of Christmas

This Christmas was my first by myself, with Ma in care.

Since Dad died, Ma and I have planned the menu and prepared it together.  We would go ham and pork shopping.  Turkey was off the list and chicken was in… only because I pleaded.  The Christmas cake would be made and wrapped in foil until the right moment came to ‘open’ it.  The massive Christmas pudding was no longer an option and we resorted to a recipe that made individual microwave puddings that we froze and ate during the year. We’d cook and prepare way to much food but it never went to waste.

Christmas Eve would find us sitting around the kitchen table preparing the different foods and listening to Christmas music.  Christmas Day would find us doing the finishing touches, with more Christmas music, while having coffee and Kahlua. We then unwrapped presents together while sipping on sparkling wine and nibbling on chocolate coated peanuts and smoked almonds.  Last year Ma attended Christmas Day services with me and my sister which was special… even though she dozed off during the sermon.

Last year I had to show her how to cut things up and how to construct the Trifle.  For years, Ma’s Trifle has been the piece de resistance. Christmas was held at our house and my siblings with their families would all descend for lunch.  After my Dad passed, everyone went their separate ways but the family didn’t miss out on their Trifle fix.  Ma would construct individual Trifles for all the men in the family. For some reason men love Trifle.  This fact belongs with, men don’t know how to hang washing.

This Christmas, everything changed.  I woke to an empty house, except for hungry kitties.  It all felt wrong.  I decided to get out and go to the gym and then took myself to Maccas to pick up some breakfast.  I felt I had to change everything.  I came home, showered and went to church where I cried on the way in; during the service; and when I came out. Everything felt wrong and I felt very ‘off-quilter’.  My sister and her family visited Ma and I arrived around 12 to go to the dining room for lunch with her.

Unfortunately they were still dressing the bad pressure sores on her bottom and I walked in to her crying and struggling, as she’s always convinced she’ll fall off the bed.  Staff then couldn’t work out how to get her out of the bed into her wheelchair.  Asking me whether they should use the lifter or whether she could stand.  The more they discussed, the more agitated Ma became until I told the staff to leave her and I would sit with Ma in her room. They organised a tray for her which was beautifully decorated, unfortunately I didn’t get anything.  She only ate a few bites and gave up.

My sister had left four 200ml bottles of pink ‘champagne’ and Ma sat up like the queen enjoying her treat, with morphine attached, sipping her sparkling while watching David Attenborough DVDs. My man arrived around 4pm and after visiting with Ma we tried to leave.  Ma started to cry and couldn’t understand why I was going.  She wanted to come with us.  We sat some more and I kept saying how hungry I was… She settled down some and we left her watching Carols by Candlelight.

My last Christmas with Ma? I don’t know.  I treasure the times we had and found this Christmas to be very difficult, the time spent with her was bittersweet.  I’m glad I changed the way I do things.  I’m glad I got up and left the house.  If you can’t have what’s familiar, do something different. I know that got me through.

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The list that gets shorter…

For the last few years I’ve written Ma’s Christmas cards for her so all she just has to do is sign.  Every year, the list gets shorter as friends and family die.  This year as I went  through Ma’s address book I had to cross off five people.  Each page had names and addresses with a cross through them and I paused to reflect on each person as I made my way though the book.

There was Joan, a cousin of my Dad’s, who passed away at the beginning of November.  She would have turned 93 this year.  A good innings.  She was a kindred spirit to me and I think of her often.  She loved cricket and the Sea Eagles.  She was as sharp as a tack and would discuss world affairs and the Australian political scene.  We talked often on the phone and she’d always ring on my Dad’s birthday, even when he’d passed.  She didn’t have many relatives left and I became concerned after I couldn’t raise her.  I only found out she’d died after a friend managed to track down the church she went to.

That got me to thinking about my own mortality.  If you die and nobody mourns your passing does it mean you never existed?

The possessions you’ve amassed, the photos you’ve taken, the music you’ve collected becomes just a pile of stuff that gets divvied up.  Things that held great meaning to you no longer hold any meaning because you’re no longer there to give them meaning. So maybe it’s time to let go of the possessions and focus on relationships and building memories.  Yes, your memories will die with you, but the impact on others will continue to live on through them.

I look at my Ma and know that our time together grows short.  Every time I look at the mess in the house and think of all of the jobs that need doing I think of Ma and about storing memories.  The mess and the jobs will all still be there but Ma may not.

The day I got my mother back

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what Ma used to be like.  The mother of a few years ago asked about what was happening in your life; wanted to know how your day had been; had opinions about world events; worried about you when you were unwell; and handed out valuable culinary advice.  Fast forward to a few months ago and I had to tell her how to cut up a carrot.  Heartbreaking.

I moved Ma into a nursing home 4 July this year.  The hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’ve regretted it many times over.  It doesn’t matter that I was barely coping and that I’d just about reached the end of my rope.  The guilt will stay with me until my dying day.

On Wednesday last week I was gifted with a visit from my Ma of the old days.  It was a day to treasure and hold close to my heart.  We went shopping.  She wanted to go to a jewellery shop more than anything.  We laughed and joked like the old days.  Talking nonsense.  I took her to a jewellery shop where she was determined to buy me a Christmas present.

Ma hasn’t taken an active interest in Christmas or my birthday for a few years now so this gave me quite a glow inside.  She looked at the earrings and kept pointing them out saying, “do you like this?”  I tried to steer her away but she was determined!!  The lady in the shop must have had an inkling and gave Ma a catalogue and I managed to get Ma to leave.  We’d only gone a couple of metres when after some discussion, we turned back and re-entered the store.  I purchased a pair of earrings we’d both decided on.  Angel wings with little hearts.  Ones to treasure.

We continued on our way and Ma chose two dresses, a skirt and top to buy.  Some of it from me for Christmas.  By the time we left the shopping centre she was glowing.  We stopped at her favourite cafe for lunch and she ate the best I’d seen her eat in weeks.  It was one exhausted old lady I took back.  She kept thanking me for what I did for her which never happens anymore.  I kind of didn’t want to leave as I wanted to savour and cherish my time with my Ma of old.

Next morning I arrived to find her sleeping in her bed!  This hasn’t happened for weeks, which is why she now has bad pressure sores on her bottom.  She was sleeping like an angel and when she woke up she smiled at me.  I gave her an early Christmas present of a rug I’d had printed with pictures of the kitties.  A member of staff walked in and stopped to stare at Ma in her bed and told her she could have breakfast in bed like ‘the queen’.

That was the last I saw of my old Ma.  By that afternoon she had regressed back to the Ma of today.  I knew it was coming but couldn’t help but mourn that my Ma was gone once more.  Today she didn’t care whether I was there or not.  As I left, I told her I loved her, as I usually do and she said, “thank you”.

I do miss her.

 

 

 

The long goodbye…

Since Ma was placed in care on 4 July until now, I’ve watched her slowly deteriorate.

Today I visited to find her with her head in her hands confused and unhappy.  She was so happy to see me and told me of ‘people’ in her bed; ‘people’ taking her things and waking up in a place different from where she went to sleep.  She started to cry and told me how she was so unhappy and felt so bad but couldn’t tell me in what way.

The nurse who was giving out her nightly medications gave them to me as she didn’t want to distress Ma further.  I talked to Ma about them and she agreed to take them.  I gave her a hug and we went outside to side in the sun and feel the breeze on our faces.  We sat and talked.  She couldn’t remember me being there yesterday or that she’d slept in the bed the night before.  She was distressed because she couldn’t remember and she felt insecure. She told me I was the only one she trusted.  She broke my heart.

On Wednesday last week she was very confused and weak and she ended up going to hospital to get checked out.  They did scans and x-rays and bloods.  The bloods came back with infection and showing that her kidneys were failing.  The doctors were wonderful and we talked about the need for comfort rather than invasive procedures and opted not to do a urine test.  Sounds easy?  Just wee in a jar.  Not with Ma.  Her legs weren’t working and last time they had to try and get her on a pan on the bed and she screamed.  They were going to put in a catheter but decided against it.  Too much!

In the end they gave her IV antibiotics and arranged transport back to the nursing home.  I arrived to find her tucked up in bed… Ma hasn’t slept in a bed since she entered the nursing home back in July.  She has slept in her chair every night which is why she now has pressure sores on her bottom.  I stayed the night with her and she never settled all night.  She’d drift off to sleep and her legs and arms would twitch and wake her up.  She would call out and talk about things that weren’t there.  She cried and told me she had had enough and wanted to go.  She broke my heart.  I wanted her to be able to go.

Around 5am I told her I would go and she started crying.  I said I’d stay.  My sister relieved me around 9 and I went home and bawled my eyes out.

Saturday morning arrives and my man turns up with flowers for me and for Ma. We went to see Ma and she was sitting there asking to be taken out!  I will never get used to the roller coaster ride.  I’m barely dragging myself around and she’s raring to go.  We pushed her along the path on the common and my man demonstrated his prowess on the exercise equipment and she laughed and laughed and made jokes.  I could hear her joy.  She said how she loved having the sun and breeze on her face.

She doesn’t eat much now and is down to just over 70kg from around 90kg.  She has difficulty swallowing.

Tomorrow we are supposed to go to the Ulcer Clinic.  Do we go or do we not bother any more?  Her legs are now stable.  The doctor has cut back on her medications because she has very low blood pressure now.

When do you say enough is enough?  They talk to me about ‘comfort care’ just managing the symptoms.  I wish I knew how much longer we had.  I want to spend as much time with her as possible but I’m not sure how much time that is.  I know that I’m now ready for her to go.  Seeing her suffer mentally and physically breaks my heart.  In the past, I’ve been selfish in wanting her to stay.  Now I just want her to be free from pain, confusion and suffering.

She breaks my heart. My wish for her is to know that her family loves her.  I hope she gets that wish.

 

Guilt and Vigilance

It’s been a long time since I’ve written.  Every time I thought about writing I felt sick. Why? I don’t really know. Maybe I just poured too much of myself out in writing this blog and maybe because I just didn’t know how to express myself anymore.  My feelings were very raw like a scab you continually pick.

I put Ma into care on 4 July 2016.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.  I’m now the decision maker of her life and death needs.  It’s a hell of a responsibility and one I wasn’t prepared for…. but then again, how does one prepare for that?  The legals, the financials, the need for constant vigilance as well as the need for constant vigilance (yep, I repeated myself). Ma has had a number of issues since she went into care. If I wasn’t vigilant she’d slip through the cracks.  Pressure sores, pneumonia, flu, sores from urine burns, infections, skin tears, not eating or drinking… the list goes on.

I’m there every day and sometimes twice a day.  I can’t afford not to be.  The facility is supposed to be one of the better ones.  I’ve been lucky that the Manager is very response when I raise issues and Ma’s doctor is wonderful… I’m sure they hate the sight of me, but I don’t have to be liked, I just need Ma taken care of.  I pity those that don’t have an advocate or can’t speak for themselves.

I always laugh when people say to me that I must have much more time now that Ma’s in care.  In fact I now have less.  Yes, I now have freedom to go out for more than an hour and I get to sleep all night but my days are longer now.  I cook up batches of food on the weekend so I can spend more time with Ma.

I see Ma slipping away.  Every day I feel regret for having ‘given up’ and placed her in care. Every time I find a problem, like a pressure sore, I feel regret.  Every time, Ma tells me she doesn’t like it there, or somebody didn’t treat her right, I feel regret.  I look back and wonder how I could have been so weak as to have given up.  It’s now hard to remember how I struggled.  All I feel now is guilt as she slips away before my eyes.  Difficulty swallowing, not eating or drinking and sitting in her chair 24 hours a day.  I never know what I’ll find when I visit.  Sometimes I’ll tie myself in knots contemplating what she’s going to be like when I get there.  I dream of other solutions and ways of bringing her home… although home ceased to be home to her before she went into care.

Would she have been like she is now if I hadn’t placed her in care?  I don’t suppose I’ll ever know.  All I can do is live with my decision and be vigilant.

 

Ma’s way with words (Part 2)

Ma doesn’t say many of her old sayings any more.  Occasionally she will utter one but more often than not it’s a new turn of phrase.  Some real rip snorters in fact…

I’m a bit of a Queen fan (the rock group).  Whenever there is thunder around I will utter the words from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, “Thunder bolt and lightning”.  A couple of year’s ago Ma started saying, “very very frightening” in response.  I have no idea where she got the words from as she was never a rock and roll aficionado but to this day if I say my line… she will say hers!

These days Ma’s nights and days are very much mixed up.  There are many times when she thinks night is day and vice versa.  Even though it’s pitch black outside she will still insist it’s daytime and there is something ‘wrong’.  After one such occasion she uttered to me, “I don’t like these 24 hour days”.

Some days I can’t win.  While we were out shopping I showed Ma a dress I thought would suit her.  After looking it up and down she told me she couldn’t wear it because it was a grandma dress!  I reminded her she was a grandma… she just looked at me. Undaunted, in the next shop, I showed her another dress to which she told me she couldn’t wear because she was a grandmother… I gave up.  No dress was bought that day.

Recently I purchased a bottle of wine and mentioned the name of the wine to Ma.  Ma must not have heard me correctly (or I didn’t speak clearly) because Ma responded with, “what?” “You’ve prepared human?” “Since when have you become cannibal?”

I made some 20160425_115636waffles recently on Ma’s ancient waffle iron.  The ones that weren’t eaten I put in the freezer for later use.  Ma requested some of the waffles for her dessert which she polished off with ice cream and maple syrup.  After she had finished demolishing them she told me she could still hear them ‘waffling’…

My favourite new saying of Ma’s would have to be this one… The other day I asked Ma if she wanted something to drink to which she replied, “yes”.  When I asked her what she wanted she told me she wanted something, “wet and wild”… I finally worked out she meant brandy.  The new name for brandy in our house is, “wet and wild”.

Every new little saying or quip gives me a giggle.  The mother of my past is slowly diminishing.  This new mother is different but still amusing.

Ma’s way with words (part 1)

Ma’s always had a way with words.  She was a reader and great doer of crosswords.  If she had a spare moment her nose would be stuck in a book.  Growing up she’d have us kids confused or in stitches with her various sayings.

I had curly hair as a kid and whenever I was naughty, which was quite often, Ma would start reciting, “There was a little girl, that had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead.  When she was good, she was very very good… And when she was bad she was horrid!”.  This would always make me cranky!!!  If we pulled a face we were told if the wind changed our faces would stay like that  (I was always afraid of that one).

One of my favourites was, “up in nanny’s room behind the clock”, which she used whenever we wanted to know the location of something that she didn’t want us to know.  If she didn’t want us to know where she was going… or was just being contrary, she’d respond with “I’m going there and back again to see how far it is.”  There was also the “wigwam for a goose’s bridle” in response to us asking what something was… again used if it was something she didn’t want us to know.

Kids being kids, we were always getting into things we shouldn’t and Ma was always finding us out to our complete astonishment (us thinking we were so clever).  When we asked how she knew, she’d always tell us, “because I’ve got eyes in the back of my head”.  My sister one day decided to find out whether this was true and checked the back of Ma’s head very thoroughly.  I think she was very disappointed when she couldn’t find anything. If we were being particularly painful (which was probably often) and asking why?… but why?… why? She’d respond with, “because ‘Y’ is a crooked letter and you can’t straighten it!”

If Ma was making a phone call to somebody she knew well she’d announce herself with: “It’s only me from over the sea’, said Barnacle Bill the sailor” or “is that you, because this is me” followed by a laugh.  To describe somebody who was very happy, she’d say they were “as happy as Larry”… I never did find out who Larry was or  “Billy Johnson’s black pig” for that matter.

I always remember Ma reciting a rhyme about Thor, “The Thunder God went for a ride, upon his favourite filly.  “I’m Thor!”, he cried. The horse replied, “You forgot your thaddle, thilly!”  This would cause me untold glee.

But my favourite saying of hers would have to be “better an empty house than a bad tenant!” in response to a belch… or we’d get, “beg your pardon Mrs Arden, there’s a chicken in your garden”.

I know this is about Ma but I couldn’t not write about my Aunty, who we always thought was the very epitome of a lady, describing somebody as the ‘town bicycle’! (I’ll let you work it out).

These sayings I treasure because they remind me of Ma and my childhood.  She still uses some of them to this day.  I thought I’d make an attempt to capture them before they get lost.  She has also coined a few new ones in recent times which I’ll cover in Part two.