So I’m not sure if this is really the case, but from my perspective, as soon as we called in the Hospice liaison, the rest of the hospital staff seemed to move on. I mean, the nurses and aides kept doing the things they had to do for Mom - they checked her vitals, they straightened her bed, they brought her food.
But they seemed more distant. A little less interested.
Like they were there, but not there.
And though we’d been really lucky the past few days that Mom hadn’t gotten a new roommate (in her semi-private room), suddenly she was being moved to an actual ‘private’ room, on a different floor. At first this seemed like wonderful news, as it eliminated even the possibility of a roommate, so we happily packed up all of Mom’s things that had accumulated over the past couple of days.
There was a basket of beautiful spring bulbs from Mom’s driver, Pat, who had been driving her around the past year or so. Giving up driving had probably been one of the hardest things Mom ever did, and true to her independent spirit, she fought it (and us) tooth and nail.
First she agreed to stop driving at night, which was an enormous relief as Mom (like her daughters) often enjoyed a chardonnay (or 2) with dinner. Then she agreed, grudgingly at our insistence, to hire someone to help her with her errands and appointments. The first driver we found was a lovely woman, but after several months it was clear that what she thought Mom needed, and what Mom thought she needed, were two different things.
Much to our dismay, Mom let her go.
Then we found Pat, and though Mom was still not totally on-board with the whole idea, agreed to a ‘trial’ period. Luckily, just before she started, Pat sent me a text saying how she was looking forward to getting to know Mom, and that she was sure they would be ‘best friends’ before too long.
Oh my god, I thought when I read it. She’ll be doomed before she even gets Mom into the car!
So I quickly texted her back and cautioned:
“Whatever you do, DO NOT TRY TO BE FRIENDS with Mom! Better to take it very slowly and let her make the first moves. Not to scare you, but she’s probably going to act more like a sullen teenager than an 87-year-old grown woman! Less is more where Mom’s concerned...trust me!”
Thankfully, Pat heeded my advice and she and Mom, over time, grew quite fond of one another. It wasn’t always perfect, as Mom would sometimes get impatient, not so much with Pat personally, but with her loss of independence.
And once in a while that frustration got the better of her and Mom would ‘cheat’ - taking the car to go to the grocery store, or to get her hair done, or mail a letter. Most times she wouldn’t tell us, although Pat would notice that the seat had mysteriously changed position between her visits, and give us a heads up.
On one occasion, however, Mom must have been feeling a little guilty because she sent an email with the subject line ‘CONFESSION’’:
On Nov 10, 2013 at 9:56AM Kay ____ ([email protected]) wrote:
I drove my car to church this morning at 7:45. There was no traffic. It gave me some time to get used to our new minister. It felt wonderful to drive. I will not use the car for anything else. I promise. Love you, Mom
I guess we probably scolded her at the time, but now I just laugh. Our mother was quite a piece of work.
Anyway, the basket of bulbs - tiny yellow daffodils, red tulips, lavender hyacinth and purple violets - was the absolute most perfect choice for Mom, and showed just how well Pat knew her. Because even though Mom loved flowers, and had been a member of the Garden Club for over 50 years, she really disliked big bouquets of cut flowers. Especially for someone sick, or in the hospital.
Especially if that someone was her.
Mom preferred a ‘posy’, a tiny bouquet of flowers in an equally tiny vase, and she’d been known to drop everything to take one over to a friend who was sick, or needed cheering up.
“Just a little something for their bedside table,” she would say. “Just a little something to brighten things up.”
Along with the flowers, there were several copies of The Blade, the local newspaper that Mom had read religiously for years. And though we brought her a copy every morning in the hope that some headline would pique her interest, she never picked it up.
Oh, what I would have given to walk in, just once, to see her sitting up in bed, reading glasses perched on her nose, with the paper spread out around her, her eyes spitting fire from whatever story irritated her the most (i.e Trump).
The things we take for granted.
There was her yellow flowered toilet kit that we’d brought from her apartment, and the plastic bag of clothes she’d worn into the ER. And, of course, the ubiquitous plastic tub filled with all the hospital issued items: lotion, mouthwash, body wash, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste. We couldn’t bare to leave it (she’d hardly used anything but the toothbrush), even though we knew there’d be an exact replica in her new room.
So much plastic, so much waste. Hospitals are like a breeding ground for pollution. I don’t know how many times over the years, in whatever hospital Mom might be in, that she would ask the nurses how many plastic gloves they thought they used in a day.
Not surprisingly, none of them ever gave her a straight answer, which infuriated her to no end.
So we gathered everything up and made our way up the elevator to Mom’s new room. I felt a little twinge of concern as we followed the gurney past the nurse’s station, to the very end of the corridor.
‘I guess it will be nice and quiet’ I whispered to Sal and Lib as we walked along, trying to mask my worry.
The room itself turned out to be enormous. Triple windows spanned one whole wall with a built-in couch underneath, giving us all lots of room to spread out. The bed was centered in the middle of another wall, with a small table next to it. There was a recliner (thankfully), and a couple of other chairs.
And though at first it seemed that having a room so large would be a good thing, we realized very quickly that it was actually too big. Mom’s bed looked like a tiny island in the middle of an ocean. And she looked even tinier in it.
Then we noticed that there wasn’t a vital signs monitor to keep track of her oxygen level and heart rate. Talk about feeling set adrift! After four days of hardly taking our eyes off those flashing numbers, it was incredibly unsettling not to have the visual reassurance that Mom was getting enough oxygen.
“Where’s the monitor?” Libby asked the somewhat distracted nurse when he popped his head in the door. “You know she’s having trouble with her oxygen, right?”
“We don’t generally have those on this floor,” he told us, “But let me see if I can find a portable one. I’ll be right back” and he disappeared out the door.
The three of us looked at each other in disbelief.
“Maybe we should have taken our chances with getting a roommate,” Libby fretted. “I don’t like this at all.”
“Let’s give him a chance,” Sal said. “Maybe it will be okay.”
To the nurse’s credit, he did show up a little while later with a small, portable monitor that he set up on the bedside table. But it somehow just didn’t feel as ‘official’ as the one in the other room, so we didn’t really trust it.
In fact, we didn’t trust the whole situation. So while I got my things together to go back to the apartment and get some dinner going, Sal and Lib settled in to wait for the shift change.
Our Dad taught us at an early age that when we were faced with a big decision, and weren’t sure what to do, we should write down the pros and cons to help us figure out the best path to take.
And over the years his advice served us well, especially as we helped Mom make some pretty big decisions later in her life. Should she stay in her house or move to assisted living? Should she move closer to one of us or stay in Ohio? Should she buy this, or do that, or go there?
Countless decisions, and writing down the pros and cons helped us make them all.
Up until this one.
Libby decided to spend the night at the hospital to keep an eye on Mom, so over a (large) glass of wine, Sal and I tried to make sense of where we were. Out came the pad of paper, but there were so many ‘what ifs’, we couldn’t figure out where to begin to narrow down the pros and cons.
"So what if she goes to Hospice, but then she rallies, so they take her off Medicare? That could add up fast!" I worried.
"And then what if she goes to Hospice and rallies to the point that she should move to rehab?" I added. "But then she falls, or gets sick again? I don't think she can handle another trip to the hospital."
'Maybe we should look into the cost of moving her to Connecticut or Maine? So she's closer to one of us?" Sal wondered. "Because what if she goes to Hospice and then bounces back? We can't all keep coming to Ohio indefinitely."
And then, of course, there was the biggest 'what if' of all. The one we were both thinking, but didn't want to say out loud.
What if she went to Hospice, but then didn't rally?
What if. What if. What if.
Round and round we went until Sal, a business consultant by trade, finally took the pad of paper and drew a flow chart. She took all the different scenarios we could come up with, and then took each one to all its possible outcomes.
And somehow, despite all the crazy arrows pointing this way and that, it became clear that the best place for Mom to go, really the only place for her to go, was Hospice.
Come what may.
Sal and I sat sipping our drinks in Mom’s beautiful living room, surrounded by so many familiar things that she might (unbelievably) never see again, and looked at each other sadly.
Ok, then. As long as Libby agreed, Hospice it would be.
Even though my dad has been gone for years, I still talk to him quite a bit, especially when I’m scared about something going on in my life. So as I was driving to the hospital the next morning, I had a conversation with him that went something like this:
“Umm, Dad...if you’re listening, I could really use a sign here. We’re thinking Hospice might be where Mom should go next, but it feels really scary. Are we making the right decision? Is Hospice the best place for Mom to be?”
Now before I go any further, I need to explain that I totally believe we can communicate with loved ones who have passed. I didn’t always feel this way, but several years ago I had an experience with a psychic that opened up a whole new world to me.
There was an article in our local newspaper, entitled 'Talking To The Dead in Suburbia', and it turned out that the author, a medium, lived in the same town as me. I was intrigued, so I stepped out of my little suburban comfort zone and called for an appointment.
I loved Anna at first sight. Pretty, sprite-like, funny and forthright, she put my very nervous 50-something self at ease as soon as I walked through her front door. Leading me into her living room, she offered me a seat, and without preamble, began to talk about things she just couldn't possibly have known.
No tarot cards. No crystal ball. No incense burning. Just an everyday person like me, someone I might run into at the grocery store, or in the school pick-up line, sitting there listening to someone I couldn't see, and then telling me what she heard.
Someone who knew a lot about me. And that someone, Anna told me, was my dad.
I was mesmerized.
Okay, I know...if you're like my husband you are probably rolling your eyes thinking to yourself 'Oh come on. She can't really talk to dead people. It was just lucky guesses. It wasn't really your dad. You just heard what you wanted to hear.'
Well, I guess maybe you could be right. I guess it probably could have been just a lucky guess that, first of all, she knew my dad had even died, and secondly, that he had left me his gold money-clip to give to my oldest son, his namesake, when he turned 21.
Which, by the way, I hadn't done yet, because I was worried my maybe-not-the-most-responsible-even-though-he-was-21 son might lose it.
But somehow my father, who had died years before, had found his way through the ether to communicate with this woman, this absolute stranger, to tell me that it was time to pass the money-clip on.
I don't know. Am I naive and gullible? Maybe a little. But the feeling of comfort I had that afternoon was so real it had to count for something. The idea that my dad was somehow still aware of the things I was (and wasn't) doing was incredibly reassuring.
So since then I talk to him a lot, especially when something is troubling me. Sometimes out loud, if I'm alone, and sometimes just in my head. I’ll ask him for signs so I know I'm on the right track. Of course, recognizing his signs can be tricky, but I've learned over the years that if I pay close enough attention to my surroundings, they are much easier to see.
Like one time I was fretting about something as I was driving along, and I saw a gentleman walking down the side of the road who looked just like my dad. Same bald head, same rounded belly, same eye glasses. Even his tan raincoat seemed familiar. I was on a road that rarely had pedestrians, so he stood out like a sore thumb.
I took that as a sign I could stop fretting.
Dad loved great blue herons in his life, so whenever I see one I know he’s around. Interestingly, there was one living near Mom’s apartment, and I’d often see it standing near the pond out back when I'd be taking a walk. Sometimes when I was driving out the driveway to do an errand, or go to the hospital, I'd see it flying overhead, always going in my same direction.
Now obviously, the fact that a heron lived nearby might have been just pure coincidence, having nothing whatsoever to do with my dad, or signs, or anything of the sort. And random people walking down the street could be just that...random people walking down the street.
I know that. But I also know how I feel when I see these things. Safe. And comforted. And less alone.
So anyway, as I pulled to a stop at a traffic light on my way to the hospital that Wednesday morning, my eyes came to rest on one of those big billboards that changes ads every few seconds. And the ad that happened to be on at that particular moment was for Hospice of NW Ohio.
Oh my f..ing god!! I couldn’t believe it! Of all the signs I’d ever gotten, none had ever been as clear as this one. What are the chances that I would see a ‘sign’ for Hospice, with a picture of a happy nurse standing over an equally happy patient, right after I’d asked my dad for a ‘sign’?
Too funny. I laughed to myself all the way to the hospital, thanking Dad over and over for reassuring me that Hospice was going to be the right place for Mom.
Note to Reader: This is a story in progress, so I am sharing it as I write it, as a way to spur me on. If you're interested in following along, here is the link to the others I've written so far. Thanks!