Another Mother’s Day in the Nursing Home

I know I am lucky to still have my mother. I am lucky to be able to spend Mother’s Day with her again this year. I plan to bring her some of her favorite foods—potato salad and strawberry shortcake, using her recipes to make them. It’s a warm day, so we’ll be able to sit outside for a while, watching spring arrive, listening for the songs of birds she loves and no longer gets to hear very often.

For her 85th birthday, I threw her a large family party in the community room of the senior housing complex where she used to live. We had a great buffet, played her favorite music, gave her gifts, and enjoyed being together as a family, a rare event lately.  The day after the party, we took her to Ogunquit, Maine, a favorite place for both of my parents years ago. She enjoyed everything, and in late afternoon, she would take a glass of wine, sit in a lounge chair on the knoll at the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean, and totally relax. I am so glad we had that time together before all memories began to leave her, like leaves falling from the trees in October.

Today at age 91, she no longer has memories of family or the life she had with my father in Florida. She confuses her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She doesn’t remember her nieces, one of whom she took in along with her small child to save her from an abusive husband.  Her niece remembers her kindness, and many others do also. But now she is angry and at times mean-spirited due to her dementia. She can’t help it, but it is in strong contrast to the mother I used to have, the one who always thought of others, baking for them, helping them when they needed it, consoling and supporting her daughters during their fight against breast cancer. Today the mother I knew is gone. The love she had for others has been replaced by anger, fear, and delusions.

I’ve been thinking today about the three people who died in the hot air balloon when it caught fire in Virginia. I heard the stories from bystanders who told how they heard screams and cries of those who suddenly knew they were about to die. How awful it must be to know death is coming unexpectedly. Is that really different, I wonder, from the slow, agonizing, painful death from cancer, knowing it is coming but unable to hurry it up to end the suffering? Is it really different from the slow death from dementia, the loss of memory and function as the brain slowly dies. Is that different from another kind of death where hopes and dreams are gone, leaving one with a struggle each day for mere existence, a death where it’s not the brain that’s dying. It’s the heart.

Where is the Easter Bunny this year?

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As a child I loved Easter.  What was there not to like? I got new clothes, a cute little hat, patent leather shoes and white socks with lace trim.  I also got an Easter basket filled with chocolate bunnies and jelly beans, paddle balls and jacks, jump ropes and balls.  We would go to church and my sister and I would have our picture taken in our fancy clothes.  Then we would go home, have a huge Easter dinner with extended family, change our clothes, eat candy and play outside.

I guess Easter hasn’t really changed much for children.  Parents enjoy giving to their children the same Easter traditions they had.  Grandparents might be invited to share in Easter egg hunts and Easter brunch if they could travel or did not live too far away.

Now this year I am trying to reconfigure Easter.  It falls on March 31, a day before my sister’s death eight years ago.  My youngest daughter and her family are vacationing in Hawaii.  When they lived on the East Coast, we would visit them for Easter, go to church, do an Easter egg hunt, and eat a scrumptious brunch at the country club.

For the past few years, we have spent Easter with my oldest daughter in New Jersey.  We went to a vineyard near Atlantic City and enjoyed an elaborate brunch.  We took my mother with us and she loved to go there.  Last Easter the day after the brunch, my mother had a stroke and fell, hitting her head on the closet door at my daughter’s apartment.  We spent the rest of the day at Urgent Care and the hospital emergency room.  She seemed to recover and return to her normal life.

In May after another stroke on Mother’s Day and a new diagnosis of cancer,  my mother was admitted to the hospital and then to a nursing home, suffering also from vascular dementia caused by the strokes.  This year she will have Easter dinner in the nursing home with the other residents without her family.

My oldest daughter will spend Easter alone in New Jersey.  Fears of furloughs and even the possibility of layoffs have changed the lives of many federal employees.  She doesn’t have time off to spare this year, and the five-hour drive up and back to our house is too much to do in just two days.  My husband and I will also be alone except for the few hours I will spend with my mother at the nursing home.

Holidays bring changes.  When I had family around me, holidays were special.  Now they seem to be just another day. While I was young and loving Easter, I am sure I was not aware that somewhere there were older people alone during holidays.  When I had children of my own, we were able to include our parents and grandparents in celebrations because we lived close by.  Now that I am a grandparent myself, I can sense how lonely old age can be.  I will at least talk to my daughter in New Jersey and visit my mother in the nursing home.  I feel lucky to still be able to do that.  I will miss the Easter bunny’s visit this year, but maybe I could still enjoy part of the day sitting in the silence of my living room surrounded by my yellow Peeps and wonderful memories of the way Easter used to be.

Dichotomy

“Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.”

—-William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

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Dichotomy

I thought of you today,
something I don’t do very often anymore.
I thought of beginnings and endings,
starting and finishing,
knowing and not knowing,
happiness and abandonment.

As I grew up I came to know good things and bad.
I came to know happy days and overwhelming grief,
but when I think of you,
I remember only the innocence of youth,
the pure joy of discovery that often comes
before loss.

I learned how to fill emptiness with others.
Still there are those days and nights
when moments come that remind me of you.
It might be just the lyrics of a song
or a laugh that sounds like yours
or the way a smile lights up a face.

I may briefly have a memory of your hand holding mine
walking in the rain along the river bank,
and for just a little while I’m sad again
that some of the most wonderful things in life are fleeting
while the most sorrowful moments are long-lasting.

Dichotomy–like the rainbow in the midst of the rain.

© Barbara Flass 2012