Sunday, January 30, 2005

The routine

I am having trouble getting back into a good routine. This is no surprise, but still disconcerting. I try to get up and do my exercise early before work, but sometimes just don't have the energy to even think about it. I try to do the important stuff at work before the rewarding easy stuff that makes it look like a lot is accomplished. But I tend to do the quick and dirty tasks.

I seem to be moving more into a reward thyself mode. I still deal with guilt about spending a Saturday morning sitting and reading instead of shoveling the driveway of snow. I still feel guilty about not tackling the to do lists I have made--actually it does say something that I still make these lists, doesn't it?

I am a puritan at heart. I will never be a total self-indulgent type.

But, overall, I still get driven by wanting to know stuff, to learn stuff. Knowledge is still very sexy to me. But 'should do' gets analyzed rather than done.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Little Time Warp

I spent all day today with my hubby taking down the Christmas decorations. Packing all the precious little doo dads. Reading all the cards since I left before most of them made it to the house. We have so much catching up to do.

Then we went through our box of things to file. It is about a foot high, so we spent most of the P.M. sorting and filing and destroying.

This afternoon I spent hours trying to figure out my new Sony minicam which I got for Christmas. Took some movies at Christmas at mom and dad's. Trying to discern how to download the files from the digital tape. How to edit them. Cannot get them to write to a DVD although I have a DVD writer on this HP!!! Made a CD and captured the files as MPEG to the PC but the quality is terrible. Edited one short movie with titles and it plays OK but when I sent it to my email the resolution disappeared totally. Does anyone out there know the secret to this?

This is such a headache, I may just stick to a still camera. I thought that I could record to a DVD disk and watch it in high quality on the TV. Thus far I am no where getting even any quality in the video on my PC and my PC won't recognize the file to write to DVD. I would think that software would come with the PC??!!

Made a nice curry with chicken, leftover baked potatoes, white asparagus and mushrooms. It was just he right spicy to go with my wine which I am drinking much of due to the stupid software to hardware issue. Everyone seemed to like it-the curry--not my issues.

Ok, I quit--going to watch some TV and unwind.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Passing Time

The psychology books are all full of insights and analysis of what one goes through when helping or seeing our parents make that passage into and through death. We all handle it differently based on our relationship with our parents as well as our relationship with ourselves. Do we feel anxious about the passage of time or are we resolute in accepting it?

I really want to study the Eastern religions such as Buddhism more because they are more in tune with the now and not so much the past or the future. This thinking also reminds me of Heraclitus (at least I think it was him) who said you never step into the same river twice. The NOW is so precious and so perfect that we must drink it fully and not worry about what follows. I guess it is sort of being willing to relinquish control and just ride the wave, enjoy the cold, taste the wine.

My conservative brother would sit on the couch and say he was 'enjoying' this process. He found it 'fascinating.' Yet, when I talked about this with my sister, she and I both agree that his clinical approach, his cold analysis is how he deals with everything in life. He can watch the person walk in their shoes, but he will never be able to see himself in their shoes.

Back at Home

Tried to submit new blog, but something was not working at this end. Maybe too much snow on the lines?

I made it home in the early evening yesterday. The flight was delayed by an hour and a half...never found out why. So spent a good part of the day in the airport. I had to use miles and the only seat they would give me was first class. I think I flew first class a long time ago. It was a nice change, but expensive on the free miles!

Making a French white bean and ham soup today to counter the cold weather. Son is getting home this afternoon to shovel the driveway and hubby is returning from a trip also this P.M. While I have enjoyed the quiet of the first 24 hours in the house, it will be nice to have family around me again.

It has been over a month since I have been home...long time.

Today is not a day for going outside!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Tying Up the loose ends

I have cleaned out the refrigerator of leftovers and sent Dad shopping for some essentials. I have changed the bedding one last time. I am checking prescriptions, supplies,etc. to make sure that we have enough stuff for at least another week or so.

My brother is going to be with her on Thursday when I leave and through Friday. I hope that his wife comes with him--she is semi-retired. Then my sister will be here on the weekend. Mom is now in a little pain from her tush beginning to get a rash. She moans and groans in her sleep. This is the hard part of caring for someone, keeping their skin from breaking down.

She is in the wheelchair for more moves. It works much better, but the trade-off is that her legs will now get weaker.

I get ot head back east--weather here today was high 60's and sunny. Back east looks miserable. Windy, cold and snowy. UGH!

My Final Week

This is the beginning of my last week before I head back home and try to repair what control I have lost over my job. I feel relief to be coming to an end of my responsibilities, I feel guilt because although my mother gets weaker each day, the more difficult role is going to have to fall to my siblings. I am anxious knowing that I will soon be back this way for a funeral. I am angry at myself for not being stronger in all of this. I live the farthest away and this transistion is going to be the easiest for me, since I don't see my mother more often than once a year.

Today may be the day we have to transition to using the wheel-chair to get back and forth to the bathroom. Her legs work most of the time, but sometimes she cannot move them and she almost collapses. I stand close behind her and am ready to grab her if needed. She is somewhat heavy, so I honestly don't know if I could do anything except slow her collapse.

Last week my Dad was talking about the doctor's diagnosis being inaccurate. I think he thought she was going to die in a matter of weeks and now that she has lasted almost two months, he was keeping some hope. But this week he is seeing her get weaker. She now is getting pain in her side as well. I am giving her over the counter pain pills as the nurse said we could start with the small stuff.

My sister wants me to handle any funeral research. I did this with my youngest sister when she died, but I had her husband to work with. Now I have to try to call the funeral homes nearby and get information all on my own. Mom has already said she wants to be cremated and she doesn't want a funeral at the cemetery. That leaves decisions on a memorial service. While she has lived in this small town for decades, most of her friends have preceded her in death. So, I don't know who the memorial service would be for except family. I think that two of her sisters that are living are too old to travel to the service as well.

Of course in the back of my mind is that in a short time (hopefully years) I will be doing something like this for my dad.

When does the upside of living start again?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Lessons Learned

You spend a lot of time watching television shows that you wouldn't normally watch.

ET can milk a stupid story for more than a week. They repeat stuff at least 50% of the time. So, including previews and commercials and repeats only about 10% of the show is original.

Shows such as Price Is Right and Judge Judy have some very sad and desperate people on them. This is America and I am not surprised the Bush got re-elected now.

Sports figures make way too much money and frequently don't deliver.

Elderly people have very specific routines and usually for very good reasons, but it will take a few mistakes to figure this out.

My parents are very frugal. They can bend a penny sideways and that is why after years of mostly social security, they are financially secure.

People in small towns fit the stereotype of friendliness with strangers. They are very nice and courteous. They ask how your holiday was, make eye contact and actually seem to like people contact.

When taking care of an older weak person, you think that you are spending a lot of time sitting and eldersitting. Yeah, right, just try and watch a movie or read a book!

It doesn't take too many days to begin to appreciate having that second cup of coffee and not having to rush out the door.

Brothers and sisters (at least mine) are worth twice their weight in gold. I may disagree with my mother on things, but she sure raised her kids well!

Bodily functions are not as difficult to deal with as one imagines.

Bronc Busters now wear helmets and what looks like a flack jacket.

Time waits for no man or woman.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

A New Connection

My siblings all came over for a family dinner on Sunday. Lots of good sausage, egg pasta, salad, garlic bread, gorgonzola polenta and even chicken! Ice cream for those who had room for dessert.

My sister-in-law helped dye my hair while the rest of the family watched the Green Bay/Vikings game. It was interesting having her help as we have not had a chance to get to know each other well. So there are some good things that come out of bad things.

Then since one of my brother's old laptops that I was using as a dial-up access quit on me, my brother gave me his Apple laptop and set up a dial-up even though this is wireless. Since his OS is more up-to-date, I can now blog from the farmhouse!

We also had a meeting on Friday and over pizza and lots of beer and wine everyone felt it was best that Mom and Dad still stay here at the farmhouse after I head back in two weeks. They are going to rotate on two and three day shifts staying with them. My one brother who can take the least time off, will stay on weekends. The other two will stay throughout the week. We are also hiring a student nurse for 4 hours twice a week to help with the transition times. It will be complicated, but I think Mom will hold up so much better in her own house.

We are all anticpating her going into a coma in the coming weeks. She is awake the whole time they are here, but when they leave she falls asleep immediately. She gets weaker and weaker. I have put some wrapped chocolates near her chair as she loves these. Today she took one and started to unwrap it and then fell asleep. She awoke a few minutes later and then continued to unwrap and fell asleep again. I finally took it from her and unwrapped it and gave it to her. She was releaved.

I can only hope that my passage goes with at least some dignity and little railing and writhing!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Snowy Winter Day

Even though we have about 6 inches of snow, Dad still goes out for the warm lunch at the Center. I hope I have the same fearlessness and driving skills at 90. Considering that I don't feel that confident her in my fifties, I don't know that I will in a few decades.

Today is the 5th of January. I hope to post all the previous blogs I have put on this computer and today's blog up tomorrow. There is a wireless coffee shop downtown, and if the roads are a little better, I will head out that way and sneak some time from the caretaking. I have gone through the routine enough that I have a good idea of how long I can leave them. Dad may sleep through Mom's call--but if I get her set before I leave, then I should be OK.

The Other Legs of the Stool

When you are helping someone with the hospice process it is hard work. But it is even more difficult if the person in hospice is close to you. If I did not have my two brothers and one sister, this job would take an even greater toll on my physical and mental health. It is the breaks that they give me and the ability to talk to someone else who has a vested interest in the outcome of this process that are my fresh air.

They are each pretty different in their approach to this challenge. The brother closest in age to me is probably the most conservative in his approach. He talks about it very little and only in the most practical and business-like terms. He isn't big on hands-on care and prefers to talk mom to the bathroom or the dinner table from across the room. He tends to approach her as if she is a stroke victim and just needs verbal reminders as a form of therapy. Since his retirement he is big on cooking and regularly brings lots of food for us. His wife is from Europe and a very nurturing person. She views my mother as her mother in some ways since she has lost both of her parents and does not have immediate relatives her or in Europe except for her two sons from a prior marriage. It would be so easy to put more of this burden on her, but I am trying very hard to avoid that. She has been a good balance for my brother who might have turned into a stuffy old professor type without her enthusiasm and daring. She has gotten on my other siblings nerves because she gets involved and forces us to make firm decisions and move forward. She is also manipulative in a sweet way and that makes my sister angry.

My 'baby' brother is also more hands-off (the nature of most males) but his upbeat personality and joking nature are a real upper for my mother. He is the one who immediately repairs something around the house or outside if you mention it as a problem. He has a small construction company and works about 7.5 days a week. Both here at the farm and now more frequently on a duplex rental unit he has purchased as security for his retirement. Yesterday he came to move the outside mailbox which now sits behind a semi-permanent puddle of ice on the north side of a tall fence. Now it is closer to the driveway gate so my Dad doesn't ice skate to pick up the mail.

My younger sister is very hands-on and also continually buying things for them. She and her husband are attorneys with only one grown step-son, so money is readily available to them. Still, I know people who have money and are not generous at all. (The husband of my late sister comes to mind.) My sister had taken Mom through her first battle with cancer and so she has dealt with the ugliness of this process. I truly think that we have given Mom her dignity by being as practical and nonchalant as possible with her accidents. She bemoans her weakness but not in any long term way that brings us down.

We are all getting together for dinner this coming Thursday (6th) and talk about making permanent plans in moving my parents when I leave and head back home on the 21st. This meeting was motivated by my the siblings are a little miffed.

Mom needs someone with her all the time. If she falls, Dad cannot lift her. If she doesn't get bathroom care, her hygiene falls by the wayside.

Well, enough about the sibs. I am making a spaghetti Sunday dinner which has always been a tradition with my parents. Although, I am not cooking the traditional fried chicken...just the pasta, garlic bread, green beans with garlic and a nice green salad.

Roller Coaster Ride

I have been home (at my parents house) since December 16. As most people know going back into the house where you lived as a teenager brings up a whole marketbasket of feelings. Decades have past and nothing has really changed. I am sleeping in my brothers' bedroom. My old room has a bed that fits like a hammock and my back can't take that so I have chosen their bedroom. The bedspreads have changed, but wall color, drapes and carpeting are the same. Midwestern farmer types do not spend money freely. Our high school graduation pictures still sit on the dresser. Strangely shaped bottles from college binges also line up like souvenir soldiers.

There are old school papers in the closet, cheap toys that my kids used to play with when they visited and books of all types and sizes.

Mom and Dad and I have started to work out a routine. I think that Dad is relieved to be handing over most of the caretaker duties to me. He can actually leave the house for longer periods of time. His day usually consists of turning up the two heaters and maybe starting a fire in the wood stove at 6:00. He still chops his own wood at 90! Then I get up and make coffee and we sort of start our day together over the morning news and some chit chat. At 7:00 I get Mom up and get everyone breakfast. They have been relying primarily on cold cereal, but seem pleased to have me fix oatmeal, pancakes or eggs every once in a while. Depending on whether a nurse's aide is coming I will get Mom dressed in a clean new nightgown and new socks and comb her hair. If we are expecting company such as over the holidays, I will get out the makeup so she looks more lively. (We had over fifteen for Christmas from California, Colorado and Maryland--I think it was one of the best holidays in memory in spite of the circumstances.)

Then Dad gets the newspaper, turns down the heaters and either he or I empty Mom's potty chair by the bed. He does dishes and then gets cleaned up mid-morning to head for the senior center downtown where he serves the lunch and coffee, eats his lunch, does the dishes and then brings home Mom's lunch. The senior center used to be their primary social activity and the big warm daily meal when they went together. Now, Dad waits on the 70 to 80 somethings that eat down there! On Fridays he heads out to visit his friend for the afternoon.

The first week was an emotional swinging ride for me. I kept the day busy with chores, organizing and cleaning this old house. But as nightfall came I would realize why I was here and find myself choking back the tears or crying myself to sleep.

Mom has lost bladder and is losing bowel control and her legs are weak. We make it together to the bathroom 4 to 5 times a day. I have to hold her nightgown over her shoulders so that she can concentrate on sitting on the commode. I also have to wipe her rear end as she can't do it as well as it needs to be done. We have nurses assistants come in about 4 times a week from the hospice program to help bathe her, cut her nails, brush her dentures and/or set her hair. A nurse is now coming in weekly to monitor her life signs. Every other week we get a chaplain although neither of my parents are religious, they do enjoy this visit. She needs the care of a two-year-old, but every single person that comes in loves her as they find her so upbeat and friendly, unlike many of their patients, I am sure. She will stutter over her words as she gets tired and then laugh and tell them she speaks a 'foreign' language or that she speaks three languages at the same time.

This is a bit of a conflict for me, because she was a really stubborn and set-in-her-ways mother when I was growing up and even when I became an adult. I could never please her with whatever gift I brought or whatever idea I had. So, I guess my first blessing in this process is that she is mellowing out.

Some days she realizes that she has a terminal illness and other days she acts as though I am here to just help get her back on her feet.

We have tried working on leg exercises to strengthen her a little. The hospice program does not support that kind of therapy. They do nothing that would prolong her dying. She does sleep about 80% of the time. I fill that time with checking emails via modem and my brothers computer, working on the quilt for my daughter, reading, watching TV and some exercising. The next blog I will talk about the siblings.

Finally Got Some Blog Time

I am sitting here in a charming little coffee house on main street of this tiny farming town. I can't imagine how they make any money, but the waitress is cleaning off all the tables, so they must have had some lunch customers. When I get out into the rural west, I am reminded of how people struggle from day to day to make ends meet. When on the east coast the upper middle class is so evident, that I tend to forget about the rest of the world.

There is one woman about my age sitting at a table reading a book and sipping coffee...must be retired.

I left Dad with Mom and I am sure he is sleeping by now. He has had a long day.

I have to go out to K-mart after this entry and get some stuff. He was trying to give me directions, but I think I will just drive out to the nearby city and see if I can find it...because the directions were really confusing.

I have written a couple of blogs at home and will post them following this.