Saturday, April 12, 2014

Knock, Knock

My mother and father kept everything in terms of paper.

Years and years of carefully filed credit card bills, receipts and bank statements. Medical bills, enough to paper the whole apartment.

My mom had filled her bureau with letters, cards and more. The bureau in the foyer? Filled with blank greeting cards, cards received, more letters, more papers.

There are piles and piles of papers waiting to be shredded. I carefully sorted through the cards and letters. Those of family interest, I kept, including a treasure trove of letters Daddy wrote to Mom when she was in France, the year before they got married. I need to sit down and puzzle out his handwriting the way I used to the patient records in his optometric practice.

But in all the papers that filled her bureau, his bureau, the hall bureau, the file cabinets in my brother's old bedroom and some file boxes there was no sign of a signed will.

There were copies of a will written in 1994, but nothing signed. And my brother had gone with them to an eldercare lawyer a few years ago. Mom had told him afterwards that the lawyer was "too expensive" and they were going to someone else.

But no sign of another will.

I went up again last weekend, and Andy and his wife finally showed up--first time he'd been there since Mom died.  We went through papers. Still no will. We'd have to have it go through the courts as it was.

Shortly after they left, I heard something bang in one of the rooms. I don't know where. I went room by room, and I've been doing a lot of sorting of their things, so it could have been anywhere. No sign of anything.

As I have tried not to be too catty in pointing out to my brother, I have spent a lot of time alone in my parents' house during the last 2 years. I've gotten used to it. But suddenly, I felt spooked.

When I went into my brother's bedroom, where the Man and I usually sleep when we're there. I remembered that even though early that evening  I had cleared the hall coat closet, there were still more coats in that bedroom's closet. I opened it to check.

Hanging on a hook inside was a black messenger type bag. I lifted it off the hook. It had something in it. I opened it up, expecting to find more medical equipment or such.

And inside were the vital papers. Including SIGNED, witnessed copies of that 1994 will!

I think that Mom and Dad must have taken that will to the second lawyer, that he told them that it was fine as it was unless they wanted to make any changes, and that they came home, hung the bag back up in the closet and either forgot about it, or left it there so they could grab it quickly in any emergency.

It would have been nice if they'd told me--or my brother--or the Man about this.

Perhaps they did last Friday night.

But did they have to wait 7 weeks to do so?

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Hi Mom, Hi Dad

When my mom died, six weeks ago, I made the arrangements for her cremation. When Dad died we went to a Jewish funeral home that she knew of, mainly because she knew of them, since we didn't want a real Jewish funeral.

Cremation, which is what Dad wanted, is against Jewish funeral law. Mom never told me what she wanted but I knew she'd want that too.
In fact, as I've been going through the house, I was unnerved to find papers from Mom's mother that included her prepaid cremation, with the instructions for her ashes: "Scatter them to the four winds. I don't care."  It makes how Mom was about this make more sense.





I'd hated the Jewish funeral home. They'd quoted me a price on the phone, then when we came in the next day, the guy tried to charge us a whole lot more. They were slimy. My brother didn't know what to do about any of this, man of the world that he pretends to be.

So I called the funeral home in Greenwich Village where we'd had Nanay's funeral. They were good there then, and they were good now.  Mom had died on Friday night, it was Saturday and they were busy, but I needed to go HOME, and they let me come in. The funeral director was a lovely young woman, she made it easy.

Two weeks later I came back to New York, and I got Mom's ashes and brought them up to the apartment.

They are going to Cape Cod in June, but for now they went where Mom had put Dad's ashes after he died. I hadn't know where she'd put them until I mentioned it to the Man and he said, "Oh, I asked her. She told me."

I am going up to New York every 2 weeks. Bit by bit I am cleaning out the apartment. My brother has only been there once, just this weekend.  And when he and his wife came, I showed them where the ashes are resting for now.

They are in the big hall closet just near the front door of the apartment. At Christmas, I put the metal stocking hangers the girls use at Christmas in front of the the boxes.

One says "Peace", the other "Joy". I find them peculiarly appropriate.

And each time I come into the apartment, I say, "Hi, Mommy. Hi, Daddy. I'm home......"



Tuesday, April 01, 2014

No Fooling

Six years ago today, I went on Weight Watchers and lost about 15 pounds. That was something good in a bad year, because that was the spring Nanay died.

I kept most of the weight off, but these last 2 years, especially these last 6 months of Mom's ordeal, I have strayed far, far away from what I should have been doing. My main foods have been Pepsi and Hershey's Kisses, and there has been lots of fat and sugar in my diet.

Yesterday,I went back on Weight Watchers.

I had braved the scale and knew I was now 5 pounds heavier than I'd been back in 2008. And I know that perimenopause/menopause is going to make it a lot harder to get back to where I need to be.

But I need to do it. For me, and for Mom.

Since Mom died, I have been wearing her wedding band on a chain around my neck. It is a tiny, thin band of gold and won't even fit on my little finger.

I plan to keep wearing it this way. But my goal is for it to fit on my finger.
Mom would like that...........

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Phone

My daughter once facetiously referred to my smart phone as "Mom's best friend", and it spends most of its time in my pocket. At work I put it away in my office during programs, but otherwise, it rides with me. At home, at night, it gets plugged into its charger and serves as my alarm clock.

For the past 2 years or so, I have tensed, waiting for the phone. First, the calls from my mother about my father. The call from my brother, about my father. And then the calls about my mother from my brother. Calls that inevitably meant something bad was happening.

And the calls from my mother. For years, it was calls from my mother always at exactly the wrong time--when I was tired from a program, or about to go out to do a program, or at night when I was exhausted from my whole day and didn't want to talk about everyday things.

But then she was handling chemo therapy, and unexpected weird symptoms. Endless blood transfusions and platelets. Often she'd call while lying there undergoing treatments and I'd feel guilty for not having the energy to talk, for not calling her myself.

When she broke her leg, after she made it home, I called daily for a while. And then I called less and less as she recovered. She still called, we still talked, but not as often.

And then came last November, and her broken shoulder and her pneumonia. When the phone rang after that, I braced myself for bad news from my brother.

When she called--usually on her caregiver's phone, because she could no longer manage her cell phone--I braced myself to talk to her. Some days she was fully coherent and things were fine. Other times, she would get confused, or be unable to talk and I knew things weren't right.

 I called her on Valentine's Day and she didn't seem to be aware of the flowers I'd sent her.She couldn't tell me if she'd gotten the cards I'd sent Priority Mail to get there on time. I knew something was wrong.

When I called the next day, and the next, and she couldn't say more than "Hi" before drifting off, I knew that things were very wrong.

That was when I called the doctor. That was when I made plans to come up in the next few days, because it was clear the end was near.

And now, right around this time of the day, I think "It's time to call Mom."
Then it hits me again that I can't do that.
That I will never hear her saying "Hi, darling," happy that I've called her.

It's the hardest time of the day now.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Can I Give You A Hug?

Often, in recent days, patrons who have known me for a long while and knew of Mommy's struggles have asked how she was, and when I've told them she is gone, they often immediately say "Can I give you a hug?"

Somehow there is a delicacy to this that moves me beyond words.

Yesterday, a patron brought in a little girl, telling me she had just had a family tragedy and wanted to bring her somewhere cheerful. She was 8--too old for my story time, but I ended up doing it out on the main floor, and she looked at books while the patron and her own child took part in the program.

I went over afterwards to help her find something and realized that I knew her. I took the patron aside and told her, I had known this child and her family for years--what had happened?

The girl's parents had been in the process of a divorce, and the father, suffering from depression, had taken his own life.  I don't think I'd ever met him, but I knew the mom, both because her daughters took ballet from my friend and teacher Lynne, and because they'd come to programs for years.

Truthfully, this little girl had been a 14 karat pain in the butt. Her mom didn't discipline her, she was rude at story time and ran amok in the library.  She wasn't likeable. Not at all.

But when she looked at me and said  "My daddy died", all I could say is "I know and I'm so sorry, and I know how you feel. My mommy just died."

And then I too said it.

"Can I give you a hug?"

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Want My Mother

The child was screaming and screaming just outside my office door. "Mommy!Mommy!"

I went out to see what was going on and there was a tiny little boy sitting there, crying his eyes out.
A woman who'd been sitting at a table in the children's room with another woman told me his mom had gone to the bathroom. Apparently she was fine with watching the child, but wasn't going to do a damned thing about him.

I haven't intervened with patron behavior in months. But I am always a mom and I couldn't bear to see that little one crying. 

I scooped him up and held him on my hip. I talked to him, I tried to distract him, I sang to him a little and I waited until his mom came back from the bathroom and he went into her arms, burying his face in her neck.

And I came in the back and cried.

Because like him, I miss my mother. I want my mother.
Only she'll never come back to me.

She died, nearly 3 weeks ago.

And I have not been able to bear writing about it here..................

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

November/December 2013

I posted another "good daughter" whine, and several days later got a 1AM call from my brother.
Mom had collapsed in her house. Severe pneumonia. She also broke her shoulder--but I probably shouldn't say "also", because it's the shoulder break that's been the key to what followed.

They weren't supposed to intubate her, but they did. I drove from Northern VA to NYC in the night. When I got there, less than 5 hours later, she was in the ICU and the doctors didn't expect her to make it.

They didn't know my mom. As her oncologist has said, she obviously hasn't read the book on her illness.

Though it has progressed from MDS to acute leukemia, though she had severe pneumonia, though she was on the respirator for 3 days, she made it.

I spent over a week there. Went from the ICU to the regular floors with her. Helped her progress from a feeding tube to a foul puree diet. Spooned tea into her until they finally promoted her to a soft diet.
Dealt with doctors and nurses and dieticians and therapists. 

Dealt with her. She was in constant pain from a bedsore, from the broken arm, from other things. Every time she was turned or cleaned she would howl with pain. Despite her saying so, the staff were not "brutal". But dealing with a 81 year old woman with a physical injury plus a serious illness was more than most of them were used to.

And she was confused after the ICU and sedation and the hospital room.  She kept trying to get out of bed to go to the bathroom. She complained about the same things, over and over.

I was too weary to write about this, but I planned a post in my head called "I'm My Own Grandma".  Because when she came out of the fog, she kept telling people I was her mother. She was probably just mixing things up. But there was truth in it too. The roles had switched.


Where was my brother in all of this? There with her in the ER. When she was in the ICU under sedation, I TOLD him to go to work. Not much to do, and I was away from home. This was my job. But afterwards, when the main danger was over, and she really needed hands on stuff, he left it to me and to her caregiver.
He's squeamish. But he's also married to a selfish, thoughtless woman who wants him there dancing attendance on their kids whenever he's not working his ass off to make lots of money. This despite the fact that she doesn't work and that the kids are no longer small children.
AND she has a maid...............

I'd been there 9 days, but the Monday before Thanksgiving was my birthday. I left NYC that afternoon, drove home and opened the door.  The Man was there and I went over to him and totally lost it. Floods of tears.

And then my girls were there, and our kitties. And SC had made dinner, and they'd baked me a cake. It was a checkerboard cake and it hadn't come out right, but we all laughed about it--that and the improvised b-day candle the Man made from the stub of a regular candle! They'd bought me a card, and everyone signed it and did little bits of art--family custom.

We drove back to NYC--all of us--on Wednesday and stayed in the apartment. Mom wasn't there with us on Thanksgiving Day, but in the morning I went up and stayed with her and we watched the Macy's Parade on TV, and in the early evening I went back and brought her Thanksgiving dinner. Everything was soft and finely chopped and she ate it all. Her first solid meal in days, and I went home in a cab exhausted and more thankful that I've been in a while on Thanksgiving.

We went home that Saturday, and Mom was transferred to a nursing home. I had a full week of glorious normalcy, and then the call came again. She'd had 2 seizures, was in the ER and was unconscious.

Once more the drive to NYC. Once more, she rallied. Once more, the puree diet, the dealings with the nurses. Endless tests, which proved inconclusive. We still don't know why she had the seizures.

She is now back in the nursing home, which is a very good one. We went home for Christmas week and all spent some time with her. SC was a trooper, JR found it all terribly upsetting and the Man, as always in a crisis, showed himself for the wonderful, wonderful person that he is.

Christmas Eve the girls decorated the little tree I bought my parents a few years ago, and I burst into tears. And then the Man and I stayed up till 2AM assembling stocking and tree gifts. Mostly the girls got gift cards for places where they love to shop, but there were some actual gifts and the gift cards looked cute in various decorated holders. It reminded me a little of Christmas at Nanay and Tatay's house, where they gave us all cash gifts and the cards covered the tree.

The apartment on Riverside Drive is someone else's now, and there's no family gathering place in NYC. So the Man and I invited his 2 brothers who still live in the city, plus his/our niece and we had a family Christmas meal. I made some of the things Mom made, and tried my hand at one or two things Nanay always made, and everyone ate well. 

Mom got her share for dinner. The girls and I brought her a meal--another "mechanical soft" version, and after she ate that with no trouble, the therapists cleared her next day for solid foods again.

We left Saturday after feeding her lunch. We took the long way round through Pennsylvania and stopped at our favorite Penn Dutch smorgasbord restaurant to eat dinner.

We are home now. It's New Year's Eve. I am going to cook lumpia shanghai  and pancit canton for our New Year's Eve dinner. Tomorrow it will be Belgian waffles, with SC's boyfriend and JR's best friend there to share things.

I will have to call Mom soon and wish her a Happy New Year early, and then call again tomorrow. She is best in the morning--by afternoon she is in pain, often querelous, often not quite grounded in reality.

The broken arm (shoulder really) is her right one, and is keeping her from advancing much in rehabilitation. When she broke her leg last year, she still could feed herself, dress herself at least partly, hold a newspaper or a book. Now she lies nearly totally helpless in bed, and it is not helping her mentally either.

It is likely that she will end up going home and needing care 24/7. And she could be like that for a long time or a short time. It's anyone's guess right now.

This is a bare bones record of what has happened. Writing about my emotions beyond this is too much. I just can't do it right now. Maybe I never will be able to do so.