Purple lips

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My mother has heart failure. Her heart is giving up. She sits in a wheelchair and waits to be taken places, even to the toilet. She cannot exert herself in any way any more. To exert herself is to run out of breath.

There is fluid on her lungs, the doctor says. Every time she breathes in she has to work harder to get in enough oxygen to purify her blood.

My mother’s lips are purple. At first I thought they were red. ‘How lovely you look,’ I said to her, ‘as though you have put on lipstick.’

She preens. Even at ninety-one my mother is a vain woman, but she has lost much of her dignity.

I wheel her into the toilet. The pills she take include diuretics to help get rid of excess fluid. She visits the toilet often. We are in the doctor’s surgery and lucky to find a disabled toilet large enough to fit into. I steer her alongside the toilet bowl and help her up.

‘Do you want me to wait outside?’ I ask.
‘No, you might as well stay,’ she says. She struggles with the button on her trousers. Once undone, they drop to her ankles. I try not to look.

I busy myself with the wheelchair. I put on the brake so that she can use it as a support when she’s done.

I am now the adult and my mother who once held me in her arms is like the baby, or at least a toddler on her potty.

She sits for some time on the toilet. I listen for the trickle and flush.

‘There’s not much there,’ she says. ‘It’s like this all the time. I can’t wait and then there’s not much to show.’

I stand alongside to help her up as she wipes and pulls up her knickers. I pull her trousers up off the floor and hold my hands around her waist in order to find the button hole and thread the button through.

My mother feels warm and smells of musk and something unfamiliar to me, the smell of age.

My mother flops back into the seat and I lift back the foot flaps to accommodate her feet. I am a novice with wheel chairs. I steer the device awkwardly.

It is a strange process this reversal of roles and all the while I find myself reflecting on what it will be like when my turn comes around. When my ears give out and I cannot hear so well and I must sit with my back to the room where my daughter has perched me and I must bide my time and wait uncomplaining while my daughter discusses the intricacies of my condition with a doctor who is at least fifty years younger than me.

Payback perhaps.

When I first started in social work as a young looking twenty two year old, my mother said to me more than once, ‘If I had problems, I would never want to discuss them with someone as young as you. How could I have any confidence?’

I thought then, I will never be able to catch up with her. She will always be older than me. She will always ahead of me. But now this.

When my mother dies, I will be next in line for death. It is a sobering thought.

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76 Comments on Purple lips

  1. Bish Denham
    April 20, 2011 at 10:51 pm (6 years ago)

    My sister and I went through this same process with our mother. It was hard, but it was giving back to her the same care she gave to us when we were young.

    Reply
  2. Kirk Jusko
    April 20, 2011 at 11:20 pm (6 years ago)

    I feel for you. It's very difficult dealing with an ailing parent. Especially when you suspect it might be the final illness. I refused to believe it, to my everlasting regret, because I ended up not making the best of the short time the parent had left. I want to tell you not to make the same mistake, but I think you're wiser than that.

    Reply
  3. Snowbrush
    April 20, 2011 at 11:43 pm (6 years ago)

    Well, being "officially" next in line does change things, I guess, either that or we have heard that it does so many times that, when it happens, we imagine a difference in how we view our mortality.

    My father died here, in this house, of congestive heart failure with my wife and me by his side. Green froth had been running from his mouth for many hours, and I couldn't tell if he was in pain, so I kept giving him morphine to be as sure as I could that he wasn't. I also got to be with my mother when she died, but her death–of smoking related problems–was much easier to watch. After my father died, my wife hated the sound of percolators for years because that's how he sounded.

    I trust that you will let your mother go as peacefully as possible. Surely, she can't last more than a few weeks, although that kind of thing is notoriously hard to predict sometimes.

    BTW, I commented on Stafford's comment about Australian healthcare, but I'm too ignorant of its philosophical basis to know if my comment made much sense. Likewise, I don't know if my description of my father's death will be more of a preparation for you or more of a torment. After all, you mother might pass as though her last hours were a fading whisper. I truly hope she does.

    Reply
  4. Ms. Moon
    April 20, 2011 at 11:47 pm (6 years ago)

    Yes. As natural as a process it all is, parent-getting-old, it is still very hard and very weird, too. Hard to understand, to accept.

    Reply
  5. Ocean Girl
    April 21, 2011 at 12:33 am (6 years ago)

    You are so beautiful to take care of your mother and being kind to her. It is a blessing and an opportunity. Not all of us has the opportunity to care and return the love of our mothers. It is a challenge, but a challenge that will be rewarding.

    Reply
  6. Elisabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 1:34 am (6 years ago)

    It's true, Bish, there is something reciprocal in caring for our dying parents, but maybe with an added dose of ambivalence.

    So much water has passed under the bridge by the time we come to pay back the favour of our births, and it isn't always clear cut. There are often very mixed feelings.

    Thanks, Bish.

    Reply
  7. Elisabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 1:42 am (6 years ago)

    I, too, find it hard to believe that my mother might be dying, largely I think because she finds it hard to believe herself, Kirk. My mother is ever the optimist.

    Recently when the doctor asked her what she wanted to have happen in the event of a stroke, namely did she want to be resuscitated, my mother said she wanted to live for many years yet. Even at 91 she is far from ready to die.

    And apart from difficulties exerting herself, when she sits still and does nothing she's fine.

    The medicos are trying to control it all with warfarin and something called metropol, and frusemide, I think.

    It helps and yet my mother continues to deteriorate. She's recently had all the big heart tests with the cardiologist and so when we meet him next, we might get to know and understand more.

    In the meantime as you suggest, Kirk, this is a precious time. Thanks.

    Reply
  8. Elisabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 1:47 am (6 years ago)

    That's a grim image of your dying father as you portray it, Snow.

    I talked to one of my sisters the other day about our respective desires, namely that our mother should die gently in her sleep.

    But then my sister said something about hating the thought that our mother should be gasping for breath, alone in the night, before she dies.

    The image has left me feeling very bad. Suffocation could not be a good way to go, regardless.

    So yes, you're right, Snow, The image of your father's last hours are not comforting and yet these things happen.

    We can only hope that my mother goes peacefully.

    Thanks, Snow.

    Reply
  9. erin
    April 21, 2011 at 1:50 am (6 years ago)

    i've got only support to offer. i don't know this side, not yet, not really, not in this way. and so i can only say, i hope for some sort of softness for all of you. does that make sense? softness?

    xo
    erin

    Reply
  10. Elisabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 1:56 am (6 years ago)

    Hard to understand and accept as you say, Ms Moon, but as natural as the cycle of day into night.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  11. Elisabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 1:58 am (6 years ago)

    A challenge indeed, Fazlisa, especially as my feelings are mixed as I've said earlier. And my mother is now frail and very very vulnerable. I cannot expect too much of her, not as I once might have done.

    Thanks, Fazlisa.

    Reply
  12. Stafford Ray
    April 21, 2011 at 1:59 am (6 years ago)

    I nursed my mother and although it was a lovely time relating to such a wise and funny lady, it became depressing.
    She wanted so much to die but couldn't.
    The creator did not include a humane exit strategy and His minders are not keen on letting us have one either. Control freaks!

    Reply
  13. Elisabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 2:04 am (6 years ago)

    'Softness' seems an apt word here, Erin. We need plenty of it in these 'hard' times.

    Thanks so much for your good wishes

    Reply
  14. Elisabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 2:07 am (6 years ago)

    Nursing people who are ill and/or dying for long periods of time is deeply distressing, Stafford.

    From my understanding, if it goes on for too long, it can make the carer sick, too. It's not good to be always surrounded by another person's ill health. but sometimes it just can't be helped.

    It's good to see you here, Stafford. Thanks.

    Reply
  15. Snowbrush
    April 21, 2011 at 2:39 am (6 years ago)

    Elisabeth, I think it is generally the case that when someone who has been hypoxic for a long while reaches their final days, or even hours, they're most likely in a coma. My father never appeared to struggle, and he gave every sign of being non-responsive. However, a few days before he died, he told me that he didn't fear death, but that he did want me to do everything I could to see that he didn't die in pain even if this meant, in his words, "putting me out." I was determined to err on the safe side of what proved to be his final request of me.

    You don't turn from death, and I respect that. I have a sister who ran from it, so I'm well aware that not everyone is as you–and I–are, yet I think poorly of those who place their comfort ahead of their loved ones needs at such a time. Call me harsh, and maybe I am, but I cut them no slack. I spent two years doing what I could for my father, and my reward was for him to tell me that he had never been happier in his life than during those months that he lived with Peggy and me. As you know, it's a precious time when it's occurring, and it's a treasure to look back upon.

    Here's to you, Elisabeth.

    Reply
  16. Anthony Duce
    April 21, 2011 at 3:00 am (6 years ago)

    The writing here is so very good. I almost was hoping it was just a story, not wanting to face what eventually will come, not wanting to relate even as I see my own parents moving slowly in the same direction.

    Reply
  17. Laoch of Chicago
    April 21, 2011 at 4:19 am (6 years ago)

    I took care of my mother during her mortal illness. It was disquieting to say the least. Good wishes to your mom.

    Reply
  18. persiflage
    April 21, 2011 at 4:44 am (6 years ago)

    Nothing really stops the final illness from being sad and difficult. It is an awesome experience being present when someone dies. The period before death is imminent is far more difficult, I think, as often no one can tell how long it will go on for. My husband was still conscious when I arrived, but gradually became comatose, and the actual death appeared very easy, and without the suffering we all hope will not happen.
    The will to live remains incredibly strong. The thought of extinction is unimaginable.

    Reply
  19. Windsmoke.
    April 21, 2011 at 5:11 am (6 years ago)

    My mum passed away last september and everytime i took her to the hospital for a check up we used a wheel chair but some of them have a mind of their own just like a supermarket trolley very frustrating indeed :-).

    Reply
  20. Elizabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 5:49 am (6 years ago)

    Being human — the fun never stops. I say this, of course, wryly.

    Reply
  21. Isabel Doyle
    April 21, 2011 at 6:30 am (6 years ago)

    This is a moving story you’ve told us Elisabeth, and given what I’ve learnt of your difficult childhood, especially poignant. So many of us shy away from the intimate care of our elderly parents and let our own squeamishness interfere with doing what we need to and usually want to. As others have said, it is a precious time.
    Last year my father-in-law died after a relatively short illness. We came back to Australia to celebrate his 80th birthday, knowing it would be his last. My husband went and stayed with his parents with our daughter for the last two weeks if his father’s life, nursing him at home, doing jobs he wanted finished, helping his mum. A few days before he died he told M he had had a happy life, a good life, and he was ready to go. He had a crisis and went back into hospital the day before our son and I could get there, but we were all able to be with him when he slipped away – only three days before his expected birthday.
    It felt like he had almost arranged things so that his wife would have the most support – we were able to be there with her, to organise the funeral and all the other things, and we hadn’t had to leave to return overseas, knowing we would only be back when he had died.
    Although my husband has been away a lot, I am certain that spending the last weeks of his father’s life with him was a precious experience that could never be replaced. It helped with guilt at being overseas too, of course.
    Even in the midst of dying, I think it is important that we are still honest and still ourselves and that we don’t give way to sentimentality or guilt. This is who we are, this is what happens to us; there are no exceptions.

    I hope your time with your mother is not too distressing for either of you.

    Reply
  22. Kath Lockett
    April 21, 2011 at 7:50 am (6 years ago)

    It's a reversal of roles that we might jokingly (or out of frustration) say that we're looking forward to, but not really.

    As my daughter was growing, my grandfather was failing. Mentally he was still very sharp but physically in pain. "As she walks, my body stops walking," he said once.

    It is a sobering thought, as you say.

    Reply
  23. Marshall Stacks
    April 21, 2011 at 7:57 am (6 years ago)

    The death of 'a loved one', and 'reciprocal care' are fine concepts, and crucial stages in our adult development and our own ageing.

    What of those, especially those with no siblings for support, with a failing parent who is not loved? Who gave no care to reciprocate?
    A failing parent in hospital as a result of an activity they were told not to do because of it's danger, who is now whining that I don't visit him far away from where I live without a car.
    I need a therapist to avoid choosing a SULO casket when the time comes.
    peace and love to you though

    Reply
  24. jabblog
    April 21, 2011 at 8:21 am (6 years ago)

    The child becoming the parent is a role reversal that happens very gradually. It's disquieting. We all wish a peaceful passing for our loved ones and for ourselves. I hope it proves so for your mother.

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 9:30 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks again, Snow. I'm relieved to think that my mother's end might not be as ghastly as I had feared.

    I've been practicing thinking about death for some time now.

    It's interesting that my mother who has a strong belief in heaven and the afterlife should so resist her death, whereas others – like me – who are less confident about what lies beyond, might choose to embrace death more willingly.

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 9:32 am (6 years ago)

    I know people can never be certain with my posts as to whether it's just a story or whether it's closer to life.

    Being closer to life, my life, Anthony there's no happy ending here, just more of the ebb and flow of life and death, which is not so bad after all, at least I don't think it is.

    Thanks for your kind words, Anthony.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 9:34 am (6 years ago)

    It is disquieting, Laoch, but so far manageable, for me at least. I can't say as much for my mother, though she tends to put on a brave front most of the time.

    Thanks for your good wishes.

    Reply
  28. Jim Murdoch
    April 21, 2011 at 10:42 am (6 years ago)

    Both my parents died in their mid-seventies. I never had any of this to contend with. Really the most my mother required of me after my father passed was to look after the garden. More was done, the house redecorated – it needed it – but until three days before she died my mother was out and about doing her rounds of the charity shops as she always did. Dad had a heart attack so his death was quick. Mum had cancer but she caught pneumonia and it was all over in three days. We knew she was ill but we didn’t realise she was dying. And she wouldn’t let us call the doctor. For those last three days Carrie and I took care of her although the bulk of the actual work fell to Carrie.

    I can’t imagine hanging on into my nineties. I’m not so sure I would want to. Easy to say now looking forty years into the future but it’s certainly how I feel now. No one likes talking about death but I was reading in the paper on the bus the last time I was out that living to be 100 is becoming more and more likely with each new generation. Which is all fine and well but I’m not sure that 21st century centenarians will be any more sprightly than 20th century ones. Longevity is only a boon if it really does give you more time to do stuff and not simply exist. Longevity runs in Carrie’s family – her parents are both chugging along in their eighties – but she’s already lost two of her brothers so you never know. I suppose I’m lucky in that all I really need is a power socket and an Internet connection and I’ll be as happy as Larry. I could even survive with a pencil and a scrap of paper as long as I could hold the damn thing but after years and years of typing I don’t think it unreasonable to imagine problems with my hands in later life. I hate to see old folks’ homes on TV where they just sitting around playing dominoes or something equally mindless. Hopefully by then the law will have changed and I can just ask an orderly for a form to sign for the ‘death pill’ and take my leave in my own good time.

    Reply
  29. Elisabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 10:55 am (6 years ago)

    As regards this strange time the word 'awesome' seems apt, Persiflage. And as you suggest the build up to it is more difficult because we simply do not know how it will transpire.

    Thanks, Persiflage.

    Reply
  30. Elisabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 10:57 am (6 years ago)

    You're so right, Windsmoke, some wheel chairs are just like supermarket trolleys, especially when going up and down hills, as well as negotiating backwards and going around corners.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  31. Elisabeth
    April 21, 2011 at 10:59 am (6 years ago)

    The humanity of life requires enormous doses of wry humour as well you'd know Elizabeth, and you have it in spades. You need it given your lot which to me is one of the hardest lots of all. Thanks Elizabeth.

    Reply
  32. Dave King
    April 21, 2011 at 11:20 am (6 years ago)

    Neither I nor Doreen, my wife, have had this to cope with from our parents, but I have known of it from close friends and family and it may yet come to either or both of us. What I do think you have to try to exclude from your mind are any feelings you might have about seemingly negative attitudes in the person being cared for. Easier said than done, I know, but it does seem to me that they are often not as they appear.

    Reply
  33. More Than Meets the I
    April 21, 2011 at 1:29 pm (6 years ago)

    The smell of musk and perhaps the underlying idea of old age not giving up reminds me of my grandmother, who is in her mid 80s. She always walks with a stick and can never stand up straight due to osteoporosis, but so far she has been largely independent. I love this smell: it is her smell of cleanliness, when I pay her a visit and kiss her on her rosy cheeks…

    Reply
  34. jane.healy
    April 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm (6 years ago)

    I, like Dave above me, did not have to cope with aged parents – Mom died at 64 and my Dad at 71. I worked (briefly) in my 20s at an old peopel home and prayed I would not get as old as that – at 53 it doesn't seem that far away anymore!

    Reply
  35. ellen abbott
    April 21, 2011 at 1:43 pm (6 years ago)

    My BIL died from stage 4 metastatic lung cancer last December. My sister had him home in hospice care and we were there when he went. He did slip into a coma like state about 24 hours before his last breath, going to sleep and not waking again. the brain/body starts withdrawing life support from all parts of the body including wakefulness to marshall it's forces on the heart and lungs. He was also on morphine and something to keep the fluid out of his lungs. His breathing became slow and labored, he skipped a breath, breathed again, skipped another breath, then panted a bit. And that was all. He slipped away.

    It was my first up close and personal experience with dying as my father stroked out one night and my mother lived in another state. We did get there before she died and she was awake but couldn't speak, she knew we were there. We were going back the next morning but she passed away just after dawn. She had been waiting for all us kids to get there.

    I think we think death is a terrible and painful thing because we are not ready to go into that good night. In reality though, death is not painful. It is the struggle to live that is painful.

    I don't know how close your mother is. You've said she has said she is not ready to die. However, when there is no doubt, you might tell her it's OK, give her permission to go.

    Reply
  36. Marie
    April 21, 2011 at 2:08 pm (6 years ago)

    We went through this three years ago with my husband's mother. She was younger than your mum (at 82), though frail and ill with a stomach tumour. She was vain till the end as well, having worked all her working life in cosmetics and I still recall the day before she died she was fretting about her new perm and whether the colour was quite right. I gave her manicures and painted her nails and struggled with eyeliner so she could look her best. For whom? I used to wonder. But she was of a generation where one always dressed up, so I went along with it.

    It is hard to watch the deterioration and see them in such pain. It's hard to see beyond "the old lady" to the person they really are and while I never regretted spending time with her at the same time I couldn't help hoping that I never inflict this on my own children.

    And now she is dead, suddenly my husband and his brother are "next in line" for the grim reaper. There is noone of that generation left – they are the elders and mortality is staring at them as well. It's a strange feeling.

    And then you get people like my ex's grandmother, who is about to turn 102 and is fit as a mallee bull and never sick, frail or looking at all like she might be about to shuffle along.

    Reply
  37. The Elephant's Child
    April 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm (6 years ago)

    It looks as if Blogger ate my comment. As always a very moving post.
    When my dad died he had been more than ready to go so we could only feel happiness for him (relief from pain and indignity). Our sadness was for our loss not his.
    My mother's death was a little different. She fought bitterly against going to hospital and did not accept that she was seriously unwell. In the dark hours I still wonder whether I should have called the ambulance.
    I hope and trust that your mothers death is a gentle slipping away and that she, you and your siblings are at peace with it.

    Reply
  38. Robert the Skeptic
    April 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm (6 years ago)

    Both my parents are long deceased, cancer took them both when they were still much too young. I have outlived them both.

    My wife's mother died three years ago. Hospitals and doctors and needles and wheelchairs were what her life was about. When her condition deteriorated to the extent that she was told she would need dialysis, she decided that she had had enough. Kidney failure was an easy and painless way to go.

    Now my wife's father is 88 and is in denial of his declining faculties. He does not want to plan for his future but instead "just deal with it when it happens". When she explains to her father that he gives up choices when he postpones these decisions, he dismisses her.
    He is proud that he still mows his lawn with a push-mower. Perhaps when he accepts when he can no longer do that, he might begin to accept his destiny.

    Reply
  39. rosaria
    April 21, 2011 at 6:29 pm (6 years ago)

    You are concerned about how she looks, what smells she has. She is concerned about functioning,

    Reply
  40. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 3:50 am (6 years ago)

    The ending of your father in law's life sounds ideal, Isabel, if indeed endings can ever be described this way.

    I think a person's readiness for death, a certain preparedness to move on, a sense that, like your father in law, they have lived a rich, full and good life is about the best any of us can hope for. And that even applies to people who die young, I suppose.

    Though a so-called untimely death, before a person has lived a decent number of years always feels cruel to me. It's all relative, though.

    One hundred years ago, no one expected to live as long as folks expect to live these days, at least in the western world this is largely the case.

    Thanks, Isabel.

    Reply
  41. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 3:56 am (6 years ago)

    My oldest daughter is pregnant with her second child, Kath, and I've had the thought that my mother might 'choose' to go around the same time this next baby enters the world.

    It often seems to happen like this: one person is born and another leaves.

    It happened to my oldest daughter. She came into the world and ten days later my father died.

    Uncannily, my father died on the same day, February 27, on which his first born daughter had died at 5 months of age during the Hunger winter of 1945 in Holland.

    Strange coinicidences you might say, but I often suspect there might be more. Anniversary reacions can be powerful.

    Thanks, Kath.

    Reply
  42. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 4:03 am (6 years ago)

    I'm sorry, Marshall Stacks, both for the hard time you're having in dealing with your elderly father and also because I don't know what a SULO casket is.

    I think there are probably as many people who have difficulties dealing with their elderly parents because of their own troubled childhoods as there are those who want to ease the pain of their parents' deaths both fpr their psrents and for themsekves.

    I also suspect – as you suggest – that it's a lot harder for only children in many ways because they cannot share the burden of parental care with other siblings.

    Thanks, H.

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  43. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 4:05 am (6 years ago)

    As you say, Janice, most of us wish for a peaceful passing for our loved ones but then there are those who have falling outs with their loved ones that muddy the emotional waters especially when death draws nigh. It makes for a much more painful final journey for everyone involved.

    Thanks, Janice.

    Reply
  44. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 4:20 am (6 years ago)

    I wonder how long it will take for the euthanasia laws to change, Jim? I recognise it's a vexed issue.

    It would be wrong to get rid of people simply because they are deemed to have become a nuisance as it were, and yet I'm all for people being able 'to die with dignity', even if it means they die as you suggest by signing a piece of paper, as long as it's not done through coercion but after due consideration, and with the help of concerned others.

    I'm not sure I'd want to live into a life as you describe as one of those sad, worn out people in nursing homes who sit all day doing nothing.

    I read a book many years ago called, 'This bed my centre' by Ellen Newton.

    It has stayed with me over the years. She wrote it from her nursing home bed. It offers a grim perspective of a life completely restricted and patronised from her inner perspective.

    Newton worked as a journalist and wrote well. She comes to mind when you talk about being happy as long as you have a pencil and paper and as long as you can still hold them.

    Then I think of the Marquis de Sade as portrayed in the film, Quills and his desperation to write such that he used his owm blood for ink.

    It's off on a tangent but it suggests to me that we can cope as long as we have a creative outlet. Whereas severe old age threatens to take such outlets away.

    Thanks Jim.

    Reply
  45. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 4:27 am (6 years ago)

    I suspect you are alluding to those mixed feelings to which I also referred in my post, Dave.

    To care for an old and frail person who happens to be your mother or your father calls on a certain suspension of all the hostile feelings that may have emerged in you, relation to their mistakes in bringing you up.

    And, as you say, Dave, it's not at all easy.

    Often times people cannot overcome their hostile feelings sufficiet to enable them to help, but in the long run, if it's at all possible I suspect, it's better for those who remain, not just for the one who is dying.

    It's better if we overcome our negative feelings such to work through the dying process in peace, not only for the sake of our dying parent but for our own sakes as well.

    Sometimes our parents won't help us in this regard and sometimes they will. It's a two way process. Thanks, Dave.

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  46. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 4:31 am (6 years ago)

    I have no memory at all of my grandparents, More-than-meets-the-eye, but I think it would be good if I could have known them.

    People's relationships to their grandparents are often quite different from their relationship to their parents.

    I see it clearly with my own grandson. But I'm still relatively fit and able and so we can do things together. I know I give to him in a way I would never have given to my own children. and it feels okay because his parents set the limits while we his grandparents can offer all these special times, which he will remember fondly I hope.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  47. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 4:36 am (6 years ago)

    It's true, Jane H, when we are young we look at the old people and think I'd never want to be like that and then when it comes our turn to be old we change our minds. I talk about being old to my children, but I don't think of myself as old, not yet at least.

    I wonder how long it will take before I can accept that relatively speaking just on the other side before I reach sixty, I am old. I suspect the dividing line comes when we reach the half century mark. But it's all relative.

    Thanks, Jane.

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  48. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 4:43 am (6 years ago)

    I agree, Ellen: we think the dying is the hardest part, and maybe for some it is so, but perhaps it's really the living that's the hardest part.

    If we can accept the dying, it must be a whole lot easier for everyone concerned. The worst I think is when we cannot speak about it at all.

    My mother is only now beginning, it would seem, to consider the possibility of her death.

    Recently she said goodbye to a neighbor who at 99 and with end stage cancer was off to hospital to die.

    My mother was sad about this, and it seems to have given her an entree into thoughts about her own possible death at some stage soon.

    It is a strange and somehow special time.

    Thanks for your deeply considered comment here, Ellen. I'm grateful.

    Reply
  49. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 4:48 am (6 years ago)

    There's nothing wrong with a little vanity, as you say, Marie, not if it helps a person to shore up some greater sense of dignity.

    My own ambivalence about my mother's vanity is that it seems to be tacked onto her tendency to look on the superficial side of things, and maybe also attaches to her frail sense of herself as a worthwhile person.

    In a sense she has needed to hide some of her pain behind her makeup. And this has been irritating for some of us, her children, but of course there's far more to her than this and so I want to overlook those negative aspects and move onto her going with good will.

    Thanks, Marie.

    Reply
  50. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 4:54 am (6 years ago)

    It seems people have so many different ways of dying, Elephant's Child, just as you describe here, the difference between your parents, the one going quickly the other fighting it all the way.

    I'd like to think I'd go with grace, though I can also see myself fighting it.

    I suppose for me it depends on when and in what circumstances it happens. There's also the possibility that I'll know nothing about it – you know, the sudden case of being hit by a bus.

    Grim thoughts. It's funny how thoughts of my mother's possible impending death, bring about thoughts of my own death.

    Thanks, Elephant's Child.

    Reply
  51. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 4:59 am (6 years ago)

    Robert, your wife's parents as you describe them here are almost the opposite of Elephant's Child's parents. As I said earlier, people have such different approaches to their way of dying.

    My mother insists on sorting out her own mediation., She will not let anyone else do it for her. It is her point of pride, the fact that she still has all her mental faculties, rather like your father in law who is proud of being able to mow his own lawn.

    I can understand this very well. I hated the dependence on others I faced when I broke my leg. I longed to go back to being able to do things for myself.

    Thanks, Robert.

    Reply
  52. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 5:04 am (6 years ago)

    My mother is concerned with her functioning, Rosaria, but she is also concerned about her appearance, at least when she's well enough to care.

    When she's really crook, as happens from time to time and increasingly these days, I don't think my mother could guve a fig about how she looks.

    I can understand this too. It's all about a hierarchy of needs. When I broke my leg, in the moment of pain and crisis I could not have cared less how I looked, but once recovered somewhat, my general appearance mattered to me all over again.

    Thanks, Rosaria.

    Reply
  53. Frances
    April 22, 2011 at 6:13 am (6 years ago)

    This must be a good time to be sixth in line, Elisabeth: I trust that your siblings don't leave it all to you, and that at least one or two pull their weight.
    Even if your mother's death leaves you as "the next in line" you are still, in the normal order of things, a generation away from your life's end. I would soothe my apprehension, if I were you.
    I speculate that children consider and dread their parents' death from the time that they get the concept. What they often don't think of is their siblings' death: a different and possibly more confronting situation that really does hint at one's own mortality. But, perhaps you have already been through this: perhaps your statement that you are "the next in line" means that you have lost many.
    I believe that a SULO, in case Marshall Stacks doesn't get back to you, is possibly the name of your garbage bin.

    Reply
  54. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 7:21 am (6 years ago)

    I agree Frances, the death of a parent in old age is less daunting than that of a sibling, as far as intimations of our own mortality are concerned.

    As for being sixth in line, it's not the chronology so much as the gender that determines one's function in my family of origin, as it is perhaps in many others.

    The bulk of the physical work vis a vis my mother's care falls to the three girls who live nearby and the absolute bulk of the work to date has fallen on my oldest sister's shoulders, which is ironic given her experience in the family.

    But my oldest sister is perhaps the most dedicated to the family in general and in some ways has always been so.

    I've had room and space to move away for long periods of time, not so much geographically as emotionally and it has helped me to reappraise the nature of my familial relationships.

    Another irony is that only recently my oldest sister, whom I suggested earlier, has been like a rock to which my mother clings, in fact in many ways she has taken my mother's place in my family of origin in more ways than one, has taken to distancing herself at last.

    This has probably left more room for the rest of us to take over the reins.

    Perhaps, because I enjoy writing, I have started up the full and detailed email correspondence we new share and it helps I think but otherwise my role is not too onerous.

    We all to varying degrees pitch in.

    As for the death of a sibling, my mother comes from a family of seven. The first of her siblings died less than two years ago and another a year later.

    So, out of the seven, five remain all now in their eighties, with my mother the oldest at 91.

    I suspected that when my mother's first brother, the one immediately below her, died two years ago, then the rest would follow soon enough. Until then, apart from her two babies who died in infancy and at birth, my mother's entire sibship and all her children and the children of her siblings have survived.

    Only the spouses of my mother's siblings, including my own father have died. My mother comes from sturdy genetic stock.

    Thanks, Frances.

    Reply
  55. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2011 at 7:21 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks for the hug, Lucychili. It's most welcome.

    Reply
  56. Manzanita
    April 22, 2011 at 1:39 pm (6 years ago)

    OMG Your post is beautiful but it makes me shiver. So poignant. My Mother's gone and I'm very near to the next. I think my daughter's feeling your thoughts. At least we don't smugly feel it can never happen to us. Thank you for writing this.
    Manzanita

    Reply
  57. Hold my hand: a social worker's blog
    April 23, 2011 at 12:28 am (6 years ago)

    As a nursing home social worker I see this situation daily. I know it's hard to face the change on roles, and accepting the aging and decline of our parents. This reality is harder for the caregivers.

    Beautiful post, Elisabeth.

    Doris

    Reply
  58. Harry Kent
    April 23, 2011 at 3:11 am (6 years ago)

    A scene and run of emotions all too familiar, Elizabeth. All as you say.

    Both my mother and mother-in-law are dead now. But not before failing hearts and kidneys taught us all how tenuous our hold on life really is, how easy it is to take a leaping out of bed on a sunny for granted.

    And we are left feeling like prisoners on the Spanish main, shuffling our way along the plank, cutlass at our backs. Mum has just dropped off. Me next.

    Reply
  59. Elisabeth
    April 23, 2011 at 10:21 am (6 years ago)

    The cycle of life, Manzanita, can be daunting but it's oh so necessary.

    Thanks for your kind words here.

    Reply
  60. Elisabeth
    April 23, 2011 at 10:24 am (6 years ago)

    Beautifully put Harry: 'like prisoners on the Spanish main, shuffling our way along the plank, cutlass at our backs', our time will come.

    Thanks for inducing such powerful thoughts within evocative images, thoughts that are even more sobering than mine.

    But then again, you're the artist. You don't flinch at these things.

    Reply
  61. Bluestocking Mum
    April 23, 2011 at 11:48 am (6 years ago)

    Hello Elisabeth

    Good to find your blog. My Nan brought me up from the age of two and died of heart failure and I have chronic health problems so your post really touched me.

    Look forward to following your posts and writing in the future

    warm wishes
    Debbie
    x

    Reply
  62. Yvonne Osborne
    April 23, 2011 at 1:11 pm (6 years ago)

    Elisabeth,
    I'm going through the exact same thing and it is remarkable how your thoughts mirror mine, as though you sat down in my head and took up residence. Yes, I'm next in line, and so it goes.

    Today we are bringing mother home from the hospital after a terrible fall. First it was canes, then walkers, next….
    well, anyway, we will have Easter dinner together and she'll smile when she sees how her daffodils have opened in the flowerbed next to the sidewalk, and we'll try to live in the moment.

    Thanks again for joining my blog!

    Reply
  63. Isabel Doyle
    April 23, 2011 at 2:41 pm (6 years ago)

    Dear Elisabeth, you've clearly touched on a subject we all want to share our stories about – it is so often inappropriate or unwelcome to discuss dying and caring for the dying.

    I felt a little guilty that instead of really listening to what you said I was so keen to throw my experience at you. I have forgiven myself, but I still want to say how much I appreciate the courage you showed with your original post and your kindness and patience reading and replying to all the responses.

    Happy Easter.
    Isabel

    Reply
  64. Conda V. Douglas
    April 23, 2011 at 6:00 pm (6 years ago)

    My empathy and sympathy go out to you, Elisabeth. I lost my mom when I was 34 and part of my grief was, "I'm no longer anyone's baby anymore." I was an adult, but needed my mom still, we always do. So hard.

    Reply
  65. KleinsteMotte
    April 23, 2011 at 10:43 pm (6 years ago)

    You have chosen to put to words what has happened to some of us and I know I have had to put my girls through some moments of nursing me after my cancer surgery. They also helped care for a paternal aunt who ended up in a nursing home when several strokes made home living and caring for her too hard. We have no idea what lies ahead but your thoughts do echo what some of us fear most' LOSS'. Lovely writing.

    Reply
  66. Eryl
    April 23, 2011 at 10:46 pm (6 years ago)

    So sorry, Elizabeth, that you, your family and your mother are having to go through this. I know how grim it is to be in your position having been through it with my own mother a few years ago. I hate the thought of putting my son through it, too, and now feel a bit guilty that he is an only child. Having two sisters and a brother to share the horror made it so much more bearable. Even, dare I say it, fun at times: talking together as we hadn't really done since childhood. Out of the four deaths I've witness in the last seven years (both in-laws, my mother, and my husband's great uncle), only one, the great uncle, gasped for breath and looked distressed. The others all just nodded off and didn't wake up. I hope you will be able to say about your mother: she closed her eyes and fell silent.

    Reply
  67. Elisabeth
    April 24, 2011 at 8:42 am (6 years ago)

    Debbie, I take it you remember your Nan fondly. Sad that she too should succumb to heart failure. I suppose it's the case often in old age, our hearts simply wear put.

    Thanks, Blue stockinged Debbie.

    PS I don't think I've ever seen blue stockings in the flesh, as it were.

    Reply
  68. Elisabeth
    April 24, 2011 at 8:45 am (6 years ago)

    I spent time with my mother this afternoon, Yvonne. She sat in her Jason recliner sandwiched as it were between her walker and her wheelchair. She reckons it's so easy to fall when you get old.

    To use her words, you lose your equilibrium.

    I'm sorry that you too are having a similarly difficult experience with your mother.

    Thanks, Yvonne.

    Reply
  69. Elisabeth
    April 24, 2011 at 8:49 am (6 years ago)

    Happy Easter to you too, Isabel.

    I suspect most of us who are aged beyond fifty resonate with the experience of having to deal with and/or care for aging parents.

    It's inevitable, that is if we are lucky enough both to live long enough ourselves and also to have parents who live into old age.

    My heart bleeds for those who lose their parents young, and to me these days to lose your parents young is to lose them before you yourself reach about thirty, even forty.

    Thanks, Isabel.

    Reply
  70. Elisabeth
    April 24, 2011 at 10:51 am (6 years ago)

    We continue to need our mothers even into our old age, Conda, well after they're gone.

    And I imagine, more especially after they're gone we continue to miss them.

    It seems to me it's part of the human condition.

    Thanks Conda.

    Reply
  71. Elisabeth
    April 24, 2011 at 10:55 am (6 years ago)

    Loss, Kleinstemmotte, takes many forms, but it seems to me it's most acute when it comes to loss of parents and loss if children, loss of loved ones generally.

    As I said earlier to Conda, I think it's part of the human condition.

    We are social beings and our connections begin early with our first attachments, generally to parents or else to other important and primary caregivers.

    Thanks, Kleinstemotte.

    Reply
  72. Elisabeth
    April 24, 2011 at 11:00 am (6 years ago)

    As you say, Eryl, I too hopes my mother closes her eyes and falls silent. I hope for this for me too, but not yet. Not yet for either of us, though we cannot control these things.

    And I agree it's good to talk with siblings again, after all these years and somehow our mother's pending death brings us together.

    Hopefully your son,too, although an only child will also find people who can help him through in the future hopefully the far distant future whenever your time comes at last.

    I hope that doesn't sound too grim. It's not meant to.

    Thanks, Eryl.

    Reply
  73. Elisabeth
    April 24, 2011 at 11:02 am (6 years ago)

    I wouldn't be me without my mother, Mami, but she could well be herself without me. Funny that.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  74. christina houen
    May 5, 2011 at 12:38 am (6 years ago)

    Elisabeth, this is a beautiful elegy for a woman who lived a dream that turned into a nightmare and survived it to live a better life (I hope) but was, and is still haunted by the past. I hope that she can find love with each of her children and die in peace, and that you will find some release from the haunting of darkness and the wish that things had been different.

    We all have our hauntings, and writing is a powerful way of releasing the past.

    Reply

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