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Unconfirmed Bachelorette:

An oldie but goodie. Happy VD, Blogosphere!

Ella
xxooxx

Originally posted on Unconfirmed Bachelorette:

Last night I stopped in at Whole Foods, and the roses and tulips were overflowing the flower buckets. I hadn’t intended to buy myself two dozen long-stemmed peach roses, but when I saw them, they were just so lovely. What better way to take care of me, nurture me, celebrate my awesomeness, than to buy myself this Valentine’s gift? So I took them to the counter and asked the flower girl to add some baby’s breath and wrap them up. She wrapped them in orange tissue paper, and they were so gorgeous, I could feel myself beaming.

My checker said, “Those are going to make someone very happy.”

I said, “Me!”

We both laughed. It felt good. It got me thinking–I shall continue in this vein for the next few days. Today I’m going to buy myself six of the most delectable hand-made truffles I can find. And I’m going to book myself an hour-and-a-half…

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Family time has always been a mixed bag for me. (Which makes me unique amongst my readers, I’m sure.) On Thanksgiving, I’d drive down to Houston in the morning, have dinner with my family, and drive back to Austin in the afternoon. Friends and acquaintances who didn’t know my family found the brevity of my visits odd. I found them sanity-preserving. As did my shrink.

Now, I miss those days. I miss the dozen plus people in the house, mostly in the kitchen getting in each other’s way, all frenetically trying to put the finishing touches on their dishes. I miss my brother’s gravy-making. And his turkey carving. (He’d taken over those duties when my dad couldn’t do them any more because of the Alzheimer’s.) I miss arguing with my nieces about whether we would make skinny mashed potatoes, or pour in the half and half and softened butter. (I wanted the latter. It was Thanksgiving, dammit.) Due to all the alcoholism, Thanksgiving was dry at my house most years. Or rather, it was dry in the house. The drinkers would duck outside for the beer or rum and coke waiting in their vehicles, claiming they were stepping out for a smoke. Or to cool off. The house was always too warm. In the beginning, the bodies and cooking caused it. As the years passed, it got progressively warmer. My aging parents, feeling a chill that wasn’t there, would turn the thermostat higher and higher. If only the house had been cooler, I might not have punched my brother in the face that one year. (Not a true story, but the heat was conducive to arguments.)

Eventually, dinner would make it to the table, remarkably warm. Probably because the house was so hot. There were always two tables set–the big table in the dining room, and the kids’ card table in the adjoining living room. Seated at the grown-up table, my dad always at the head, were my mom, my two brothers (and before they divorced, their wives), my sister, her husband, and me. (I haven’t brought a date to Thanksgiving for thirty years.) My six nieces and nephews would sit at the kids’ table. We’d then go around the tables and say what we were thankful for. My mother generally was thankful that everyone was there and healthy (even when they weren’t). My dad was thankful for his dog. My oldest brother, when he showed up, was thankful for his girlfriend (who would later kill him, but only figuratively). My younger brother would tear up as he expressed thankfulness for his children. (He and I were especially sentimental.) My sister would tell him to hurry the hell up, and then express thankfulness for the fact that she could leave us and go to Galveston as soon as the kitchen was clean. The kids would be thankful for family, or the giant pile of mashed potatoes on the plate before them, or their new puppy yipping outside in the back yard.

I can’t remember what I was thankful for. That I’d dumped my most recent crappy boyfriend, adopted two fluffy black rescue kitties, or lost ten pounds and had room in my Thanksgiving jeans, were likely contenders.

Now, I’m thankful I had all those precious years with the seats at the table filled.

This year, with both my brothers and my father dead and no desire to spend Thanksgiving at my sister’s, I stayed home in Austin. I got up early and did the 5-mile Turkey Trot (which turned out to be 7.34 miles what with all the weaving through the people on the course and getting to and from our parking spot) with my friend, Dora, and then headed to her house for Thanksgiving dinner. It was a nice Thanksgiving, and due to the absence of perceivable alcoholism in the group, there were many bottles of bubbles and wine. No one rushed off right away after dinner. We played Tabu. The house was nice and cool. The pumpkin pie was made with fresh pumpkin. The stress-free smoked turkey from Rudy’s Barbecue was moist and delicious. My Tuscan kale gratin was a hit. There were squabbles amongst Dora’s children from time to time. But rather than causing me consternation, since they aren’t my family, I found it amusing. (I may have even instigated a bit, just for fun.) I pronounce this my new tradition: Turkey Trot followed by Thanksgiving dinner at Dora’s.

Friday morning, I drove to Houston to see my mother. She’d spent Thanksgiving at my sister’s, along with my sister’s husband, her two adult daughter’s, the boyfriend and husband of each, and my eldest niece’s four-month-old baby. A baby! Everybody loves a baby. This particular baby has turned out to be a binding agent. Like eggs. Or mushrooms (as in these gluten-free meatballs).

When I arrived in Houston, I picked my mother up at her assisted living apartment and drove her to the house that she’d lived in with my father for over 30 years. The house currently is unlived in, save for a nephew in the garage apartment. I had invited my nieces and nephews by to spend some time with me and my mom, and had offered to take everyone to dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant. Later, the plan would morph into a family meeting as I arranged for everyone to meet a notary at the house to sign some documents the lawyer had prepared in connection with my father’s estate. My mom and I had several hours to kill before everyone arrived, and I found myself in the master bedroom with her, going through photos and momentos tucked away in her dresser drawers. (She was also looking for a ring she suspected my nephew had hocked. We never found it.) As we looked through the pictures, children’s drawings, and cards, I teared up numerous times. My mom said being in the house made her sad. The house being so devoid of people and commotion played a part in this, to be sure. As did the fact she’d taken many pieces of furniture to her assisted living apartment, leaving it rather sparse of inanimate objects as well.

Eventually, my sister, her husband, all six of my mother’s grandchildren, her great-grandchild (the mushroom baby), and the husband and boyfriend of my nieces (two different people), would trickle in. Then came the notary, and we all took turns signing her book and the three documents, generally milling about, and taking photographs with the baby. The baby, who is perfect, by the way. She looks like a little doll. A Gerber baby. She is beautiful, and oh so sweet. And she loves me, which is to be expected. Unexpectedly, however, is the transformation my sister has undergone. It’s like she saw that baby and her heart grew three sizes, much like the Grinch.

Here is my sister’s heart pre-baby:

Size of Sister's Heart Pre-Grandbaby--note it is barely discernable in the magnifying glass.

Size of Sister’s Heart Pre-Grandbaby–Note it is barely discernible in the magnifying glass.

Here is my sister’s heart post-baby:

Sister's Heart Post-Grandbaby--Note it breaks the magnifying glass due to its ginormous size.

Sister’s Heart Post-Grandbaby–Note it breaks the magnifying glass due to its

ginormous size.

And here is my sister with the baby on one knee, and me on the other.

My Sister--Note Mushroom Baby on one knee, and me, dressed as reindeer dog, on the other.

My Sister–Note Mushroom Baby on one

knee, and me, dressed as reindeer dog, on the other.

Yes, the change was this dramatic. She hugged me. She talked to me when she didn’t have to. She kept handing me the baby and taking pictures. And then every one of us (all 12.5) went to dinner at my father’s favorite Mexican restaurant. (I’m not much for believing in dead people looking down and seeing what’s going on, but if he could have seen it, he’d have been feeling like the Grinch with the swollen heart.) I’ve got photos of all 12.5 of us at a very long table, all the seats filled, plundering the chips and queso, fajitas, and margaritas spread from end to end. (Since all the alcoholics now are dead, the ban has lifted.) Everyone had a great time. Everyone was happy we could be together. Everyone was happy that we were happy.

All hail to the Mushroom Baby. For she is good.

Quick post before I lose connectivity. Stunning, warm day. Unusual in Ketchikan. I took this photo from my iPhone. I don’t know whether it’s any good. It can’t possibly capture the majesty of my surroundings.

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My first year on law review I had to write a comment on an area of law. I chose assisted suicide and whether it should be legal. I researched it from all angles. The slippery slope–we’ll eventually be euthanizing people for a tooth ache. Or for being a ginger. (Would that really be so wrong?) And the flip side of the argument–people with terminal illnesses in excruciating pain or inevitable mental deterioration should be permitted the option to simply die with dignity.

Assisted Suicide by Political Cartoonist Ingrid Rice

Assisted Suicide by Political Cartoonist Ingrid Rice

After all the research, I came down on the side of Dr. Kevorkian, who would later be convicted of second-degree murder in Michigan.

Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have passed legislation making physician-assisted suicide legal. I’m in Texas, so I’m screwed. My state kills lots of people. We’re number one in executions. But we’re not allowed to be assisted by a physician when we’re terminally ill and want to die. There is no right to choose in Texas. And don’t get me started on the recent abortion legislation. Just when I thought the state could not devolve any further. Yes, in Texas we believe strongly in devolution. But evolution? Hell no.

You might be wondering what brought the topic of assisted suicide to mind. My mother has been ill. (Complications from deep vein thrombosis.) Since my last post (almost a month ago!) she spent nearly two weeks in the hospital, two weeks in an acute rehab center, and is now in a SNF (skilled nursing facility). She’s expected to be able to return home with the assistance of a caregiver (not covered by Medicare), occasional visits by an RN (covered), and home therapy (covered). Whether she’ll actually ever leave the SNF (pronounced “sniff”), is uncertain. Whether she’ll again become ambulatory also remains uncertain.

She says if she’s destined to spend the rest of her life bedridden and in pain, she’s checking out. I don’t blame her. But I don’t see how she’ll accomplish this. Which has me pondering how I’ll shuffle off this mortal coil should I decide I’m ready to do so. Currently I’m throwing every dime I can spare into my 401k and moderate risk investments. I’m shopping for long-term health insurance, which Medicare does not cover. I’m considering my options for home care and assistance in managing my finances. I’m planning a trust for the benefit of my cats. (Yes, you can do that.) I’m trying to decide whether pills or an injection is the better option and what kind of drug I’ll want to have stashed away should the time come.

If I’m lucky I’ll remain healthy and active until I keel over from an embolism at age 94. But in my family, it’s more likely to be cancer or Alzheimer’s. Or both. Maybe I should relocate to Seattle.

image I used to be an optimist. But a person can take only so much death and illness before they become a realist.

I wrote a big post about all the bloviating lawyers, the agonizing smalltalk, and the collossal waste of time I spent in meetings over the weekend. But the only thing I truly care to write about is the pro bono awards.

The first award was given to a team of lawyers who’d succeeded in beating city hall and getting a methadone clinic built in a city that didn’t want it. The second involved getting a wrongful conviction overturned for a kid who had been living under political asylum after escaping a horribly violent African country at the age of three. While the bogus conviction was on appeal, ICE was getting ready to deport him, then 22, back to Sierra Leone. The legal team got the wrongful conviction overturned just in time, and he remains in this country, intent on becoming a Marine. This despite his being sentenced to seven years in prison for stealing $150, a crime he did not commit, and as a result, spending time in prison and an immigration detention facility. Yes, you heard that right: he doesn’t want to bomb a marathon now that he’s free. He wants to be a Marine.

They brought him to the banquet and he told us his story. Seeing the beaming smile on his face made the whole weekend. It made my whole weekend, anyway.

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My, what nice teeth you have!So much happened today with stray kitty Sophie. Tonight will be her third night under my roof in her sanctuary room. But we’re so tired. I’m tired. The kitties are tired. So we shall sleep and tomorrow write a full account of the day’s events. They involve the mobile vet, fresh-baked salmon, hisses from the closet, and more.

Until tomorrow.

Why did I spring forward last night? Why must I lose an hour of sleep? What is the freakin’ point of this yearly exercise? Finally it was daylight at 7:00 and I could just awaken naturally, no alarm clock needed. Life was good again. My body clock was in a groove. And then

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Oops. I meant

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And I’m smacked upside the head by this stupid happy springing clock.

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Why is this clock happy? He’s losing an hour of sleep. Not only that, people hate him. He has no cause to be happy.

And why do we do this? For the farmers.

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I’ve got your hoe right here.

This Indian is one smart fellow:

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If only I lived in Arizona. Or better yet, Hawaii.

My brother has been in rehab two weeks today. From all accounts, he’s doing well. He’s not complaining. He’s not in a hurry to get out. He’s going to meetings and learning. He told his daughter he’s never going to drink again. He’s never said that before. In fact, just the opposite:”I’m not going to lie to you; I’m not going to stop drinking.” He told me that on Christmas Day. And three days later, we intervened.

I have spoken with him briefly once since I kissed him goodbye and told him I love him. I’m pulling for him. He cried. Like me, he’s always been very emotional. (At least when you get to know us.) So I left him with the rehab nurse, and I’ve talked to him only once, since. He was still in detox. I called to see how he was doing and the nurse handed him the phone. He sounded puny. I got the distinct sense he was glad to be safe. He was glad to be ridding his body of the poison that was killing him. That was day 3. He hasn’t called me. I’m trying to let go. To let him do his thing and have faith. But I want him to know I’m thinking about him; I haven’t abandoned him. So I told my niece, when she was on her way to visit him and to meet with the counselor, to have him call me if he wanted to. He told her he would, but he hasn’t called. So I have let go.

Last night my mother told me she heard he’s supposed to get out a week from today. She thinks it’s too soon. It’s only been two weeks. I got annoyed and cut the call short. Tonight, again, she commented that if he gets out next Friday, it will have been only 3 weeks. She wanted me to call the facility and find out what’s going on, why they’re letting him out early, what’s the plan. I told her he’d tell her when he’s ready. I wasn’t going to call and undermine him.

“But he won’t know you’ve called and I’ve got to know! I can’t having coming and going as he pleases!”

“Mom, calm down. Listen to yourself. You wanted him to go to rehab. You expected him to stay a month! He’s not doing anything you didn’t want or expect!”

“But he’s getting out early!”

“Mom, you cannot control this. He’s either going to continue recovery, or he’s not. You can’t do anything about it.”

“But you could call and find out what’s going on.”

“Mom, if you want to help him, go to an Al-Anon meeting. I sent you the schedule. Make an appointment with the counselor I got a referral for. Take care of you.”

She doesn’t hear me. She makes excuses why a meeting or a counselor aren’t what she needs; won’t solve her problems.

“Mom, I cannot be your counselor!” I’m yelling now. The cat is upset. I don’t yell. I don’t like where this family breakdown is taking me. I don’t want to go there. I was free dammit. I was free of all this.

She’s pleading now. “Can’t you just call and find out what they’re doing?”

I wish they’d all just leave me the hell alone and solve their own problems. I hate that I’m suddenly responsible for my mother. Is this a requirement? If you’re a decent person, you let yourself get sucked back into the family dysfunction you’d escaped at least a decade ago? Is this the right thing to do? What if hypothetically it is right for my mother, but it’s not right for me? Then what? Who wins? Whose happiness and sanity goes first?

Is it wrong to put yourself first?

All I can do is yell, “Mom, go to the counselor! Go to a meeting! I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”

And now I feel shitty.

I’m lying in bed in my mother’s house. Last year, it was my parents’ house. This year, it is my mother’s. I arrived yesterday afternoon, Christmas Eve eve. My mother has a tree. Much smaller than usual, but a tree nonetheless. She also put up decorations with the help of my nephews. Not nearly as many as in years past, but it almost looks like Christmas.

Missing is my dad sitting in his chair under the heated blanket I bought for him two Christmases ago. (more…)

My father had brain surgery on September 18, 2012 to remove a blood clot. In the first few days following surgery, he seemed better. We thought he was going to continue to get better and go home. He was eating, but not much. My mom, my sister, and I took turns feeding him. He couldn’t feed himself. Even before the brain surgery. The dementia had progressed. Utensils were difficult. Even getting the food into his mouth with his hands had become challenging. So now, post surgery, we fed him. His food was puréed. His liquids were thickened. Choking was a concern. We tasted the ICU puréed food. Other than the texture, it was good.

Some days, he ate the food in the ICU. Other days, he refused food. He said he wasn’t hungry. I’d continue to try to get him to take a few bites. “I don’t want any!” he’d say, clamping his mouth shut. My mother would tell me to feed him anyway. He’d get agitated, flailing his arms and threatening to hit me.

We brought ice cream. Vanilla and chocolate. My dad always loved ice cream. He let me feed him a few spoonfuls. My mother was determined that he would eat. She sent me to the store for more ice cream, chocolate pudding, and applesauce.  She said he needed to get his strength back so he would get better. So he could go home.

After ten days in ICU, they discharged my father to a rehabilitation facility (i.e., skilled nursing facility). The doctors who discharged him led us to believe that my father was sent there to slowly recover and ultimately return home. He continued to decline. My mother stayed with him each day, returning home at night to rest. The house was too quiet, she said. His kitty was looking for him.

My parents’ 58th wedding anniversary was on October 2nd. My mom bought my dad a card and took it with her for her daily visit to the rehab facility. She read the card to him, but wasn’t certain he understood. His ability to communicate had diminished markedly since the early days after the surgery.

He ate less and less as the days passed. My mother became alarmed. She called me on a Thursday afternoon three weeks after the surgery and told me she was considering having a feeding tube put in. She said we’d talk about it when I arrived on Saturday. I’d read about feeding tubes and Alzheimer’s patients. They’re often inserted when hand-feeding is the only option. The nursing staff aren’t inclined to spend time hand feeding the residents. They’re understaffed. Surgically implant a tube, hang a bag, and on to the next.

I didn’t like the idea of putting my father through yet another surgery, potentially fraught with complications, including the possibility of restraints if he became agitated and tried to pull the tube out. My father had always been stalwart, fearless, in control. I knew he wouldn’t have wanted a feeding tube. He would have wanted the doctors, nurses, and aides to get their damn hands off him and leave him in peace to die on his own terms. I needed to find a way to stop this. Or at least buy some time.

I thought if I could just find some palatable puréed foods, maybe he would eat. The food at the rehab facility was vile. Much worse than the ICU. So I searched the Internet and found a company in California that makes gourmet puréed food, Blossom Foods. I called and placed an expedited order, making sure it would arrive within two days. (Despite assurances, the food would not arrive until the following Monday, two days after my father took his last bite of ice cream.) My mother agreed she would hold off on the feeding tube until we’d had a chance to see if he’d eat the food I’d ordered. She was insistent that my father needed to eat to get his strength back so he could get better.

No one had told us my father was refusing to eat because he was dying.

Two weeks after my father entered the rehab facility, the doctor broke the news to my mother. My father was very sick. He was not going to get better. I called the doctor and asked about my father’s condition. I took notes on a legal pad. The notes are still in that pad, in between pages of work notes: “Very sick. Won’t rehabilitate. Won’t get better. Kidneys failing.” I can’t bear to tear that sheet off and throw it in the trash. I don’t know why.

I asked the doctor if a feeding tube made sense, given my father’s death was imminent. She said it was a very personal decision that the family would have to make. She sensed I was against the tube and was looking for something to make my case with my family. She said if it was her father, she would not have the tube put in. It would only prolong the inevitable.

I asked the doctor if I waited until morning to come, would I get there in time.

“I think so,” she answered.

“Is it time for Hospice?,” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

In the morning I threw some clothes and toiletries into a bag and drove to Houston. When I got to the rehabilitation facility, we had a family meeting about the feeding tube. My mother, my sister, and my brother still were in favor of the tube so my dad could get stronger. There was no way he could get better if he wouldn’t eat. None of them were ready to agree to Hospice. Hospice meant all hope was lost. My mother still had hope, despite what the doctor had told her. She wanted more time with her husband of 58 years. The man she married when she was just 18. I was outnumbered and felt I had to go along to give my mother peace of mind. Even though I also felt I was betraying my father. But still my mother agreed to try the food I’d ordered before authorizing the trip to the ER to have the tube surgically inserted.

The doctor called again shortly after we left the rehab facility that night, all of us emotionally exhausted. She delivered her message more forcefully, hoping my mother would hear her.

My dad didn’t have much time. Days.

My mother sat in her chair and sobbed.

“I don’t want to lose him! I love him so much. I don’t want to live without him. I can’t!”

I held her as the sobs wracked her body. My sister tried to stop her crying. She insisted my mother was strong and could live without my father. Ignoring my sister, I held my mother, and I cried with her.

We agreed we would call Hospice in the morning. But my mother was still intent on the feeding tube. She wanted more time with my dad, even if he was dying.

Later that day, two weeks after my father entered the rehabilitation facility, we met with the Hospice volunteer. She explained how Hospice worked and that my father probably would qualify for in-patient care. My mother brought up the feeding tube. She wanted to have it done before he was moved to Hospice. (It could not be done once my father was in hospice because it was not palliative care.) The Hospice worker explained to my mother that the tube might give him a few more days; but because his body was shutting down, he couldn’t digest what he was eating, which would make him more uncomfortable. Aspiration pneumonia was also a concern. And then there was the question of what my father would have wanted. My mother sat quietly for several minutes. Her shoulders sagged.

“He wouldn’t have wanted a feeding tube.”

My mother did what my father would have wanted. My father entered in-patient Hospice without the tube.

In the days that followed, my mother asked me several times if she had done the right thing. I assured her that she had. I knew that she had.

“But he has to eat!” she’d say. And the Hospice doctor would explain to her again that he did not need to eat. And that eating would hurt him if we forced him.

It is hard to accept that feeding someone is not always a loving act.

On the Sunday after my father died, I was at my mother’s house with my niece, going through insurance papers and looking for my parents’ wills. I found them in a file cabinet in a spare room upstairs. Both my parents’ wills were in a large envelope bearing their lawyer’s letterhead. I thumbed through the papers, and stopped. There was a single sheet not bundled with the rest. I pulled it out. It was my father’s medical directive, signed 13 years earlier.

My father had declined all life-sustaining measures, including artificial feeding and hydration, should his death become imminent.

I rushed downstairs and told my niece and mother to come quickly, I had something to show them. We sat down at the kitchen table.

“Oh, you found the wills,” my mom said.

“Yes, and I found something else.”

I held her hand and read the directive to her.

“You knew you did the right thing, Mom. You knew what Dad would have wanted. But now you never have to doubt you made the right decision.”

The three of us, my niece, my mother, and I, cried at the kitchen table, the directive lying in front of us. This time, they were tears of solace.

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