That my friends, is the question of the day. This morning I helped my mother pack all of the clothes, books, and trinkets that she will be allowed to take with her when we move her to the care home tomorrow. Six pairs of pants, seven shirts, three night shirts, five pairs of socks, two hats, and three pairs of shoes.
Luckily, the care home has this genius thing they have a “memory” box set into the wall just outside the door to mom’s room. In there we can place photographs, and little mementos from her life. The box measures about two and half feet by one and half, with three shelves. Imagine a well-lit medicine cabinet with a glass door. Look around the room you are sitting in, look around your desk, look around your life. Could you fit all the things that are precious to you in a medicine cabinet?
I know that I can’t.
I was putting the books my mother chose to take with her, there are several books of poetry and about ten books that she used when she was a working filed botanist, mostly scientific books with lists of plant names, that she can barely even read any more. As I was packing them, I wondered, if the roles were reversed, which of the five book cases worth of books could I possibly boil down to one box? It makes me so sad to think about it.
No one wants to go to a care home, I have to give my mother a ton of credit for taking it as well as she has. A few days ago we went through the books and her jewelry. We chose her “moving” outfit and packed the shoes. We signed all the paperwork and as much as she was a trooper, I knew the other shoe would drop.
It did. The shoe dropped on New Year’s Eve. Per her request, my husband cooked a whole chicken on the grill, and I did wild rice and sautéed mushrooms. As we waited for my husband to carve the chicken, my mom looked at me and said. “I don’t want to go.”
Then she said, “I know I have to, but I don’t want to leave this place.” What could I say? Nothing. All of the arguments have been made, all the checks have been signed. There was nothing to do but hold her hand as we waited for my husband to join us at the table.
This morning we did some more packing, as tomorrow is the big day. There was one last piece of paper that I saved for this morning; it is the POLST or Physicians Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment. This is the one document you have to have, that if the ambulance is called, they have to obey what is on the paper. My mother agreed that if her heart fails, she does not want to be resuscitated. That she only wants limited interventions for pain and she does not want to be fed by a tube or to be intubated.
Are you ready to make those choices?
My mother is dying. As all of us are dying. It’s just that those of us who are younger think we have years and years to put off these decisions.
That brings me to goal setting. I just read Kristen Lamb’s wonderful post on setting goals. She has been a wonderful mentor during the We Are Not Alone class that I took from her last year. She is the fuel behind this post. I didn’t FEEL like writing about any of this, but I got off my butt and did it. As I read her post she said that baby steps are fine, and in most cases I agree. But the truth is, once my mother moves tomorrow, I will have my freedom back. I am lucky enough that she has been my full time job for the last year. Once she moves, I will be a full-time writer. My husband has graciously agreed to allow me to work full time at my writing, and I am truly blessed.
So here’s the thing. My old life will be over. The life filled with pushing wheelchairs, cleaning up dirty Depends, and cooking three meals a day. It would be so easy to just celebrate and be a lazy bum (okay, I’ve booked myself a day at the spa for Wednesday) But having helped my mother go through all of her possessions and asking all these tough questions about death and dying, I am being given a new life and I refuse to fritter it away.
So, I’m making big goals. I’m going to work out with my trainer two days a week and I’m going to work up to an hour of cardio three times a week. I will revise of “Deadly Hula Hands,” and plan on cranking out 8,000 words a day. Yes, you heard me, 8,000 new words every day. Once the new draft is complete, I’ll spend my time honing, shaping, and re-writing it until it sings. I’ll meet my writers group every two weeks, with new material at each meeting, and I will post material in this blog three times a week. And to top it off, I will be attending at least two big writers conferences this year, Thriller Fest in New York in July, and Bouchercon in September.
Now, with all that said, I’m expecting all of you to check in, and help me stay honest. You are a wonderful, wonderful audience, and I look forward to a New Year, that’s filled with life and love, with a hint of Death’s kiss that makes each waking moment richer and fuller. You guys are the best!
It’s so hard to do what you’ve had to do, Rachel. Our parents are on the elderly side, too, and we’re having these discussions with them and I keep reminding myself that when it’s my turn, I’ll make it easy for my children, no matter how touch it is for me.
You know Sheila, if you do that, then I feel my work and my writings will have been for a reason. As much as I love my mom, I would never have burdened my children with the crap I’ve had to go through for the last few years. Thank you!
I love that you were brave enough to share this story, and I’m grateful to have met you through WANA1011 🙂 I’ll be cheering you on.
Your post makes me even more certain about some of the changes I want to make in 2012. I feel like, for the most part, I lost last year. I survived it, but surviving isn’t enough. I don’t want my life to slide away until I reach the two boxes and three grocery bags point.
Marcy, this whole situation is just another reminder that these kinds of stresses reveal our character to ourselves and I know I’ll emerge stronger on the other end. It has been such a pleasure getting to know you through WANA. Let’s here it for putting the lost year away and stepping with both feet forward into the new year.
The situation with your mother is very sad, but it’s great to see you are using it as motivation. I guess there comes a times when we have to decide what we really want out of life, and be willing to put in the work to get it.
I admire you mother’s pragmatism and your determination to take advantage of the respite you’ve been given. I hope I’m as clear-eyed as your mom when I need a care home. Funnily anough, I’d welcome the chance to winnow down “things” to two boxes and three bags full. Love your mom’s photo and hope to slick on lipstick and fix my hair until my last day on earth. ((Hugs))
Thanks Pat, and yes her lipstick and perfume will be in her purse when I take her in tomorrow.
Rachel we are facing the same thing with my mother as you’re going thru with yours. Mom has Alzheimer s. She is still living on her own, in a senior’s apartment with lots of support but it’s a matter of time.
I am her agent for all medical decisions. It is a massive responsibility and I have made sure we have those difficult chats, but I haven’t like it. In some ways, my situation is easier than most, because my mom and I aren’t close. But she wanted me to be the responsible one because of my job and that I am the oldest kid. My sister’s aren’t happy with that arrangement, but it’s in place.
I find my sisters to be more of a problem than my mother. But that’s another story. Take care of you during this time. Although there’s lots to look forward to, many of us have a mini meltdown at some point in this transition. It’s normal and natural but not everyone’s experience.
thanks for your honesty. Happy New Year.
Louise, I have to admit that in a way I am lucky in that I am the only one to make these decisions. My brother on the mainland has left himself out of this. I have another friend who is literally being taken to court by another sister, fighting over their mother. For them it all comes down to money. Too much drama. As for your mom, the place we are placing my mother is called Hale Kuike. You might want to look them up on line, just to see what some of the great ideas they have in place for dealing with dementia patients. And yes, I see the melt down coming, but with friends like you around, it makes it a lot easier. Thank you.
Oh my Rachel, you have had your hands full. I so know where your at. My husband and I (meaning mainly me if you know what I mean) took care of three sick and dying parents at once and they all died within three and a half years. It was a craziness that we did not recover from for years. And the decision to put a parent in a care facility is a HUGE one.
Take a deep breathe, you deserve it. And now to think that you and your Hubby will be almost like dating again. Woo hoo! 🙂
Listen girl, you should join the bunch of us who are over at ROW80. It would be a awesome way of receiving support and commendation, needless to say, help you stay on track. I would love it if you did. And I’m soo excited to be in Bob Mayer’s class with you. It sounds amazing. I took his class in September, but it was mostly geared toward fiction writing, where this class sounds like more balancing business with the writing.
I’m so happy for you Rachel, yet I know with the relief comes a little reservation, but that will pass. It’s just a difficult situation and there’s no other way to put it. Hang in there and know you’re in my thoughts girl. See ya soon!
Hi Karen! As so many of the WANA’s are doing the Row80, I might just have to look in to it. It has been such a blessing having all of you out there in the internet land rooting for me. I can’t begin to describe how much getting to all of you has helped during this process. Here’s to all of us. Thank you!
Oh darling, darling girl. I don’t know what to say because nothing I say can possibly make you feel better. But you’ve done the best thing you could for your mother, to make sure she has the best possible care at a difficult time for the whole family.
There isn’t a right way or a wrong way, it’s the way that works for your mother.
My husband sounds very much like yours and has told me to go for it with my writing. Which I would do if I was able. If anyone had told me three months ago that glandular fever (epstein barr virus) would floor me, along with other health issues, I’d have sent them to their nearest shrink – I’m NEVER sick. How the mighty have fallen. And how the mighty is now humble, lol!
Rachel, I’ve been lurking on the threads and following Kristen’s words of wisdom, you guys seriously rock. The support I’ve had from so many – especially Karen – has been amazing. Please know that we’re here for you. I can’t imagine how hard the past couple of days have been. But as usual you take it on the chin and I love that about you. You’re mother must be so proud of your achievements and your incredible zest for life. You honour her by your energy, humour and can-do attitude.
However, be careful not to throw yourself into stuff to keep you so busy it stops you thinking about things. That way lies disaster. Do not bury your thoughts by keeping a hectic lifestyle because they will rise up and bite you on the ass. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. If anything I might suggest you lighten up and actually wind down and take great care of YOU. Because without you being in tune with your emotions, no matter how painful, they’ll come out in other ways. Usually in a way that has you laid low in bed for three months.
Goals need to be achievable. So baby steps tend to work better, before you know it, you’ve travelled miles and sometimes even further than you’d ever dreamed was possible.
I’m thinking about you and send a big hug to your mother.
Christine, thank you so much, your words have made me teary. And about the big goals, all this time I’ve known that it would be so easy to use my mother’s situation as an excuse NOT to write. And I have refused let myself be a victim of the situation. I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to diving into my characters. And the key here is that all the emotions that come up with my mother, are a vital part of my work. I know I can’t possibly take my readers on an emotional journey unless I am willing to go there myself. So all of this, the emotional ups and downs have been a blessing on so many levels. I’ve also promised mom that I’ll come and see her and read the new drafts to her. It is all good.
I’m so sorry to hear about your health situation. I’m sending you a big hug too. Let’s both put 2011 behind us and carry on into 2012. Thank you, thank you for lurking and for being such a great friend.
Please excuse the typos, the brain has not connected with the fingers!
Everything about you spells bravery, Rachel. Taking care of mom, sharing your story with us, and facing new challenges. It tells us you got what it takes to be successful and happy. Please count on us for this new phase of your journey. All the best.
Fabio! Thank you so much for your comment. This whole journey has taught me so much because my mother has been such an incredible example. I’m so glad you are enjoying the posts.
My heart and thoughts are with you, Rachel! Your mother is so blessed to have you.
I can only imagine how difficult this is for you. I’ve watched both my parents and my husbands parents go through this same thing with their parents. It is heart and gut wrenching to say the least. But you are right, when we are close to death it gives us such an amazing new look at the world around us. I’m cheering for you and that each day you reach your goals!
The biggest lesson for me in all of this is that I don’t ever want to put one of my relatives in this position. Lucky for me my husband has long term health insurance for both of us. Thanks so much for stopping by.
Wow, Rachel, such a bumpy ride you’ve had. I feel your strength and your fortitude in your story. I applaud your courage to share it. I pray your mom’s transition to her new ‘digs’ will go smooth and that everyone will feel peace and joy.
Ginger, thanks for your kind words. We moved her in today and it went wonderfully well. She settled right in with no drama. Couldn’t ask for better.