Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Difference in Families

I was reminded today of three generations of mothers in my family.

An ad on tv was urging people to contact their Congressmen to ask them not to reduce the amount of Medicare costs for hospital stays. The tone indicated that the government, not families, should care for aging parents.

When I was in third grade, my grandmother and great grandmother moved in with my mother and me. They lived with us until the very last months of Granny's life. She had had multiple strokes and, in her last months, wanted to move back onto her son's farm since, "I don't need doctors. There's nothing more they can do. I never lived in town before and I don't want to die here."

I missed her so much that I spent that last summer with them on the farm. Every Sunday night, we turned the lights off and turned the radio on. We propped Granny up in the bed, I took down her bun and brushed her long white hair and massaged her scalp. We both looked forward to listening to our favorite radio dramas together. It was a special time.

Another special time was breakfast. I have never liked breakfast so I spent breakfast "mushing up" her food and feeding it to her spoonful by spoonful, dabbing her chin when her lower lip drooped and spilled it out. I can still feel her chin under my fingertips.

During the day, I wandered the woods and the fields, bringing back leaves and small plants and berries to show her. I never found one she could not tell me about. She told me about home remedies and homekeeping (she never used the word housekeeping).

When she died, we rejoiced at her liberation even as we grieved our loss.

Her daughter moved in with us and, except for a couple of years when she wanted her "own place," she lived with Mother for the rest of her life.When Bebe became ill, my mother did the same thing for her that Bebe had done for Granny. When my other grandmother became ill, her daughter Katherine and husband Rueben took her into their home. Katherine was a nurse and no patient ever had better care.

As my mother's body failed her, her independence never did so we found ways to support that feeling of independence. She would allow no one to live with her and she would live with no one. So I traveled back and forth every four or five weeks to spend a week (sometimes more).

David and I had a system worked out that would allow me to be on the road to GA within a half hour of learning of the need. He was such a wonderful support for me and for her. It never occurred to him that she should go to a nursing home against her will. During our entire marriage, he did most of the maintenance on her home. He cojoled, scolded and teased her. He was the grown son she never had.

Mother and I talked everyday. I had two other people who either talked with her or went by everyday. If they questioned anything, they called me. I called Mother and headed down. One of them was available to check on her anytime I heard anything untoward in her voice or message. Everytime David and I took a trip anywhere south of the North Carolina line, we went by to see her. Some of our schedules got changed because she wanted us to do something before we left. We adapted.

We had errand runners who bought her groceries when she was not able. In the last year, they even took her to the hairdressers (one of Mother's lifelong treats for herself). Her church family "loved" her right into the gates of Heaven.

Mother kept every receipt and, if a check was written, she noted the number on the statement. Every month, I checked her receipt box, balanced her checkbook and wrote her checks for the next month, lacking only her signature and the amount. All the enveloped were addressed, stamped and ready to go.

On those trips, we sat up late at night in only the light from the streetlamp outside. And, we talked, flitting from one topic or another. We talked about the inconsequential, the essential and the important. Nothing was off limits.

She retained her independence and her spunk (sometimes more spunk than was necessary).

Then, one morning she called to inform me that she was going to hospice that afternoon. She was tired of taking "dozens of pills everyday just to push back the day." She was failing so quickly that she knew she would soon have to have twenty four hour care at home or elsewhere.

The home nurse had told her she should go to hospice for a few days to "get built back up." Mother informed me she did not intend to "bounce back." She proclaimed, "I'm no fool and I have no intention of coming back. As soon as the cleaner finishes here, we're on our way." She did not want me to have to clean the house. On all the prior trips, everytime she had caught me cleaning, she had sent me home.

She instructed me to get a good night's sleep and come the next day.

I left that afternoon and was at the hospice bright and early the next morning. We had some interesting talks. She asked me to pray for her and we prayed together.....all things we would have missed had she been consigned to a nursing home during those last months.

No government program can replace these multi-generational experiences. Someone needs to tell younger generations that old age is not contagious.

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