The Husband's mom, Alyce, went into a care facility last year. She'd developed pneumonia last winter and ended up in Intensive Care at a local hospital. Nobody thought she'd make it until Christmas but she did...and then some. Slowly but steadily she kept getting better until finally she was released to a long term care facility.
Alyce had her share of physical ailments but who doesn't when they're 87? Arthritis, broken hips, breathing problems...comes with aging, right? So does dementia. For the lucky ones it's mild, you forget where your keys are or can't remember why you walked into a room...for the unlucky ones it's worse...a lot worse.
Before she came down with pneumonia Alyce lived in her own home with the help of her daughter, Penni. The pneumonia left her so physically frail that Alyce needed professional care and her family had to make the decision to leave her in the care facility. It wasn't a bad place...it was nice...there was a recreation room, a dining room, physical therapy...and a big room for parties and family gatherings. It was clean, the staff was caring, but it wasn't her home...and even though they knew it was the right choice for their mom, it was tough on all of them.
When she first got there, Alyce was able to wheel herself around in a wheelchair, chatting with the other patients, mostly talking nonsense...at least that's what The Husband called it. But then, The Husband is pretty hard of hearing so it's entirely plausible that they were making perfect sense and he was only hearing every other word. In any event, it wasn't nonsense to them.
Since her dementia was progressing I don't think anybody really knew for sure if Alyce was aware of what was happening to her. Occasionally she would cry, but most of the time she was smiling. Anybody that spoke to her got a smile. She was just a sweet lady.
After awhile, the pain in her back got so bad that she couldn't wheel herself around anymore. The staff would help her into the wheelchair but she wasn't mobile and eventually even being put in the wheelchair became too painful and she became completely bedridden. As her pain got worse, medication got stronger and she spent more and more time sleeping. She barely ate or drank anything. God only knows why she kept hanging on. But she did.
Alyce was one of the few old folks in the home whose family visited daily. There were pictures of her kids and grand kids on the nightstand. The walls of her side of the room were decorated with bright butterflies flanked by warning signs of what the staff was and was not to do. The warning signs were designed, posted and updated frequently by eldest daughter, Kathi. Woe unto the slothful staff member who came under her scrutiny. The eldest daughter was fierce when it came to the care of her mom. Every mother should be so lucky.
When he came home from visiting his mom I'd ask The Husband how she was doing. "About the same" was the usual reply. But sometimes he'd say "She recognized me". He always seemed a little more cheery on those days. The Husband isn't one to wear his heart on his sleeve but you could tell that seeing his mom like this was hard.
Brother John, the youngest son, wears his heart on his sleeve. I think it bothered him most when his mom didn't recognize him. Your head knows it's the natural progression of the Dementia, but it still hurts your heart.
The last week Brother John wore dark glasses a lot when he visited his mom. He puts on dark glasses and thinks nobody knows he getting all teary eyed. Nobody's really fooled but nobody says anything about it.
Alyce took her last breath a few days ago...and she wasn't alone. I don't know why, but it bothered me to think she might be alone when she died.
Kathi and I talked about it later trying to make sense of the way her life ended. We wondered why God would let a woman like Alyce suffer so much. She & her husband raised five great kids, The Husband, Kathi, Brother John, Pam, and Penni. These are some of the most wonderful people I've ever known.
Kathi thought maybe she really left a long time ago. I kinda like this. It's comforting. Maybe the reason she didn't recognize anyone was because it wasn't really her anymore.
I thought maybe it wasn't even really about her. Maybe she was hanging on for someone else. Maybe someone in the family wasn't ready to let her go. Maybe it was so someone at the home might learn about kindness in caring for her. Maybe it was so someone could see how a family loves and takes care of each other. Who knows?
Maybe next time we see her we'll find out...it's the Stoopidist Thing.