Saturday, December 13, 2008

No Go

Lots of disappointments today:

* We didn't manage to get over the mountains -- although we hadn't really expected to -- because of bad weather. Donner Summit's half an hour from here, a stone's throw from Donner Lake, which is, as astute students of history will recall, the place that sometimes gets so much snowfall that travelers are stopped in their tracks and have to eat each other. This happens much less frequently in the automotive era, but we'd still rather not take chances. (In all seriousness, driving in the high Sierra in bad weather is scary business. My father, when I spoke to him today, said emphatically, "If there's any danger at all, don't come!" I looked into plane flights, but they're awfully expensive: we'll reserve that option for true emergencies.)

* The nursing supervisor on Mom's floor put the kibosh on informal pet therapy. Nertz! #1 Dino, when informed of this, very kindly told my sister to call whenever necessary for help translating medicalese. The pup visit was such a generous offer. I wish it had worked!

* Mom's doctor told my sister that Mom won't be having another stress test on Monday, because during the first one, her sats dropped to 68 even though she was on three liters of oxygen. Ouch.

* My sister told me that Mom told her that she has nightmares every night now, that "they've become part of my biography." The nurses attributed this to sundowning. When I spoke to my mother this evening, 8 PM her time, I asked about the nightmares, and she said, "They aren't nightmares anymore. They've become the story." I asked her to explain that, and she said she couldn't explain it any better than she had, but she did assure me, when I questioned her -- very consciously wearing my chaplain hat -- that she isn't scared anymore, not when she's dreaming and not when she's awake, even though she doesn't know how the story will turn out. This might sound like dementia, but she was perfectly lucid in other respects: asked how Dad was doing, for instance, knew who I was and where I was and where she was. When I told her that I hope she doesn't have nightmares tonight, she assured me that she wouldn't, and we closed with our usual exchange of "I love you."

Okay, you pastoral/hospice types out there: please help me decode this! I have a feeling she may be speaking metaphorically about her approaching death (as described in the wonderful book Final Gifts), but I'm at a loss to make sense of the metaphor. I asked her if she wanted to go home, and she said she didn't know, because "I don't know if there's anything there for me anymore." I reminded her that my sister and the cats are there, and Mom said, "Oh, but they're everywhere." I pointed out that the cats aren't in the hospital, and she agreed, but I wonder, again, if this is some sort of metaphor for approach to the larger life (where, I have to hope and believe, we're surrounded by love). Any ideas?

I suppose I could have just asked her, "Mom, do you think you're getting ready to die?" but I didn't think of that. In any case -- whether this is coded speech, dementia, meds interaction, what have you -- she seemed calm and at peace, which is the most important thing, right?

All of my posts seem to turning into bullet-pointed lists these days. Sorry about that, but it's what works right now!


  1. Anonymous6:11 PM

    I've driven the pass in terrible weather and would never do it again. It is terrifying.

    Maybe you could call you mother and ask her your question. Following these (angelic?) 'nudges' is important.

  2. Well, Susan, I agree that something is going on. I think I would ask a different question. I would ask her to tell you the story. Clearly, in some sense they are her story, if not exactly a story you'd recognize. I think, too, there's some comfort to be taken in her sense of comfort, of security. I think that's the important question: would she tell you the story.

    As always, prayers.

  3. Susan,
    This is just a quick note of appreciation as I wind down from my 3-11pm shift as a CNA in the memory care unit of an assisted living facility. You are a Marvelous Person! Thank you for sharing the poignant details of your life and your family.

    This evening one of the residents to whom I give care became terribly restless, calling out for his wife, who was sleeping upstairs in the traditional section of the building. His private aide and I explained that she was sleeping but he would see her in the morning. We took him to the bathroom, where he worried that things would get "messy," but there weren't any visible or audible results.

    I put my arm around him, this elderly man whom I barely know, and said, "You seem upset. Are you sad? Oh, you are safe here. I am here for you. Lindy is here for you. You will be OK."

    He looked down at his feet. "Where are my shoes?" he asked.

    "These are your socks for bed," I told him. "Your blue socks."

    "Oh," he said. He seemed somehow comforted, and we got him back to bed.

    Mary Ann

  4. Hi Susan I kind of agree with Marshall, either ask what the story is, or one of those famous open-ended things like "How so?" when she says they are "the story." Broadly she is telling you that change is afoot--comments about home and about the change in the dreams--and she might not really know what it means but yes, the comfort and lack of fear, that is such good news as you were so worried. Prayers continuing.

  5. Susan, the suggestion Marshall made seems like a good idea. Prayers ascending that your Mom will tell you something about her story and feelings, also for safe travel and a clear(er) pass soon.

    Peace! & Hope!

  6. Susan,
    I don't know what your mother's experiences/comments might mean, but rather than attribute them to dementia, I'd suspect simply the reduction of oxygen.

    I do think you might want to, without interpreting, jot her words down in a more permanent/meaningful form than simply your blog -- I wish I'd done this when my mother was still communicating. In fact, your post reminded me of something my mother said when she was sort of "in and out" at the hospital -- I'd been chattering to her (you know how you do when they aren't really responsive) and I tried a guided imagery of an empty green field and she suddenly said she saw a shaggy red horse. It was a lovely, peaceful image and I meant to buy myself some sort of horse symbol/totem, but I'd forgotten until just now reading your mother's comments. So thank you. And that's also why one should write these things down!

    I'm sorry the pet therapy was canceled. Was there a health reason, or simply a nurse who doesn't see the point? I'm sorry you're being torn between emergencies on opposite sides of the country. I try to stop what I'm doing hold you and your folks in the light several times a day. Stay strong and be kind to yourself.

  7. Just caught up on your last few days... Oh my, what a roller-coaster. Still thinking of you and your family - it's the only thing I can do to "help" as I'm so far away. I agree with Mary Ann that it is generous of you to share your life with us.

    Best wishes from Liverpool, where the sun has just set behind a bank of clouds - such a lovely peaceful looking sky, I am lucky to have sight of so much sky in the city!

  8. Snowing hard here (rare event for us). I drove Donner Pass one winter when it was chain-up weather; I wouldn't do it again if I had the choice.

    I agree with Marshall on both counts: I think her sense of peacefulness is the main thing, and I would ask her if she can tell you her story. It may well be that she's coming to terms with, if not expecting to die, at least the possibility of it. But, as the parent, she may find it difficult to "burden" you and your sister with that knowledge. Maybe relating it as a "story" would give her enough distance to make it OK.

  9. I've been through the Donner Pass in July. It's scary enough then, never mind with anything to make the road slippery. No margin for error in that place!

    Thanks for sharing your bicoastal parental caregiving. It would be great if your mom would tell the story but the main thing is that she's feeling peaceful.

    Praying for you all.


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