Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The flip side of being dependable

Yesterday, I thought of Map. He's lost so many people important to him in the last few months. Seems the Grim Reaper plucks souls without consideration of our feelings…if we even have time to think about it beforehand.

But what do you do when someone WANTS the Grim Reaper to make a house call?

Yesterday, I had a message on my answering machine at work. Four actually, virtually the same. They made me feel sad and frustrated, overwhelmed and helpless.

In a quavering voice came the same words, over and over. "Help me (hope). Please help me (hope). I want to die. Why won't God just come and get me. Why can't I just die?"

The words belonged to my 80 year old aunt in a local nursing home. She's there thanks to a stroke…one which the doctor told me she probably wouldn’t survive until the next morning. That was almost 10 years ago. After a year she pretty much gave in to life in a wheelchair and gave up interest in everything but watching movies and eating chocolate. Sadly, the stroke effected that part of the brain controlling reasoning. To this day she still believes there’s a pill which will make her jump out of bed and go marching home. Except there’s no home any more. We sold her house once she realized she’d never go home again.

So for the past 9 years she’s been virtually bedridden. A former banker, her mind still works, especially when it comes to money. But her ability to reason rationally has left the building. The stroke took out that mental filter which keeps conversation….um….polite. The hardest adjustment for me has been seeing my sweet, little old maid aunt, the Original Goodie Two Shoes who lived at home with Mom and Dad all her life, suddenly have a mouth that would make a sailor blush. And you never know when the sailor will appear.

For the most part, we adjusted together. I learned not to stand on her left because at times her brain forgot things even exist on the left. Except for the belief that the “miracle pill” is being kept from her, Auntie just keeps on keeping on. Life has become one, long endless day of merely existing between naps and meals. And now emotional fatigue has set in.

Auntie is tired of just existing. And she wants to go. Now.

Two weeks ago I got a call from the nursing home. Auntie won’t eat and won’t take her medication. If it continues, they’ll be forced to put her in the hospital because they can’t give her an I.V. for medication and they can’t let her starve. They’d tried everything, could I do something?

I found myself wishing for a magic wand. Or a Fairy Godmother who specialized in stubborn relatives. Taking a deep breath, I went to have the Conversation to Nowhere.

The conversation was… bizarre. I reminded myself it was the “stroke” talking as we did this silly dance. She’d literally moan for her dead mother to come get her while I tried to think of something, ANYTHING, which might make her reasonably comfortable until her wish is granted. No matter what I suggested, she shot it down. After five minutes of telling me she wanted to just die, I calmly explained that the hospital she hates would be her next stop if she continued like this. Without batting an eye, she huffed, “What are you trying to do, kill me?”


It is a waltz that is an endless circle to nowhere. We danced it again yesterday. Her stomach hurt. I named every food she ever loved. She wasn’t hungry. She now detests sweets. When I was a child, this was the woman who drank diet soda….and put whip cream on every dessert. This was the woman who’d brought the niece or nephew NOT having a birthday a bag of M&M candy now suddenly declaring a hatred of chocolate.

The end is near.

Auntie the Chocoholic angrily denouncing her life long favorite food group sent me reeling back to childhood. In that instant, I realized how I’ve managed to hold on as Auntie pushes me toward the edge of my fragile patience . I remembered who she was, not who she’s become.

As a bride's maid

60s era Fashion Plate

Queen of Chocolate and her Court
Yep, the one with the bad perm on the
right is me.

And so, as she eagerly awaits that date when the Grim Reaper accepts her invitation to visit, I’ll find solace in the memories of how she made my childhood special.


Charlie said...

I like your line, remembering who she was and not what she's become.

Your aunt is giving up on life, I think, because more than being bored, she feels useless and dependent on other people for all her needs--including the ones that have stripped her of her dignity. She remembers who she was too, and hates what she has become.

To lighten up a little, she was a good-looking woman, a pefect model for an aunt. And you and your sister were adorable little nieces, too.

hope said...

Thanks Charlie. Sometimes I just have to get this stuff off my chest before my head explodes. :)

Peter Stone said...

The last line, of remembering her as she was, not as who she became, spoke volumes to me.

Watching what old age can do to people is sad. Sometimes we just have to take it moment by moment, day by day.

Thanks for sharing the photos and the background too.

Buzzard said...


Your story touches my own situation in many ways. I can only say you honor her by remembering all of where she had been and what she is going through today.

Sh@KiR@ CK said...

Hope, I wish and pray for you and your aunt.
You need to get this out.
You must be hurting as much just to watch her. I did the same with my late Daddy.

hope said...

Thanks Peter. That last line has often become my mantra...sort of my version of the "Serenity Prayer".

Buzzard, you have my utmost sympathy and respect. Being a caregiver is much harder than it looks.

Shakira, thanks. My Dad was Auntie's only sibling...and I went through a lot with him in his 5 year struggle with cancer. So I know how you feel.

savannah said...

sweet hope! sugar, you have no idea how often i think of you and how your words have helped me deal with miss daisy. reading this right now brings tears and comfort to me, as it seems to have given you a release in writing it. thank you for sharing it and for being you! xoxoxoo

hope said...

savannah, seems they leave out the part about Growing Up being not quite as much fun as we imagined it would be when we were kids.

I'm sorry you know all too well what this feels like. I just keep telling myself that SOMEONE has to care and keep going on. It's tough....but it's easier than being the person we're caring for. You're in my thoughts too!

Anonymous said...

that little blond girl sure is cute!