Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I can hear the whistle.

It is not by whimsy that my journal is titled "Once again I am tripped up by the universe."

It was this time last year that I was determined to write more, game less... I got a good start.  I lasted almost two months.  But then once again I was tripped up by the universe.

It is a long story.  Last February the last thing I wrote in my journal was:


I can hear the train whistle. 

In 2010 during a trip home I wrote about my fears surrounding my aging parents:

And now that I am here I am going through the same little spasms of sadness and apprehension I do every time I visit.  Each time I come here… I see how my parents are just a little older than they were last time I saw them.  Aging is like that, an imperceptible fade, the gradual erosion of time wearing us away, changing us…

I very much believe it is nature in its most gentle and merciful persona that does this, slowly steals away the person that once was so that when the inevitable occurs… the thing you lose is not your mommy or daddy… it has become a husk, a shadow, and echo of what was and perhaps… maybe, just maybe… it won’t hurt so much when they go.  And I am realistic enough to see that freight train coming right at me.  I cannot keep them forever… that is an impossibility… and it would be a cruelty for them and all the rest of us.  And yet as I write these words, my eyes are brimming with little girl tears.  I cannot imagine a world without my mommy and daddy in it.  And no matter how much I know I am strong enough, that freight train is going to crush me.   

So there it is… I know I am going to have to face this freight train, let it crush me and stand back up and try to hold the shattered bits of the surviving parent together.  If it is my father, I will just help with the physical things, and defer to his wishes.  He says he would not want to stay here in this house without her.  And if it is her, I need to do it all… decide all.  So that means, either way, 80 years of memories to sort, share, gift, sell or throw away.  No matter how you look at it… it will be a herculean task.  An almost literal Aegean Stable of stuff.  Treasures to the people who loved them, objects to the rest of us. 

And now here I am, five years later.  I cannot begin to describe the heartbreak of that erosion.  I no longer think nature is being either merciful or gentle.  Both my parents are still alive but there is little joy.  And they are so old, so infirm.  They live semi-independently.  My nephew and his family live in the big house with them, but they are rarely there and do hardly anything to keep up the house.  Dad says it is a terrible mess.  Mom's dementia has gotten worse and worse.  My father has gotten feebler and feebler, he can hardly get around.  They both have resisted any and all of my attempts to move them down closer to me and I am reluctant to move mom.  I know that an unfamiliar environment would very likely destroy her.

And now my Mother is in a health crisis.  Dad called from the hospital.  She has pneumonia.  He is absolutely terrified.  I talk to the doctor and no-one seems very concerned.  They kept her for a couple days and sent her home with a bunch of pills.  She won't eat.  She has terrible headaches.  She is sleeping almost all the time.  Dad is in a complete panic.  I am torn.  Do I drop everything and fly to Alaska to clean house and cook soup and reassure my father?  Do I step in and become the parent?  Do I put them in a home?  Do I bring them home?

I lay awake all night last night, a these questions and a thousand more swirling around inside my head until the knot in my stomach is so big I can hardly swallow down the tears.

I know this, if my mother has reached the end of her life, if she is choosing to crawl away inside her head and find a quiet place to die, it is not my place to drag her back.  It is my place to put a warm blanket over her and hold her hand and stand in front of the freight train with tears running down my face.  

Long story long.  I did go up, clean house, make soup, reassure my Father.  Mom got well.  But I also decided that they could no longer function without my help and I made the executive decision that enough was enough.  My nephew was done.  He wanted out.  I did not trust him all that much anyway.  So I made the decision... They were going to move.  And my whole rest of 2015 has been making that happen.  Senior communities, new doctors, taking away vehicles, cleaning out houses, selling houses... a maze of uncertainty and tears. 

And I did not write... at all.  Every five minutes free meant a reward of virtual reality. 

And the worst thing is that I can hear that freight train whistle in the distance.  Nothing can stop that.


  1. I understand his more than you can know. My dad went this summer with no warning- he wasn't even his 60's yet.

    And though it is awful and hard, I think perhaps loss is easier when you can be comforted that they ARE in a better place without lack of ability, pain, suffering, etc.

    I wish you all the very best. I hope the time you have with them is full of memories and love.

  2. I am sorry for your loss. Having them closer, seeing them almost daily makes the sense of inevitable doom even worse. Each hug has a note of anxiety... it could be the last one. And I can only imagine how much it will hurt.

  3. i understand all too well the bittersweet hugs, the agony of leaving them behind. Some things you don't get to be ready for in life. Trying to be ready makes for a long grief process and robs you of joy. I did it. In the end, when my grandmother passed, my sense of relief for her sake overshadowed all else. No matter how i thought my heart was braced, the pain comes in waves, over years. You will make it through. Many hugs

  4. I cared for my mother during her last year. It was the longest year of my life and the shortest. I don't have any sage words for you, just the good will of a distant friend.