Yesterday I was called by the nursing home where my mother has been cared for during the past 3 years. She has profound Alzheimer's disease. She has not spoken a meaningful word for 2 years, as far as I can tell. I live 2000 miles away. For many years, I tried to move my parents here, where I have plenty of room in my house. I could have given close, attentive care. They didn't want to move. My father died last year.
My mother's name is Maxine. She was born in a one-room house with a dirt floor, on a tenant farm in western Illinois. She was named for the midwife who delivered her, as a reward. Her mother lost the previous two, and stated if this one lived she would name her for the midwife. She went to school in a one-room schoolhouse. For much of her childhood, her family survived on turnips and bread, occasional animals that her father shot, and whatever little they could buy. She studied, went to "the big city" (30,000 people), found work as a stenographer, met my dad and married him.
I won't tell her life story here, except that she was married to the man she loved, and depended on, for 65 years. When he died last year, her dementia prevented her from being aware of the loss. She had an endless capacity for seeming innocent, was well meaning, laughed easily and often. She was very religious, apparently never questioning her religion or the people who promoted it. Her version of religion didn't seem to promote hate, but was filled with judgement.
Unfortunately my desktop computer died last week, and I cant scan a better photo, but she would probably like this one from the 60s. (I'm the one in front of her).
I've grieved her mental passing for a number of years. It's very hard, emotionally, to visit, and not very productive, since she is unaware of her surroundings. If my presence does anything, it seems to disturb if I try to awaken her - she moans and makes unintelligible noises. I can pretend that means she recognises me, but I really don't beleive it. We have to accept at face value that this is all that remains of her.
Her nursing home is religious, with pictures of Jesus all over the place, with sheep and little children. There are no pictures of Jesus with declining, debilitated, old people. It is bright, sunny, the staff is attentive and cheerful. I put her there. It was her, and my dad's, first choice. I think it was the right thing to do.
When the staff called yesterday, her oxygen level was 70%. Normal is in the 90%'s, to 100%. She was not responsive. Although there is never much response anyway. She was taken to the ER. They did a chest Xray, showing pneumonia. Over the past couple of months, she had an episode of colonic bleeding and has known breast cancer. I elected not to treat those, due to no meaningful benefit, and possible pain and distress from evaluation and treatment. This time, too, I debated. I decided to tell them not to give antibiotic or fluids, but rather return her to the nursing home where they will treat for pain, if there are signs of distress. The doctor agreed with this plan. She probably would have recommended it, if I had asked.
She will probably die today. Not much more to say. The closure is needed. You can't go back and say what wasn't said, or do what wasn't done, or ask "why" when it wasn't asked before, or say "I'm sorry" if it wasn't said. I was probably over-protective in many ways, not wanting to distress her with some realities about life, and about me, that I thought would not be understood. Overall she had a long, and good life.